David is a co-founder and the CEO of TechStars.
During orientation each year, we implore the founders who are going through TechStars not to suck at e-mail. Sucking at e-mail is a surefire way to get your mentors, potential investors, and customers to lose interest in you.
There are many ways that new founders can suck at e-mail, but there are a few common ones that can be corrected quickly. First, change your attitude. The most common excuse, "I get too much e-mail," is ridiculous. We all get a ton of e-mail. I explain to the founders during orientation that it's extremely unlikely that they get as much e-mail as I do. Reject and remove this excuse from your vocabulary because e-mail volume is no reason to suck at e-mail. In fact, entrepreneurs should want even more e-mail, especially from your customers.
If you accept the notion that "you can't get too much e-mail," you'll then need a system for dealing with it. We recommend something similar to the Getting Things Done (GTD) system by David Allen, which includes tactics such as "inbox zero." Your goal should be to touch every e-mail only once and either respond to it immediately or put it on a to-do list with a due date to be dealt with later. Then, delete the item from your inbox. Do not use your inbox as your to-do list—this is a guaranteed path to e-mail misery. This simple solution will ...