I think jwz sums it up best in another post, where he talks about the best case scenario: becoming rich from your startup:
I've known dozens of instant-millionaires so far (from Netscape as well as other companies), and basically, I don't speak to any of them any more, because the money changed them and turned them into fairly creepy people. People who spend $10k on a wristwatch and then brag about it (while trying to aloofly sound like they're not bragging about it.) People whose sense of self-worth has gone nonlinear, because when they look at their brokerage statement, they forget that, while skill was certainly a component of why they got to where they did, luck was also a huge component. Most of these people have never worked for a company that built a good product and failed anyway. They don't have any understanding of the fact that skill is often necessary, but always insufficient. They believe their hype.
I don't think people appreciate the money aspect enough. It does change people and not always along a vector you would expect. It also changes people who don't get rich.
Your a low number employee and your company goes public, woohoo you are rich, but people who work with you and came later and are doing the same job as you are not. The cognitive dissonance is huge, people sometimes feel guilty that they are rich and their co-workers aren't, sometimes they feel like they 'must be smarter' because they are rich and their co-workers aren't. Newly rich people want to marvel in it, and share how amazing it is that they can spend 10K on a watch if they feel like it, and the people around them, doing the same work and not rich, well they often aren't all that appreciative of what it must be like.
Those relationships get awkward quickly. And people separate so that they can be with other people where their lifestyle (or lack of it) won't be a source of awkwardness.
Not a lot of people talk about the side effects of 'success' but they should think about it.
My point in quoting that wasn't that success is necessarily bad for you (Alex Ohanian seems to be doing okay, and jwz is himself a counterexample) it's that success in that sort of business has a large random component.
The point of the OP's post is that huge sacrifices are necessary for great rewards. I think the truth is more like, your huge sacrifices are necessary so that our investment strategy works.
Meanwhile, guys like patio11 and the 37 Signals team have shown there's plenty of different paths to success. And if you think about what people like Jimmy Wales or Tim Berners-Lee have done, there's lots of ways to "make a dent in the universe" without even forming a traditional company. I know this is crazy talk, but not all roads to greatness involve making a VC rich.
But you know, now that I think about it, I think people are going to read what I just posted and only zero in on the "dozens of instant millionaires" sentence and ask how can I get in on that?
The definition of success itself varies among most of the people. Some people wish to make a dent in the universe, some people just want money. Some people want both.
Some people just want to be famous and remembered. Some people want to be something important part of an ecosystem who get to decide a lot of things. Some people just like Power and social status. Some people are in just for the fun of the game.
Some people just want to be happy. List can be really long. Basically its what you truly want.
Depending on that there are different things you need to be successful. There is no silver bullet.
"Your a low number employee and your company goes public, woohoo you are rich, but people who work with you and came later and are doing the same job as you are not."
You're leaving out risk and experience:
* Employee #3 takes more risk than employee #30 who took more risk than employee #300.
* More importantly, even if they have the same roles when employee #30 joined, odds are that employee #3 was involved in quite a few other things in quite a few other roles and has had a fundamentally different impact on the team and organization as a whole.
Disclosure: I'm with a startup popular around here.. but my number is well into the double digits. ;)
Don't confuse the 'why' some folks are more handsomely rewarded at a liquidity event, with 'what it does to them.'
Here is the situation, person A in a four person cube is a multi-millioniare on paper, person B, C, and D are still unable to come up with a down payment on a house.
Person B, "Hey A, what are you doing this weekend?"
Person A, "We're flying up to Oregon to go helicopter skiing on Mt Hood, its wicked cool, I got a new set of bump skis and that Rossingol gortex super suit, can't wait to try it out. How about you?"
Person B, "Uh, a BBQ on the balcony of C's apartment. I guess you're busy."
Now person A might be a douchbag here but they might simply be honestly answering the question. And in the answering, its awkward because its hard to imagine them not going helicopter skiing so that could could come over and have tri-tip at your place and play Wii or watch the game.
But at work they all work on the same part of the system, they all have similar roles and similar levels of responsibility.
Person A, if they have any empathy at all, will quickly recognize that it makes non-rich people uncomfortable to talk about stuff like this, and they stop (and then appear 'withdrawn' to people B, C, and D.) and they start hanging out with the other low number folks who are doing their own crazy things and so feel neither threatened nor jealous nor uncomfortable with discussions that involve spending 15 - 20 thousand dollars for a weekend outing.
Sometimes people B, C, and D will respond affirmatively and supportively, sometimes they will attempt to make person A feel like a douchebag (even if they aren't) to salve some inner wound. How folks respond to that varies by person, I don't know if you can know apriori how you personally will respond until you are in that position.
I completely agree that money changes the vast majority of people.. especially if it's a large amount very quickly.
I still think your "similar roles and similar levels of responsibility" point is incomplete. Employee #3 will always have a different relationship with the company - and its leadership - than employee #30. They've been through quite a bit together that #30 was not there for and there will be a different level of trust, authority, etc. It's not a criticism, just a situation.
It's the difference of going to school with the same kid since kindergarten and the new kid getting there in high school. There's quite a bit of history.. good or bad.
People have been starting businesses with limited personal wealth since time immemorial. He may or may not have had the flexibility to do exactly what he did, but mortgages and business loans for things that aren't utterly ridiculous are not difficult to come by in good economic conditions (which is what he had at the time).
