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A day in the life of a startup founder
633 points by jgrahamc on June 27, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments
(The following is parody of recent posts, it is not meant as criticism of any individual but as commentary on what I see as an unhealthy obsession with the habits of others and of people taking themselves and others in the 'startup community' a bit too seriously)

0523 Alarm sounds on my iPhone 4GS. I don't use just any alarm program: I use Biorythym Alarm System+ which monitors my internal body clock and starts ringing at the appropriate time before 0523 to begin an in tune start to the day. It uses Gregorian chants, nature sounds and recordings from inside the womb to ease me into the day.

0530 I'm in front of my MacBook Air (with 256GB SSD) at my desk made from recycled lumber from South African railway tracks. Why did I get up 7 minutes earlier? Because, as Manic Minute Minder Pro reminds me 7 minutes wasted per day 1.7 extra days of productive time per year. 1.7 days when the competition is literally sleeping!

I drink a large bowl of Jing Tea Matcha Supreme Green and a glass of organic milk. At 0533 every day I'm hacking through my email, TODOs, tweets and catching up on Hacker News. Every 20 minutes Time Out reminds me to stop, meditate and focus.

0645 I walk into my bedroom with a green tea for my wife Cassiopeia who is waking up. We smile at each other and spend the next 15 minutes on One on One Time. At 0700 it's time to wake our two boys: Dagwood and Spaniel.

0800 The house is quiet but Skype isn't. I stay in contact with my teams in Costa Rica, Montreal and Goa via Skype throughout the day. This morning check in with the teams gives me a good view of where the business is. Currently we're in double stealth mode (the public doesn't know what we're building and neither do we).

0830 I jog down to the ground floor of our New York brownstone and get on my Trek Madone 4 series bike for a 30 mile ride out into New Jersey and back. My iPhone 4GS is cued up with a set of daily business podcasts set to run at double speed so I can get through all of them in the hour's ride.

0930 Shower and then spiritual time. I have a small shrine set up that allows me to focus on the important. I light an incense and gaze up at posters of Tim Ferriss, Kevin Rose and Warren Buffet.

0945 The day really begins. For here on in it's meetings, hirings, firings, networking with the New York VC and angel crowd until 1900 when C, D & S (or cease and desist as I call them) come back home. We eat together and at 2200 I'm in bed with a light cucumber mask and the alarm set for another day.

Tonight's a little special because I've been invited to give a one hour keynote on being a startup CEO at Velocipede Ventures weekly Pumped and Primed meetup for other successful entrepreneurs like me.

8:53 wake up. Hung over. Again. Meeting's in 7 minutes. Start a pot of coffee. Stumble back to the desk.

9:01 answer the Skype call, offer a quick "I'm here" before switching to mute so they won't hear the sounds of coffee brewing, much less the groaning.

9:12 carry around the laptop while starting laundry, then into the bathroom and out again. Nobody suspects a thing.

9:35 coffee's starting to work. A good thing too, have to say my piece. Short and sweet but not too gruff.

9:37 hangover's coming back for round 2. Get back in bed with Skype on low.

10:08 shower time. Really gotta buy drano soon. And toothpaste.

10:35 third cup o' joe. Start working.

10:45 put on a shirt (but not pants) for skype video chat with client.

10:46: take shirt off after I realise my webcam is broken.

10:48 put on pants after I realise webcam isn't broken, just laying on the floor.

10:50 Client emails to say she'd like to meet in person.

11:12 Wife calls in hysterics because webcam is still on.

12:00 Realize Hacker News and Reddit are actually the same thing.

12:15 Client emails to inform she is "en route" and is running 30 minutes late.

13:30 Client arrives just as the wife pulls into driveway, someone calls the cops after all the yelling

11" MBA is perfect for #3.

any netbook

The problem with stuff like this isn't that there are a lot of details, it's just that: they're details, not issues.

There's nothing wrong with details: all the little hacks that work for us that we can share and copy. They're fun and cool and can really help.

But make no mistake about it: details are not issues.

