Most people have trouble thinking like this though. They lose themselves in their work, filling up their time with trivial and menial work (or even, as is typical, spending a lot of time in the office not actually working very much) instead of trying to maximize their effectiveness. They think that somehow they shouldn't work too little because of some sense of a work ethic based on economic systems that are now outmoded. And too they think that earning a high income while working only a little is too much like being actually "rich". Nobody likes being rich these days, they like the money well enough, but they don't like the idea, they want to justify their wealth with long hours at the office.
Until robots can do all the menial work, and build themselves too, a lot of people are going to have shit jobs. I don't see any way around that.
Philosophically, is it better to have more people each doing X hours/yr of menial work, rather than fewer people doing X+n hours/yr of menial work?
In the spirit of the recent thread about EVE, it seems to me that the impulse which game makers depend on to keep people playing games, particularly MMOs, is similar to the impulse that keeps people doing menial jobs. Both involve long hours spent doing uninteresting work, and rare random rewards. People are conditioned to feel good about getting through tedious real work as long as they get occasional random high-value rewards (salary or praise or both).
Really not far from "brainwashing" as DHH called it. The 37Signals message is a very, very welcome and refreshing signal amongst the noise of investments, valuations, and exits.
If you want to devote your life to creating and running a world changing business, do it.
If you want to devote your life to your family and kids, and use a "lifestyle business" to fund it all, do it.
Just remember one is not better than the other. To each his /her own.
Whether that is the official definition or not, that seems to be the distinction I have seen around here.
My point is simply that either way is fine. There is no right answer here.
It has never been true. Success has always been primarily correlated with the circumstances of your birth. This is not an antiquated notion so much as a fabrication invented to trick the less fortunate into putting up with it.
In that sense, it is as relevant today as it has ever been.
- success is correlated with hours worked (though it's by far not the only variable)
- education is more strongly correlated with success than birth is
- education is strongly correlated with birth
What do you reckon?
37signals, on the other hand, was in business for a long time before Basecamp was even released to the public. It has been a slow road, relatively speaking.
I respect what 37signals has done. It is the way I would want to build my own business. However, have they really worked fewer hours to reach some arbitrarily high income threshold? I would suggest probably not. It has just been spread out over a longer period of time.
A startup will consume your life, and it doesn't really leave any room for trying new things. There is more to life than work, even if you enjoy your work. An optimal time investment strategy leaves room for serendipity.
I have clients at large companies who respond to email at ungodly hours. What for? It's not the equity.
The problem is that we tend to over glorify the work-your-ass-off approach.
To my main point - With risk of getting downvoted. Why not think bigger? Building business is hard. Be it local publishing house or web based product serving millions of customers all across the globe. It requires same amount of (to quote Churchill) "blood, toil, tears and sweat". Then why not to swing for fences? In smaller markets chances of survival might be higher but survival doesn't equate to success.
[Background: 12+ years as an early employee in fence-swinging tech startups, also started and ran/run a modestly successful wedding photography business with my wife]
Our wedding photography business is definitely a "lifestyle business" by the usual HN definition. What a silly term and a silly set of ideas. For one thing, it's profitable. That makes is more profitable than the vast majority of startups. It gets old spending other people's money and I have to say that one of the things I found most informative and invigorating about the photo business was that it really re-reminded me the value of profit and the fundamental idea of being in business in the first place.
[It's also craaazy educational to be any kind of founder. Honestly, standing up the photography business might be the single most valuable thing I've done in my tech career]
Beyond that, our business (really my wife's business at this point.. I'm so busy with another startup that she does everything nowadays) makes a couple of dozen couples incredibly happy every year. I can't tell you how satisfying we find this. My wife shoots their weddings, becomes their friend, shoots photos of their children's first years.. It's a really incredible gift. The assumption that scaling up/out to serve a larger market would be such an obviously better idea is short-sighted and frankly kind of sad.
Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad that there are loads of people swinging for the fences and tackling huge problems that have huge markets. So many awesome things come out of that! But don't fall into the trap that ultimately leads to thinking that it's the only way to go.
And the best part is that you already realize how awesome your business is and why it makes more impact on the world than any of the hundreds of random social-photo-buying-contact-managing startups that come out of the Valley every 6 hours.
The only people who use "lifestyle business" as a way to downplay, minimize or trivialize a business are often people who have the "lifestyle" and are saying it to people who don't have the "lifestyle".
The best lifestyle to me? Being free of time and obligation to bills to truly chase any crazy idea you want and any funding that may or may not come it's way.
There's a lot to learn from building any business seen as a lifestyle business, namely, you pick up the end to end business skills you didn't have to go big.
The alternative? Get funded and pushed out when you don't have the business chops to grow.
Go hard or go home? Get real, I want to create great things forever, sustainably, not try, fail and go back to finding a job. The part of being successful that makes you a well rounded person is non-neogotiable. Maybe folks here are still in their 20's with no real other responsibilities or obligations or priorities. This is my second internet boom and I can say as much as I've enjoy every second, I enjoy living for a living just as much.
I kinda equate it to wishing you were a rock star. It's a lot of show, but in most cases it doesn't result in any particular happiness. And it doesn't even result in a lot of financial success except in those extreme cases - and only for the early employees. There is a perception of excitement but even the day-to-day working long hours is sometimes not that much fun either.
On the other hand there's a lot of businesses out there that don't get much attention. Unfortunately it's not all that exciting to read about on HN with a headline like "I make a decent salary at a no-name company and have a nice, comfortable life"
That's crazy impressive. I tried working from home and was only ever productive if I worked till early in the morning. Daytime productivity was terrible with 2 little kids detracting me... perhaps my house is just too small.
Keep speaking up. Your voice needs to be heard. :)
They aren't doing things the way they do because they think it's glamorous, or because it's easier.