It's not that cautionary. If you went to jwz right now and asked him "If you went back in time and, knowing everything you know now about how much pain would be involved, would you sign up with Netscape again?"
I bet you he'd say yes.
"But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)"
>>"But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)"
Exactly. In fact all fun thing is said to make your position look a little good. Its not good if you depict the path to success as a painful journey. To make your story glorious you need to look like a hero and for that you need depict accomplishments in the most glorious way and make them seem effortless(fun).
Imagine a situation, if you are giving an advice to a young man. You will rather tell him to work on things he likes to work(fun) than on the ones he doesn't like. Although this is the advice in theory you would like to give. Deep within yourself you know very well, doing something big will require you to do stuff you don't like to do. Undergo, pain and sacrifice which you wouldn't like to endure normally.
Also 'struggle' is one the reasons most normal people are OK with their normal lives. I think most people just lack the required level of motivation and desire to overcome the pain to undergo the 'struggle' in the path to success. Most people just drop the plan to work hard calling it 'not worth it'.
People like to believe in a easy way out. They like to believe luck exists. Because that will give them an unfair advantage over others. That is, they can get rich even without working.
Hardwork is so inglorious, it make success look obvious. And moreover when you look at the big picture. It looks karma.
It is not enough. Luck has a lot to do with it. It is so upsetting to believe the role that luck has we come up with these fairy tales that if you just work yourself into an early health problems you will be rewarded with riches. But let's remember the basics, you can work this hard, yet most start up fail.
There are three possible outcomes for startups: (1) failure; (2) marginally successful; and (3) enormously successful. In case of (1) and (2) employees hardly make any money, and early employees may make money in case (3). More than 99% startups' outcome is either (1) or (2).
I feel startup world is highly skewed in favor of investors and founders. I have worked at a startup and now I would think twice before working for another startup, since rewards don't add up to effort and time because of odds.
Work hard. Cry less. And realize you’re part of history
No, sorry, but you probably aren't. Zynga isn't changing the world and neither are 99.9% of the startups coming out of SV.
The over-working culture is exactly that - a culture. It has nothing to do with actual reality, and everything to do with perceived reality. Great, long-term companies aren't built by entrepreneurs who sleep 2 hours a night.
P.S.: not getting enough sleep decreases productivity. The 37Signals guys have covered this a few hundred times at this point. I also seem to recall Richard Branson saying that he "needs his 8 hours."
It's also worth mentioning that Jamie Zawinski, cited in the article, burned out and quit the industry. If your startup is really changing the world, fine. But is working on <generic web-app> worth sacrificing your love for programming itself (not to mention the health effects and opportunity costs involved)?
> P.S.: not getting enough sleep decreases productivity. The 37Signals guys have covered this a few hundred times at this point. I also seem to recall Richard Branson saying that he "needs his 8 hours."
I think the culture of correlating working longer with working harder comes from occupations where there is a relatively close connection between the two, such as in occupations that primarily involve physical labor. However, a lot of the work done by startup founders is not in the physical realm, and therefore the efficiency with which that work is completed can vary drastically depending on the mental state of the worker. Of course, the worker's mental state is heavily dependent on his/her sleep schedule.
Well, sort of. Working all the time isn't sustainable. But the point of starting a startup isn't to do things that are long-term sustainable, it's to build as much as you can in a short period of time to outrace competitors and adapt quickly to whatever comes up.
And I say that as someone who needs work-life balance -- that's why I don't have a startup. I want to spend time with my wife and kids and hobbies and things, so I have a nice job that I can go to every day and then come home again.
Expecting to maintain work-life balance while creating a startup is bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Sleeping 2 hours a night is a sprint. Unless you are a superhuman, you can't sleep 2 hours a night for more than a week and still be more productive than someone on a normal schedule.
The point being, you can sprint in a crunch. You can sprint to meet a deadline next week. But unless you expect your company to be bought a week after you found it, you should probably be pacing yourself at least a little. Go ahead and give up work/life balance- for a medium-term project you can risk burnout- and go ahead and work 16 hours a day. But get 8 hours of sleep.
You are talking about polyphasic sleep, which when you train and skill is a great tool to sleep less, but I think these guys are not talking about that, they talk about being "la tête dans le guidon" as we say in France => head in the handlebar litteraly, or "sous l'eau" => underwater.
It is a myth.
Startups are all about creativity.
If you don't sleep enough, you are not creative. PERIOD.
Unsurprisingly, some people don't fit well with our limited current understanding of sleep.
On the other hand, don't completely discount the possibility that some of the people you know have access to amphetamine. Careful use can sustain performance for weeks before tolerance sets in.
Amphetamine abuse shows up a lot in all the places you'd expect -- athletes, military personnel, emergency services and hospital workers, even lawyers. With the pressure to perform, it wouldn't surprise me if it's a quiet problem in startups, too, especially since drug testing is pretty much anathema to the culture.
> Great, long-term companies aren't built by entrepreneurs who sleep 2 hours a night.
I'd add a qualifier to that. They aren't usually built by entrepreneurs who get very little sleep. They sometimes are, though, and sometimes it's because a person in good physical health has a very important task to complete in a short amount of time, like the example cited in the article of JWZ helping build a web browser.