Examples of details:

  - when I wake up
  - what I eat
  - how I exercise
  - my set-up
  - my preferences
  - my life hacks
  - how my team is organized
  - how we communicate
  - what I read
  - where we go
  - tips & tricks
Examples of issues:

  - the value I produced for my paying customers
Frankly, I'd rather talk about issues.

There's nothing wrong with details: all the little hacks that work for us that we can share and copy. They're fun and cool and can really help.

But make no mistake about it: details are not issues.

But... is there any requirement that every post to HN be fully deep, weighty, intellectually challenging issues?? Sure, this crowd loves a good intellectual debate (too much so, most of the time), but there is also a practical, down-to-earth side to the crowd here... actual entrepreneurs who are in the middle of building companies, and who find reading about the experiences of others useful, even if they serve as nothing but inspiration, or encouragement.

Sure, a post like the earlier @ryancarson post is mostly details... but so what? That doesn't mean it isn't a valuable post to some of the members here. Maybe it wasn't for everybody, but here's a thought: no piece of content that gets posted here is interesting to everybody.

Frankly, I'd rather talk about issues.

So would I, most of the time. But that doesn't mean that the occasional "details" post deserves this much angst and controversy.

Okay, I've spent the better part of the morning mulling this over while doing other work. Really, it's not as pathetic as it sounds.

This is a funny parody that highlights the shortcomings of the "wantrepreneurial" spirit. Everyone wants to be inspired by these posts, and many people like talking about how they're "living the startup life," instead of actually building anything.

Now, here's where I disagree with a lot of the responses, to some extent even edw519 (whom I greatly respect). I personally find legitimate "day in the life" posts inspirational. Are they sometimes silly? Yes. Are they sometimes just a waste of time? Absolutely. Do they spur drive to wake up earlier, be more productive, and create awesome products? It depends, but for me, they do.

I got a chuckle out of this parody, but I hope that HN posters don't take the general response to this post to mean "oh, no one cares about my daily life." If there's nothing unique in it, maybe you don't need to post, but just like I like learning how my coding heroes get their productive work done, I also like learning how founders frame their work/home balance.

Just my $0.02 :)

It's a joke?

No, he is referring to other posts that seriously focus on details rather than values.

OP posted a satire version of the commentary based on serious previous discussions.

He's replying to an imaginary strawman. OP never suggested that the details matter, or in fact said anything about details. Seems to me like edw519 is having his own separate discussion that's only vaguely related to the topic :-)

  # hours after post:                                 7

  # comments in this thread only expressing how they 
    thought the "double stealth" bit was funny:       10

  # American Psycho references:                       3

  # top level comments providing absolutely no 
    information or any point at all[1]:               10

  # of reddit-style "one-up" threads[2]               5
jgc: Very funny but in the end I'm more disappointed beacuse of the responses here. This could have been a simple blog post and these comments probably better belonged as comments on your site.

[1]: perhaps including this one?

[2]: is there a name for this yet?

For fun, here's an actual account of my typical workday routine. I'm a married not-quite-exec with two toddlers managing a globally dispersed (9 countries, 14 time zones) IT department focusing mostly on appdev.

0550 Alarm (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mobitobi.a... -- I LOVE this app!!) goes off and I sneak out of the bedroom trying not to wake the 1 year old.

0551 Instant coffee in microwave & bio-needs-management. pull on shorts from previous day and clean t-shirt.

0600 prepare lunches & snacks for wife & kids

[0620-0630 optional time to catch up on email if I was adequately well-prepared in advance for food prep the night before]

0630 wake 1yo & wife. change diaper, dress, feed, and sunscreen 1yo.

0645 wake 3yo, usually with help from 1yo.

0705 wife leaves for work and i leave to drop off the kids at daycare/preschool.

0745-1630 lots of meetings, some real work, possibly some exercise, dinner prep, laundry, and possibly a couple of errands.

1630 pick up kids and proceed with the evening family craziness until putting them to bed around 2030.

2030-2230 fluctuates between doing the real work I couldn't get done during the work day and spending time with my wife. Usually more of the latter than the former, something I am extremely thankful for.

The point isn't the schedule. The point is that finding a work-life balance that accommodates productivity and supports happiness in both areas is a very personal thing, and as jgc's sarcasm shows it's ultimately about what one can accomplish and how one feels while working toward those accomplishments, not the self-congratulatory circle-jerk minutiae so many people focus on.

Only startup founders and not-quite-exec's at other companies have kids that are born with a special gene that programs them to wake up or be woken up at the precise time prescribed by some app only available on iphone. Everybody else's kids (or if you have an Android--sucks for you) wake up at random times at night, scream bloody murder and generally don't follow any schedule other than their own.

Eh? That link was to the google play store. It's an Android app, and I use it myself on my Android.

GP's kid had to get up to go to day care, he didn't get a vote, and would have had to get up regardless of the alarm clock his dad uses.

What's driving me crazy is all these guys getting their kids to bed by 7:00 or even 8:30. Oh, how I would love to have my kids in bed by those times. Of course, my kids sleep till 9:00AM, but by then, I've been up and gone for 4 hours, so don't get to enjoy a quiet house at either end of the day.

Routine routine routine.

Kids will sleep to whatever schedule you set if you decide on a routine and stick to it. Some will take more work than others, but success is possible for nearly everyone.

Exactly, there is always the exception to the rule but if you want your kids to stick to a schedule (which is a good thing to teach them as youngsters) you'd better have a good schedule yourself and guard it like a drill sergeant. I for one make sure my kids (2yo and 4yo) are in bed at 8pm each weekday and have to wake them up at 7am each morning and it works beautifully. Maybe they are a little grumpy when they get up but after a nice warm cup of milk and their morning sandwich they are as happy as can be and ready to run off to school.

It's indeed just routine, routine, routine, ...

Have you tried any of the traditional "sleep training" stuff (e.g. Ferberizing etc)? We have a 7mo that we just started sleep training last week, and it's going surprisingly well. She goes to bed around 7:30-8pm, sleeps through night, and wakes up around 7am.

I'd like to echo this. I know it's off-topic, but we've tried "graduated extinction with parental presence" (i.e. I sit in the room next to my son's crib after I put him down but do not pick him up) and it really DOES work if you've got the stomach for it. The problem is that once the grandparents visit for a week and spoil him, you'll need to retrain all over again (which we're doing now, sigh).

But seriously: it really does work. It's hard for the first 2 nights or so but gets exponentially better as time goes on.

Some people prefer to actually parent their children, no matter what time of day it is.

A coworker manages to get his kids to bed by 8:30... he dines at 7 which is insanely early by my country's standard (Uruguay).

As brc says, it's routine, routine, routine. I'll definitely get my coworker's advice by the time I have children !! :) .

My schadenfreude is approaching a million right now. /got 8.5 hours of sleep last night. I'm actually being serious here, but zooming-out and looking at the world from the perspective of rational self interest, and hence preserving my own health and sanity: shouldn't the government PAY you to raise kids? Since I believe we have mostly overridden our evolutionary instincts I don't really see why people chose to procreate at all, unless for evolutionary or cultural means which under certain worldviews are considered irrational, as they minimize the freedom of the individual and maximize the role of the children/government/religion. Either way, children are still de-facto property of the government and in one case http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbutz_Communal_child_rearing_... entirely collectivized, which didn't work.

Brilliant. Reading the comments I cannot help but think of Poe's law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law). Some poeple can't tell this is satire despite or maybe because of how ridiculous and over the top it is.

It's also really very difficult to write satire well.

Hearing about Poe's law for the first time but in my corner of the woods, we blame it on the lack of a sarcasm font

A "sarcasm font"... People working on lightweight markup languages should pick up the hint if they're looking for new additions. For instance, in Textile, enclosing a string in between "(:" and ":)" could display the text into sarcasm fonts (notice that I am being dead serious in here - those happy faces around do change things in a paragraph).

Aren't a lot of the comments satire?

On some days, most of HN seems like satire to me.