You don't need to take your health advice from 37s -- the book "The Way We're Working Isn't Working" is basically nothing BUT cited research that shows how overwork hurts everybody & everything, including the employer/project.
There's work. Then there's productive work. What pisses me off is having to pull an all-nighter doing ultimately meaningless work. In startups there can be a lot of meaningless work unless you have all your ducks lined up both strategically and tactically. The older I get, the more I realize that having your ducks lined up requires presence of mind, clarity, and focus, all characteristics that are fleeting when you're sleep-deprived and being powered by Red Bulls and coffee.
In startups, marathon work sessions should be kept to a minimum. They're valuable and they're a useful tool. But they come at a massive cost. The more you rely on them, the less effective they become and the harder it is for the person who participates in them to reach their original productivity without massive amounts of downtime in between sessions. If you're going to commit to some crazy over-working session, you better have a damn good reason. Most startups who push this culture don't.
As a student, I agree completely with your above philosophy. It seems to me that just about everything in your article could be generalized to just all sorts of work, rather than just the sort of works in startups.
To expand on your statement, if you're doing a lot of meaningless work in a startup then something is seriously out of whack. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be meaningless to a startup. If it is then it's not essential to the startup and needs to be scrapped.
I'm so glad I was pushing 30 before I really became aware of this startup scene. The general impression that comes off, to me at least, is work hard, stop moaning, accept pennies and one day you'll be rich - assuming that unlikely outcome happens and we don't use of the thousand ways possible to screw you out of any riches.
To me at least, and as an outsider, I'd say things like this may hold up for founders, but as a non-founder you better be young and have very little in the way of commitments. Get the experience and use what you've learned to found something yourself.
As a caveat, I am obviously not well in on the startup scene, but from what I've seen & heard over the years, there's very little to tempt me as an employee.
You are believing exactly what investors and VCs want you to believe. You aren't escaping wage slavery, you are just substituting a different slavemaster. Wake up.
There are billions of people on this planet. Do you think that the ones who aren't in Silicon Valley startups are all miserable? Their lives aren't worth living?
Ok, but more specifically. Let's say you want to lead a creative existence, working with technology, and you love the SF scene so much you just have to live here. You don't need to be in a startup for that. As they tell you to be frugal with a startup, be frugal with you life and all sorts of possibilities open up.
I know a number of people living in "hacker homes" where they drift in between working on startups, technology jobs, and then working on projects that just interest them. Sometimes they'll take an entire year off work to do something with no monetary gain, like a Burning Man or an open source project. You might have to live in an less desirable area with a lot of housemates, but once your rent is sub-$1000 and you cook most of your own food, you can live for an entire year once you've pulled off a couple of consulting gigs.
You're young, and I presume you don't have a spouse or kids, so this option is very possible for you.
I agree with the majority of this but would like to add that founding your own startup and keeping it ultra lightweight can gain you these same freedoms on a higher income.
Don't take on investors: make a product that earns money. Don't hire full or part time employees: find intelligent automated solutions to tricky problems or bring on contractors as necessary. Having control over what you make and when you make it means (for me, at least) more sleep, more money and less wasted time making someone else's dream a reality.
Thanks. By the way -- another possibility is to work for technology projects which aren't really in the startup game.
A lot of my friends work for the Wikimedia Foundation, Thunderbird, Mozilla, Tor, and so on. There's no possibility of walking away as a zillionaire, but neither do you have to work with (or for) dickwads who are only in it for the money and who are out to screw you out of your share. And if you're any good, there's a guarantee of doing something significant that you can point to later on your resume, should you want to go the entrepreneurial route. These organizations are global, so you get to do a fair bit of travelling too.
Non-profits have their own special brand of problems, but if you tally up the pros and cons they are definitely an option.
From several folks I've known who worked at Mozilla, you just trade in money-dickwads for power-dickwads.
Obviously this varies depending on where you are in the organization. But the bottom line is: there are always dicks, and they always try to screw somebody (that's what dicks do), and in startups, there are probably more of them because millions is more interesting than power over a few people.
I'd highly recommend working at a well-regarded, industry-leading company before assuming that startups are the only option.
I thought basically the same thing you did as a teenager, and when I was formulating my career plans after college, it was "startups or bust". It turns out that employees at Google, Facebook, Mckinsey, Goldman Sachs, numerous hedge funds, and probably even some old-economy companies actually have quite a bit of freedom to do their jobs with creativity and excellence. Good managers don't try to control employees - they manage them, so that the employee's natural talents and inclinations are matched up to the needs of the organization. And a manager at a fast-growing company probably got put in that position because somebody else thought he would do well at it, while a manager at a startup got that way because he hated his old job enough to quit.
There're certainly things wrong with big companies - I could probably name half a dozen areas where Google is dysfunctional and probably not fixable because the dysfunction is an emergent property of having 30,000 people work on a suite of products used by billions. But unless you've worked in both big and small companies, you don't have enough information to understand what dysfunction is inherent to being big and what dysfunction is just the result of getting a bad boss.
Just because you're starting a company doesn't mean you need to raise millions of dollars, work 80 hours a week, and try to become the next Facebook.
Alternatively, you can raise (or save) a moderate amount of cash, work comfortably at whatever pace you choose, and build something scalable and sellable. If you're making quality software, it's not difficult to generate enough passive income to support the lifestyle you want to live.