Thanks for this valuable insights! It's great to know that it's possible to run a wildly successful business and still have time for 15-minutes of one-on-one with your wife. You seem to love your family very much. I myself am trying to be a wildly successfully founder and it's very helpful to know how early you wake up and all your little secrets (I have a Trek Madone 4 too!). These are hte kind of innovations that will lift my startup into the VC cloud too!

Loving double stealth mode - is triple stealth when your VCs don't even know what your doing I wonder?

Triple is when VC's don't even know they invested

Excellent! We're not even in stealth mode and I sometimes think our VCs have forgotten they invested

Met a VC recently who snarked that another fund invests in competitors because they can't remember what's in their portfolio.

Take the money and run!

Love it! :)

I thought double stealth would be like "encrypting" using double ROT13.

Or perhaps the company could have a superb MVP up, addressing a huge market, while behind the scenes (double stealth) they're building a lame idea for real.

Ah yes, the old ROT26 encryption.

It's the latest "best practise" for storing passwords - extremely efficient and almost impossible to implement incorrectly.

This sentence was encrypted using ROT26.

Encryption so cunning that you can't actually tell that stuff has been encrypted!

Hah, that's actually a thing (steganography). That full stop is actually a microdot.

No, that's just business as usual.

You forgot to include the picture of you charismatically laughing and showing how lighthearted and simultaneously laser-focused you are.

This reminds me of the American Psycho's introduction.

I laughed hard on this one.

>"Currently we're in double stealth mode (the public doesn't know what we're building and neither do we)."

"15 minutes on One on One Time"... Ha!

But seriously, I think "double stealth mode" deserves to officially enter startup lexicon.

To quote Louis CK's interview from Tuesday... it's WONDERFUL!

Oh this is spot on! There is far too much hipster drivel written about personal habits, lifestyles and fashion choices of founders as if building a successful company is largely determined by what kind of coffee you drink.

Likely because focusing on that is a lot easier than focusing on reality: It's hard work, takes extreme dedication and sacrifice. Much easier to pretend that certain types of yoga exercise are key factors....

Fantastic Parody. Though I wrote a real one on life at my startup here http://paraschopra.com/blog/personal/startup-an-emotional-ro...

I personally find honest accounts of day of life in any profession (not just startup, but a doctor, firefighter, airline pilot, ice cream vendor) very, very juicy and interesting. Gives a glimpse of what it is to live in a different life. Maybe a bit voyeuristic, but what better way to know if you would actually like a particular life / profession.

Just noticed this line in your article:

> Sparsh (our CTO) purchases a new server from Linode and configures it.

Have you considered switching to Hetzner? Rock solid stuff, and way cheaper than linode for bigger boxes... Depends on where your customers are based (ping times to west coast can be a bit slow), but otherwise, awesome.

We have already switched to Softlayer. Heard good things about Hetzner though.

A friend of mine at Pierce and Pierce, Pat Bateman, recommends you always use a moisturizer with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your skin, and makes you look older. ;)

Sounds exactly like my day, except I get up an hour earlier to reread my favorite chapters of "Art of War" and I go to sleep an two hours later which I spend getting inspired by amazing TED talks or Udacity courses about one thing or another.

Touché :)

For what it's worth, I personally like reading detailed, "a day in the life" descriptions from productive individuals. It helps add a personal quality to the usual startup narrative.

As someone who is planning on having kids in the next year, I also appreciate seeing how other people manage to juggle their work amidst the rigors of parenthood. I'm not much a morning person, but that made me want to start waking up earlier. :)

We just had our first baby 7 months ago. Parenthood does throw off your work-life balance, but you will still get free time sometimes, you just need to be focused and patient and organized. Teamwork between you and your partner is key.

Also, nothing will improve your quality of life more than establishing a habit of waking up early and exercising.

The writing style is scarily close to Bret Easton Ellis in American psycho. This could be the main character Patrick Bateman describing his morning routine.

Scary indeed..

Looking forward to Ryan Carson's response.

He has nothing to respond to. His was just one of many such posts and posts of the 'life hacker' movement. I was parodying a general sense of 'taking ourselves too seriously' that comes about through the posts themselves and through them getting upvoted highly on Hacker News.