I haven't read the book that some others have been recommending, but it looks good (I respect a lot of the people who gave it favorable reviews on its website). Aside from that, I'd say you should do some research on others who've successfully followed this path. They exist -- they're just less likely to show up in tech news, which is heavily influenced by investors (who only care about big wins) and bloggers (who only care about big news).
Take a look at the early blog posts from Balsamiq's Peldi, anything by Patrick Mackenzie, the Wufoo guys, Gary Vaynerchuck, or anything from the 37Signals guys. This talk by DHH never fails to motivate me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY
Seconded. I'm doing a radically different thing from Rob's focus on niche web apps, so a lot of his advice didn't directly apply. But as someone taking the independent/bootstrapper approach to starting a software company, I still got quite a lot out of the book.
You might find my blog interesting: http://unicornfree.com - I just ran a series on pricing, and will be doing other practical nuts & bolts things soon. (Mixed with, I admit, no small amount of philosophy.)
To be honest, going the startup route is about the worst possible way to get what you want (assuming you mean: working for other people's startups. Your own could be ok depending on how you do it).
A startup will likely have stupid ideas about work ethic and they'll probably want to push your compensation into equity. For any startup you join, be realistic, it will not be the next google/facebook. You'll be doing well if it doesn't end up failing. If it does survive, the equity you got will probably be devaluated somehow.
There may be some lottery-level chance of becoming financially independent, but you'll save yourself effort by just working a TPS-land job and buying actual lottery tickets.
A much more consistent approach would be to contract (or consult if you have the chance) and live frugally. With this, you should be able to save up enough money to take a year off every few years.
Yeah I've considered freelancing+frugality as a viable alternative. My goal being to minimize the amount of "work" I have to do to survive, so that I can focus on getting interesting stuff done.
I just consider it such a damn waste to sit in an office all day and basically do jack shit. It's not even that I dislike the work all that much, it's just... all those wasted hours. All down the drain.
"""I'm so glad I was pushing 30 before I really became aware of this startup scene. The general impression that comes off, to me at least, is work hard, stop moaning, accept pennies and one day you'll be rich - assuming that unlikely outcome happens and we don't use of the thousand ways possible to screw you out of any riches."""
Startups are tax for people who are good at math, but don't bother checking their odds.
Hardly. I said there are other considerations. There is no statement therein indicating that culture can only be had at a startup. A culture exists at every company, and the culture at a particular startup may simply appeal to someone more than that of a given corporation that offers them a job. This would be one consideration, in addition to compensation, in whether to take a job there or not.
I also merely offered culture as one example, not as the only additional consideration.
Also consider that successful outcomes aren't distributed evenly; if you're exceptionally talented and work at an exceptionally good company, then it's not about odds, it's about execution. It's only gambling in the way a professional poker player gambles.
The more I think about this post, the more conflicted I am about it.
On the surface, there are some obvious truths. Startups are hard; they're definitely not 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week jobs. There are also way too many people who think they're like a normal job but with added rockstar status and the potential to suddenly become fabulously wealthy, as if by random.
But. As Arrington says, it's a mindset thing. It obviously does take huge amounts of effort to get something off the ground, and the people you work with should be selected for their motivation to do that when it's required. The danger is that people will interpret his article to mean that everyone should work long hours all the time; that's simply not right. They should work the hours it takes to reach the goal, assuming the goal is reachable. Machismo is not productive.
While it's true that there's a lot of hard work involved and a lot of people are simply not cut out for it, here are some other truths. Balance leads to creative thinking. Lack of sleep leads to loss in productivity. Burn-out leads to no productivity. A business where you ask your employees to give their lives to the product is fundamentally unsustainable. A company is a community of people, and you have to understand their human needs to keep them motivated.
It's also true that if your employees aren't motivated to reach the goal, something is wrong - either the employee isn't right, or your goal isn't right. It comes down to hiring the right people, having a killer idea that motivates people, and being a good leader.
I also bristle at his comment about unionization. I don't think unions are a bad thing - but any unionization would have to be context-specific for Silicon Valley. There's nothing wrong with collectively bargaining for rights, but it can't be a cookie-cutter solution. I'm pretty sure smart tech people are capable of creating a 21st-century union that supports their rights while keeping the creative flame of their industry alive.
Yes - a strong work ethic is needed to build a company. But hard work won't save a mediocre idea or flawed business model. Don't work hard, work smart - which means working long hours and pushing a deadline when needed. It also means being skeptical and ruthless with your business model, validating your ideas and pivoting when needed.
> Cry less
No. Cry more. Vent and complain. Give yourself emotional release. Your brain needs it. And how can you code optimally or run a company properly when your brain is working at partial capacity?
If you are smiling, happy and confident all the time when building a startup you are probably a deluded idiot. That being said - always exude confidence to your customers and strategic business partnerships. (insert witty remark here about sausage being made) However ALWAYS be brutally honest with yourself and your team. If you are honestly challenging and validating your idea and business model you will lose faith from time to time and may even slip into a funk. THIS IS NORMAL. If you're honest with your team they will find a way to help you through.
> And realize you’re part of history.
This is true in the sense that you are living and breathing and working during the early 21st century - you are a part of history (by this definition every dog is also a part a history, so don't get too excited). But it's highly unlikely that you will make history. Like most people (and most dogs) your startup will toil and die in obscurity. It's absurd to concern yourself with your legacy before you've built something of value. Build a great company and let history make up it's own mind.