Laughing at it would be the only reasonable response: it's not at all mean-spirited.

Should have included a bit about how I don't really care about the inner workings of the software, my job is to be the visionary.

"Currently we're in double stealth mode (the public doesn't know what we're building and neither do we)."

+1. That's excellent.

I did a google search for desks from South African railways, and didn't find anything. But you can get desks made with salvaged steel from American railways.

"The Telegraph Desk features sections of salvaged 70-pound Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad steel sliced into 1" and 4" sections to create "dashes and dots.""


My buddy owns Rail Yard! Great stuff!!!

Double stealth mode is the best thing I've heard all year.

Great read! But you should have gone more into detail, like where the Warren poster is exactly positioned. And really left your team in Timbuktu ot of the picture.

Like it! ;-)

I wonder what is the different between a CEO and founder in the small startups? Or its a matter of company structure?

No difference. CEO is when the founder likes to call himself that! Think about it - CHIEF EXECUTIVE Officer. Required only when you have many executive officers and you need a chief for them.

Funnily, here in Bangalore, there are so many startups with only CxOs working for the company/firm. So I guess they'er quite literally all Chiefs and no Indians then! :-)

I was the sole employee at a consulting firm run by a team of 3. The called themselves:


I was "Senior Consultant". It was ludicrous.

CEO sounds more impressive.

In fairness, there will usually be one founder who is the de facto leader. Democracy, although fair, is inefficient. So I guess "CEO" is shorthand for "the founder who is in charge".

I've always found the CEO title somewhat ostentatious in a company with less than 10-20 people. President is even worse.

I prefer to term Founder or Director.

That said, I'm from New Zealand where the standard term for the head of a company is Managing Director, so anyone calling themselves a CEO here is probably just wanting to sound important.

I think the habit of using CxO job titles stems from most technology startups having a view to being involved, one way or another, with the US where these titles are the norm and things like "Director" tend to be mid-level management positions.


When I went to my first tech conference, I couldn't understand how people walked around with CEO on their name tag, yet that company sometimes consisted of themselves and one other employee. To this day, that annoys me (probably more than it should).

The rule of thumb should be: If you have no board of directors, you have no CEO.

Founder will suffice.

I'm a Canadian in New Zealand.

Rather hilariously, in typical imperial/metric, schizophrenic Canadian style, there's quite a few joint CEO/Managing Directors back home.

Managing Director itself is funny. Which is it? Are you managing a bunch of directors? Or barely managing to direct?

I assume you're aware that "managing director" is technically a member of the board of directors of the company (a director) who also manages the day-to-day operations of the company, unlike non-managing directors (e.g. investors).

> I've always found the CEO title somewhat ostentatious in a company with less than 10-20 people.

It is.

My startup is a team of six, and soon to be seven. One of the team once asked me what his job title should be. I told him to make it up himself. It doesn't matter what your title is. It matters what your role is.

These wanky "05:00 herb tea CEO" posts are the equivalent of titles (and tantamount to linkbait IMO). The value contributed is the equivalent of the role.

Or, put another way: it doesn't matter how you do what you do. It matters what you do.

The Managing Director title is used for very senior positions in finance firms in the US. Sort of equivalent to partner in law firms.

Finding the title CEO ostentatious is fine, but a company with 20 people is a big company. I have never managed anything that large. If someone is running that sized company, by all means, they should call themselves a CEO if that is what they are comfortable with.

At the end of the day they need some title, and CEO works as well as founder, president etc.

Cool, another kiwi on here. Just wanted to say hi, downvote as required

I work in a small start up where I am one of 3 owners. I have a CEO(I am a CTO) and my CEOs role is pretty much as follows. CEO spends the day pumping contacts from previous business relationships to setup new deals for the company. Afternoon he spends an hour with me the CTO to plan technical strategy before settling down and doing his daily work as a team member.

My CEO is a manager who is able to mentor me(a tech guy) in management and leadership skills while still managing to keep up connections with third parties and perform a number of technical/business functions we reserve for his role.

A CEO is a job with a predefined role, a founder, technically isn't. I know technically they overlap, but having worked in a business where there was a CEO AND a founder, it helps you see the boundaries.