My day job is just hitting 5 years. Of the original team hired under the founders only about 30% of us are left (we've hired some replacements), and the founders were part of the group that was cut.
Watching the founders leave was the hardest because you could watch them slowly come to terms over the first couple of years that:
a) this actually is harder work than what we left
b) it's not just somebody tossing money at you to go work on your pet projects and screw around, treating the expense account like a personal luxury account
c) there is a reasonable expectation by the investors at the end of all of this
that they will make their money back off of your work
Surprisingly, making the transition to a professional management team was easier than working with the original founders. During the tenure with the founders they made all of the mistakes above, plus acted like petulant children when they ran into each of these problems. Whining, foot stomping (literally), crying, flying cross-country to be away from the team and showing up unannounced at a satellite office. Bizarre behavior.
I guess what I'm saying is that it's not just the work that's hard. It's the intestinal fortitude to deal with technology, business and people, day in and day out -- especially when all three of those things are often acting at odds with each other that makes startup life hard, and being small, with startups those things can be magnified out of all proportion. Minor office quibbles turn into nuclear explosions, a broken technology stack a looming iceberg, lack of sales ability into a waiting sink hole.
People often remark about the perks of working at a startup, but it's those perks that make the often miserable part of the work tolerable. Or at least act as transparent incentives to work more, cry less and quit all the whining -- because at least you get three free meals a day!
My favorite numbers for startups are that they have a 1-in-20 chance of succeeding.
I don't know where I got those numbers from -- seems like I've heard PG use a 1-in-10 chance, but you get the general feel for the situation. You should work in such a way as to acknowledge those numbers. I'm not saying don't work hard -- far from it. Just work as if this is stage 1 of a 20-stage process, each stage lasting a year or two. If you're not working in such a fashion that you can go a decade or two, logic says you have mis-configured your work habits.
I had this same attitude when I moved from the commercial world into startups, get your ass in gear and buck up! That was a few years ago, and I've moderated my views quite a bit due to brutal reality. I think part of the problem for me was that I was trying to compare the startup world to either the academic world or to the commercial software world. In both of those scenarios you worked as hard as hell for a limited period of time and then you delivered. You took the test, you released the product, you passed the class.
Startups aren't like that because the work is never done. There is no huge finish line you sprint through. It just keeps going and going. The cutesy way of saying this is "it's a marathon, not a sprint" but I'm not sure that even covers it adequately. It's not a race at all. It's just a long, hard slog. Yeah sure, if you've got traction it is a hell of a roller-coaster ride, but I'd worry about then if-and-only-if that day actually arrives. Work like Facebook did to get their first million users when you actually start attracting hundreds of thousands of users and you're looking that potential in the face, not before.
PG also said that the 1-in-10 chance is an average, across many different people, and individual circumstances may dramatically alter those odds. Some startups are virtually certain to succeed. Others probably have a 1 in a 1000 chance.
I think you're better off working really hard for a while - enough to fully explore the problem space you've gotten in - and then taking stock of the situation and learning your lessons. Then, hopefully your odds are better next time, and with any luck, the process eventually converges on success.
I'm guessing PG's definition of success is "likely to generate a return on investment if YC invests". For that, there're a bunch that are no-brainers, even if they end up as just a talent acquisition. Parakey, for example: even if it failed, some company was bound to buy it just to get Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt (and Facebook did). Ditto Friendfeed; yes, it was ultimately a talent acquisition, but the founders and investors didn't do all that badly on it.
I don't think you could predict the overwhelming success of a Facebook or Google in any reasonable timeframe. However, you could probably be fairly certain that Mark Zuckerburg was sitting on something useful once he got a few thousand people to sign up.
Work more, cry less, and quite all the whining... is this SV or Full Metal Jacket?
That's not advice. It's ignorance.
If you cannot get your work done in eight hours a day there is probably something that's off. Maybe you're underestimating the work. Maybe you're being optimistic about your deadlines. Maybe you're not being honest with yourself about how efficiently you're using your time in the day.
After eight hours of working on one thing I'm done. If I've used every hour of that day to it's full potential I don't have the will or inclination to keep working. I usually feel pretty good about going home. Tomorrow's another day at the dream factory. I'll decompress, read a book, hack on something fun, hang out with my wife, get my sleep and tomorrow I'll wake up fresh and ready for the new set of challenges.
Whenever a manager or project lead tells me something along the lines of, "just do what you have to do and get it done," I just want to instinctively tackle them and slap them hard across the face. Not because I hate working but because they're standing on the tracks and there's a big freight train coming that they're not seeing. Managers who do that are lazy and are just passing the buck. If they don't want to hear why they're about to get hit by a giant freight train you owe it to the team to do something about it.
You don't do that by keeping your mouth shut and your nose to the grind stone.
There is always, repeat always who is going to do more work than you. That's fundamentally how competition works. And the one who does more work than you do, will always have an edge over you. Both on the shorter and the longer run. There are rewards to do that extra. And that motivation will always drive a person to do more work than you do. And trust me inevitable he will end up being successful someday.
You may do a quick comparison and call that extra work 'not worth it' when you compare against other aspects of your life that demand time. But after say a decade when you look back and find that guy to have taken a huge leap ahead of you, suddenly you get that thought that occupies every person in such a situation:
'Why couldn't have I done that?'
And then starts the analysis. You will end up finding that you were a lot more intelligent than him yet the guy somehow manage to beat you.
That's when you will realize the most dangerous fact of the world.
Hard work * time gives surprising success.
In my case I will rather take my chances do more work than my peers and even fail. Then have a regret that I could have worked hard and won but I didn't.
Your basing your argument on the idea that everyone is in some linear race and we will all do an assessment of ourselves and everyone else at the age of 40 to see who is ahead. Unfortunately many of the typically unhappiest people do this and they base their assessment on money and job titles. Success is not just about money and job titles. We all (well atleast some of us) have our own versions. One person who goes home after 8 hours may end up dedicating their extra time to building a great family life or hobby while pittying his past high performing coworker who now has made CEO. Who do you think is happier when they look back - the person who followed what they wanted to do or the person who 'won' against their peers?
As a I CEO I will have all the money in the world to chase any hobby/fun activity I will ever want. Also my kids and family are enjoying luxury and privileges which other families aren't so even they are happy.
Also I have time and patience only for one hobby. Most of the time even with a touch schedule I manage to work on my hobby.
Except most people who follow your advice are never going to be CEO. They're going to throw their whole life away chasing this, never to reach it. Other's may get a lot of money exploiting such people though.
You also have to assume that you can maintain focus and efficiency for more than eight hours a day. I've worked fourteen hour days for weeks on end. I was young, driven, and ignorant at the time. All I could smell was success. I felt like a hero waking up after a few hours of sleep each night and I'd quietly get to work. If anyone bothered to ask me how I did it, I'd just shrug and say, "someone's got to get this done."
What a stupid asshole I was.
The truth was I just felt like I was getting more done. Maybe on the first night or two of this I would. But after hour ten and eleven go by it started taking me longer to form sentences and get my ideas out. And it seemed that despite my best efforts writing unit tests and all that, my code would somehow still come out buggy. After a few weeks of this I wasn't being effective; I was just feeding the fire and making more work for myself.
Now I find ways to get more done in a day before I just shrug and throw in more over time. This has lead me to become very disciplined in how I approach my day. Sometimes it feels a little routine, but I have more energy for my work and am ready to relax when I'm done. I show to the office 30-40 minutes early and get some code kata time in to warm up. Then I get a coffee, review team updates, and get down to hacking. When my editor is open I'm just coding. If it's not open, I'm at my whiteboard jotting down notes and making plans on how to solve the problem so that when my editor is open I'm just coding. Social interaction happens at specific points in the day and I keep it short and sweet. The afternoon is when I get the most work done. When five o'clock comes around I've usually gotten everything done that I wanted to do that day so I leave.
Now that I'm a little older I see the young guys in the office doing what I used to. They throw themselves at the work. They work late for weeks at a time. They come to the stand ups all grizzled looking and swaying like an exhausted frond of seaweed. And sometimes they still manage to slip their stories for the sprint.
You know what changed my mind? Death. We're all just getting older. There are no do-overs in life. Once your youth is gone it's gone for good. I don't have any kids myself yet so the center of my life is my career but that doesn't stop me from doing the things I want to do. I like to go camping, rock climbing, spending time with my wife and our friends. I like to spend lazy afternoons reading and occasionally stay up late writing. The worst thing I can imagine is wishing you had enjoyed your time on this earth more when you had the chance.
"There is always, repeat always who is going to do more work than you."
This is true. The trick is to be smarter than them -- do more of the right things, do the right things more right, and make wise choices to create leverage.
We could "trust you" that it is "inevitable he will end up being successful someday." OR we could look at the startup graveyard and see how many people who worked their fucking asses off, harder than anybody else, still, in the end, failed.
Because they didn't put all their focus into creating leverage, because they thought "working hard" was enough, or even "working smart."
Brute force is almost never the answer.
"Working harder" is a fool's game, because any fool can play it.
No. You don't need to work harder. Work smarter. I was able to work for $15/hour two years ago. I did actually work for such rates, but I ended up increasing my productivity. Learning new tools, techniques, patterns, two monitors, better working conditions, reading blogs and books...
Now I work less and make more money. I'm still brushing my skills, and the more I do the more I realize that I can go further. Before you start a Start-up, make sure you have the necessary skills and that you have mastered them quite well.
Make a plan. Put 8-10/hours of work per day. Take at least 7 hours of sleep. Practice sport. Meet with your friends (but don't let them distract you). If you plan the time required for your startup to get up and running (coding, testing, papers, marketing, capital...), then you'll be able to work in healthy conditions and meet deadlines.
And doing that you'll be called a HARD WORKING person. Because no one else (or few) is doing it. If you are doing what the author suggests then you might possibly end up destroying your startup, health, relations and life.
Meh - honestly working insane hours becomes unproductive and is foolishly glorified by many around SV. Getting 2 hours of sleep on a regular basis is just going to make you non-functional after a while and will lead to shooting yourself in the foot. This culture seems to be manufactured by VC-backed startups with limited runways and some of the more tyranical managers who hear about the greats like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that drove people incredibly hard and achieved enormous success. I think the better path is to work toward a certain direction that you enjoy, focus on enjoying your work and not trying to hit some "level", and treat yourself well so you can produce well. Your enjoyment and health should be your top priority and in return I'd bet your efforts will be much more effective.