If you ask me CEO is douchey if its a team of just "guys getting started". So I go with founder. When you get proper employees, its time to wear that CEO badge.

I liked double stealth mode

For anybody who thinks this is a dig, it clearly isn't. It's just satire, and it's funny :)

I think you meant

0645 - 0700: 15 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact with Cassiopeia

One on one sounds better!

(reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMSd1IbxmFA ) The description made me think of Steve Martin in Baby Mama, or Kevin Nealon in Grandma's Boy ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJLQ5DHmw-U )

Heheheh, brilliant stuff. Loved the double stealth :D

Brilliant. I'd like to read the SF version of it :)

We don't joke about that sort of thing.

What kind of water does your shower use? I personally only bathe in water from the local spring, as it helps me stay in-tune with nature.

Thanks for sharing your schedule. I use Skype and IRC to work with my remote teams too.

I don't really have a schedule per se. I do things whenever I want to. Luckily, I am in the mood to hack all day long. And when I wanna take a break, I go to the gym to clear my mind :).

For days that I am not the mood to hack, I decide to not touch a computer the whole day. PS that never happens :).

"0930 Shower and then spiritual time. I have a small shrine set up that allows me to focus on the important. I light an incense and gaze up at posters of Tim Ferriss, Kevin Rose and Warren Buffet." That's me! I always begin the day with looking at some stocks and the twitter steams from tim ferriss and kevin rose :)

Some infographics if you couldn't get enough of it (as if): http://www.inc.com/magazine/201109/inc-500-infographic-a-day...




you just made my day.

Thank you

I think we all know which individual this is actually parodying :)

Double Stealth, love it.

geez if that's life my daytime is all screwed up :>

please, and i don't say this lightly, quit your day job. make a blog called "fake startup CEO", a la "fake steve jobs".

please. this is gold. i need more.

Feels like I'm watching a short film :) Thanks!

I only have one problem with this... There is no freakin way they were going an average of 30 mph on that bike ride. No way.

I really wanted to flag this, because I really don't think that it's constructive to engage in this kind of satire and what-not. How about put the other guy's shoes on for a minute, and ask yourself how you'd feel if you were the author of the post that inspired this one?

That said, this bit struck me as so funny that it (sort of) saves the thing:

Currently we're in double stealth mode (the public doesn't know what we're building and neither do we).


I think this piece is important commentary (satire) as brown9-2 wrote, because it's an emperor's-new-clothes reality check on the startup ego/culture. It's meant to say "do you know how you sound? you sound like this." Yes it can be hard to get harsh, critical, no sugar coating feedback like this, but isn't that what the HN is all about? Better to have someone clue you in to this sooner than to have everyone snickering at you behind your back. With this market feedback, original OP can now pivot & expand, so to speak. ;)

I disagree. Satire is a valid form of commentary.

Sure, it's valid, but is it constructive? I don't think so, at least not in this case. This whole thread is nothing but a lot of useless meta navel-gazing. In fact, I regret even posting in it, the more I think about it.

On to something else... I don't come here for this kind of negativity.

At this point I think it's basically just a cheap shot. You can come right out and say what you mean and nothing bad is going to happen to you.

So come right out and say what you mean.

I like the Trek Madone part. I do the same type of "getaway" on my luch breaks and go for a 20 mile ride.

It's hilarious

Liked the names! Sound like dogs.

"at 2200 I'm in bed with a light cucumber mask"

Anyone else think of American Psycho when they read this?

funny little commentary

just 15 minutes for one on one? you're getting old .. ;-)

When you've got two kids, you're lucky if you get that much. :)

twice a week, right? A daily one-on-one with two kids at home is barely impossible.

correction: iPhone 4GS is really just an iPhone 4S

I will not be happy with that way of life.

Double awesome!

lmao Nice one.

Ah, double stealth. I've been in that mode for awhile (except I call it "languishing").

Yeah I just went back to the drawing board with one of my companies. It's in double stealth as well. Had a good laugh when I read it.

Sounds about right

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