People seem to only take part of the stories of those successful people as well. Steve Jobs was at times a workaholic, but at other times a total dilettante who moved to India to seek enlightenment from a guru, and did a lot of drugs.
The overworking has nothing to do with changing the world - rather, it runs contrary to it. If perpetual overworking is necessary for a startup, it's not pushing anything revolutionary enough to be considered changing the world, as the overworking serves entirely to get a product to market faster than someone else, given that someone else can produce an equivalent or superior product.
I don't see a problem here. If people are working too hard, let them vent. What's it to you? Especially if they haven't struck it rich yet. It's not like you are forced to read their complaints, unless you are their boss, but then I would question your motives.
"Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four. This pays especially well in technology, where you earn a premium for working fast."
I don't think people are arguing against working hard, I think they're just pointing out the untold part of pg's wealth essay. Namely, you can work your butt off for that 4 years and still not make it. Sadly, that's a far more probable outcome than acquiring 40+ years of working income at the end of your 4 year stint.
Having said that, if you're young, dedicated and focussed and it interests you - hell, have a crack. But know what you're doing - startups are always a gamble.
Ugh. Silly VC propaganda is now making the front page?
Honestly this is a great attitude to instill in your employees, they will kill themselves for the company and when they burn out you can hire some more. You really can get a lot done when you can convince people to sacrifice their lives. Just make sure you and your technical advisers get enough sleep and downtime to think clearly and stay motivated and sharp.
If you are a developer then hopefully you've read enough about your profession to know how real work gets done.
Maybe you are too naive to know that there are people who are more than happy to sell you a dream so you'll work yourself stupid, selling a chunk of your life for a lottery ticket (but hey, some of them do pay off).
That naiveté won't last long in this business, so don't worry, you'll learn one way or another.
Tim Ferriss described very much the opposite mentality of that of the 22-hour-work-day SV startup scene in his book "The 4 Hour Work Week." A takeaway that I've always held close is you have to be aware of whether you are working effectively vs. working efficiently. While Netscape reached their deadline (I assume) and enjoyed a successful launch, I have to wonder if they could have made the same amount of progress by equalizing their hours of sleep/hours of work, which would have made their work hours more effective. Just speaking from school experience, on 2 hours of sleep personally I know if I continue to try working much I start making mistakes that cost me a lot of time, and my pace just slows in general.
This post is disappointing to see after all the talk about people working in start ups being depressed last week. If you are hurting at a start up, you should definitely take a good look at your life and figure out what you can change to make it better. I am glad the article says "if you work at a startup and you think you’re working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs", but I think working with your start up to try to arrange a job that is more compatible with you is an option as well. Please do not just suck it up, if you're feeling bad, start making a plan that will make you feel better.
Some time ago go i read an article about an ex CEO of some biotech firm who wanted to complete a very hard multiple days bike race and trained for over a year.
He knew he couldnt keep up with the pros who didnt sleep at all and were nearly killing themselves, instead he tried to get good sleep everyday while the pros raced on. In the morning he ended up overtaking many of the guys that didnt sleep at all and genereally felt very fit throughout the whole race.
Of course he didnt win, but as far as i remember had a very respectable finish.
It was an excerpt from a book but i cant remember the name nor any details about the race :/
At the other end of the choice, there's Cliff Young
> In 1983, the 61-year-old potato farmer won the first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon (875 kilometres, 544 miles). The race was run between what were then Australia's two largest shopping centres: Westfield Parramatta, in Sydney, and Westfield Doncaster, in Melbourne. Cliff arrived at the start line with overalls and gumboots. He ran at a slow loping pace and trailed the leaders for most of the course, but by denying himself sleep and running while the others slept, he slowly gained on them and eventually won by a large margin.
> The Westfield run took him five days, 15 hours and four minutes, trimming almost two days off the record for any previous run between Sydney and Melbourne. All of the six competitors who finished the race broke the previous record, but Young beat them by running while they were sleeping.
Sometimes, it seems like a lot of startups end up working this hard because they aren't being realistic about their chances of survival. It feels like there are a disproportionate amount of chiefs but not enough Indians.
Lacy cites companies like Twitter and Zynga as success stories. Neither of these were created by newbies. Evan Williams spent five years at Blogger. Marc Pincus had already sold one company and has a Wharton MBA. I've seen startups created by people who haven't even seen functional companies exist. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence in VCs, employees, or customers.
If you don't have experience and connections, partner with someone who does, whether it be an incubator, a co-founder, or an angel investor. Suck it up and give them a cut disproportionate to their efforts on your project. Just make sure they have valid advice and connections, and that they actually answer your emails. This is the model YC companies take as well as what fueled Facebook (Zuck/Parker).
If there is no decision maker in or closely tied to your company with relevant experience, you will most likely have to work this hard to get anything off the ground. You will cry. You will suffer exhaustion. Why? Because you are competing against experienced people who have a vested interest in your failure. Even if you are in a different space entirely, you still compete with them for funding, mindshare and talent.
You can work yourself to death. If your model is flawed because you've never actually seen a functional company work, much of the work you do is spent simply spinning your wheels to find traction.
You're a part of history whatever you do. Spend time with your friends and family, volunteer to help others, get outdoors and enjoy the world. Take some college classes if you like, and drop out if you like. Learn something beautiful and utterly useless like calligraphy. Travel to India. Explore ideas, meditation, and Zen. I daresay your startup will be better, stronger, faster, and make a bigger dent in the universe.
This post is trying to say be a part of history in a significant way. But in reality your Lolcats/Facebook/Whatever wannabe site isnt important in the least. The only part of history that the people in SV startup land will become is the part of history where investors were throwing money at companies that had ideas with no products or execution or strategy for making money at all. We'll end up as the part of history that's remembered for I justified valuations, hype, and a huge busted bubble that ruins everything for the few companies that actually are worth funding. Most of the new trendy startups I've seen can be run on $50,000 a year max and I'm being generous. All you need is a server and some code, not a billion dollar valuation for a CRUD web app.
Very few startups are destined to be great or even decent. Very, very few. It's a shame that so many are getting so much hype without justification these days.
As someone that's bootstrapped for 3 years, I can say that working hard is imperative, but can also be incredibly detrimental to your business. I believe in the spirit of the blog post, as long as you don't get caught up in absolutes, because obviously burnout is counter-productive.
Most startups I see are weekend projects, or 3-6 month endeavors that really don't qualify as being a part of history and are dominated by goal of making money. However, considering the author it's safe to say that Arrington is assuming that you're actually trying to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, instead of building the next coupon loyalty program with game theory and achievements. It's probably also safe to say that someone with his universally accepted work ethic is probably seeing alot more 'whining' in his current role than previously exposed to.
> Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that's what you like to do.
It is a logical fallacy to believe that in order to mimic someone else's success you must also mimic all of the steps they took to get there.
Just because Microsoft, Facebook, or Netscape had long and crazy hours in the startup days doesn't mean you need to do the same thing to build the next Microsoft, Facebook, or Microsoft.
It's rather immature thinking to assume there is only one way to do something like this, or even that "this is just the way things work" when your company is based in a certain area of the country (Silicon Valley, California).
There has been done large amounts of research on heavy overtime's effect on the productivity of software developers.
It doesn't take very much overtime for productivity to absolutely plummet. We're not talking just a small time drop here. Rather it's a free fall of 80% or so. This means that even if an engineer works 120 hours every week, he will still not be as productive as if he worked the standard 40-50!
More goofing-off time, running errands during work, an extreme increases in defect rates etc, are just some of the reasons.
Steve McConnel discusses this at length in his 1996 book "Rapid development", citing large amounts of case studies, books and other research.
The irony is that these guys who give the bravado laden "quit the whining, put in the hours" speech, are actually reducing their time-to-market, while simultaneously destroying their developers!
It's natural for people to whine. I do it all the time but in the end I'm far happier with my life than I was when I didn't work for myself.
Some whining is not justified and done by people who are in it solely for the money. Founders are a tough bunch but even we have to vent at times.
At the same time I'd submit that if you're working all night and day you're not doing it right. There are times we must put in a 16 hour day but constantly killing yourself over work hurts you in the long run. The more punishment you dole out to yourself the less productive you are and the longer you have to work to catch up.
A lot of whining would cease if people stopped trying to keep up with the other guy for the sale of keeping up. Become what you're meant to become and fuck expectations and what other people are doing. Grow to the size you need to be. Too many startups start taking money too soon and are run as if they're a huge company when all they need is a single server and a guy to write code. Premature scaling can probably account for a large portion of the whining and failure out there.
I see way too many startups trying to be something they're not and shouldn't be which leads to burn out and failure. This business is tough and a little whining is to be expected but if we quit making the mistakes I mentioned then the whining will cease to come from cry babies and will only be heard from hard working people who truly need to and should be allowed to vent.
And that's why my hiring criteria has always hinged on the level of compulsion said candidate exhibits. Sleep needs to be a secondary concern when stacked against a deadline.
Although, I will be the first to admit that every now and then I fully rest up and swear I'm going to get more sleep because I can actually see the productivity increase. That thought is often a quickly fleeting thought however....
I wouldn't hire someone if I didn't believe they possessed the same mentality. Is it really a big deal given that the chances of having to pull all nighters in college to meet an assignment deadline is so common? How is work (especially in a startup) any different or less important?
Pretty well even in a corporate environment. The word compulsion was used to polarize and by the comment score card, it did a pretty good job at getting a rise out of a few people. A more positively associated word to be used would be dedication and I find it to be a great ruler to measure the quality of candidates.
Honestly, deadlines aren't there to be first to market. Deadlines are there so you can accurately pace / measures yourself. Once deadlines start slipping, it's a slippery slope. At some point, you may have to look at the planning to see if the plan itself is too aggressive given the resource constraints. With that said, I firmly believe that a strong team needs to stand behind deadlines however arbitrary.
>Once deadlines start slipping, it's a slippery slope.
Yes, and once people start doing insane things like working double hours and skipping sleep then the deadline is going to get worse and the finished product will be a train wreck.
I worked somewhere where there was a big push for a deadline. People were put on 12 hour days, 6 days a week for about a year. When they made their release it was one of the biggest disasters in company history (big place). The CIO looked at it and said "we're not giving anyone more time to get their projects done because we've seen that when they have more time the result is crap anyway"....