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Startup is not your job (igzebedze.com)
34 points by eggspurt on Aug 22, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

This is another article that makes a bunch of assumptions about its precise definition of a "Startup", then defines those definitions, then restates them as its conclusion.

But it doesn't mean you need to fit any of those definitions to be a Startup. Except in the mind of the author.

I run a successful little software startup that has as its first and primary goal: "Maximize Jason's vacation time". Every decision I make is made in that context. So profitability is important, as is low customer support requirements, as is technical simplicity (so I never have to cut a trip short because something breaks).

From that standpoint, articles like this that make it sound like a startup should consume your life and thoughts seem a bit silly. No it shouldn't. Not unless you want it to.

That's the cool thing about running your own business. You get to run it any way you please.

Well said. I don't understand why people shy away from this mindset. There is nothing wrong with running something successful and living a full life.

There's a difference between a "startup" and a "lifestyle business".

I would disagree with that, they are not mutually exclusive. Some people create a "startup" to provide them with a "lifestyle business".

How about new lifestyle business referring to themselves as new lifestyle businesses versus referring to themselves as startups? How should a startup call itself not to be ambiguous?

Good luck with getting a consensus definition of "startup" on even this website alone. A lot of the advice that I read here is applicable to a "lifestyle business" - because I still have to make many of the same decisions with regard to product, marketing, hiring etc. I have some different constraints and optimization targets but that's true of any two businesses.

The article is based on the (huge) assumption that you have an internal burning desire to change the world, and running a startup business is just the most efficient method to do that.

That doesn't apply to most small businesses, even new ones.

Say you want to disrupt credit card payments. Do you need to work on that 20 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or can credit cards be disrupted 8-5 M-F? Seems either is possible.

I don't understand why the idea that you should try and gain a competitive advantage by stretching yourself beyond limits is so popular in the startup community. Not resting properly (be it vacation or daily sleep) hurts your productivity and decision making ability badly. So overworking is simply not a rational thing to do.

Starting a new business is not a sprint, but a marathon. And all this romanticizing does a huge disservice to the people who buy the hype and end up burned out.

Starting a new business is not a sprint, but a marathon. And all this romanticizing does a huge disservice to the people who buy the hype and end up burned out.

Eh... I don't know. I mean, yeah, I totally agree with the sentiment that "Starting a new business is not a sprint, but a marathon." But, even so, part of the issue is the old saw that (paraphrased) says "an entrepreneur is someone who sets out to change something about the world when he doesn't control the resources necessary to do so."

If you buy that definition then doing a startup is trying to do the (nearly) impossible. Given that, you look at the simply ridiculous amount of work in front of you, and the resources you have available, and you don't have much choice but to do as much as you can with the one resource you do control: yourself.

I guess there is some romanticizing involved, but doing a startup is hard and I don't see any way around that. It takes a lot out of you, and I believe you do have to sacrifice a little (maybe a lot) at least in the early days, until you get some traction and can start attracting more resources to your initiative.

Maybe, if you're a natural born salesperson and can attract more resources without traction, it's a different story. Or maybe I'm just one of the people who has bought the marketing hype.

I probably watched The Social Network one time too many. :-) Or maybe, in my case, it's just because I'm getting older and feel like I'm running out of time to do something big.

I completely agree that most startup founders are going to be making sacrifices and using all the resources available. If you are expecting anything to come out of your startup you better be really committed to it. I'm against that school of thought on a totally different basis.

My issue with it is that it views starting a startup as a kind of gamble. Every sleepless night, weekend at the office and skipped vacation is absolutely guaranteed to come back and bite you in the ass after a certain time. If you are into gambling, you might bet on "hitting a home run" (whatever that means) before that happens. But you might as well try your chances in Vegas. In reality behind every overnight success is skill and years of dedicated work. And there's no way you are going to stay in overdrive for years without wrecking yourself and your startup.

I'm speaking from personal experience btw. I used to subscribe to that ideology and I still haven't fully recovered years later.

But in reality behind every overnight success is skill and years of dedicated work. And there's no way you are going to stay in overdrive for years without wrecking yourself and your startup.

Yeah, you definitely can't sprint the entire marathon. I won't argue that. But I think there are moments when you choose to sprint for a while, to achieve certain goals. And even the non "flat out sprint" moments are a hard slog.

The thing that I don't do well, is allowing myself to take time off. I can't escape the sense of feeling guilty when I do... if I go out to watch a movie or go out drinking or whatever, I always find myself thinking "I could be (writing code|doing market research|writing a whitepaper|etc.)" the whole time. So I don't wind up taking much time off. Whether I'll look back on this whole experience as being a net negative, or a net positive, remains TBD.

Actually I still feel the guilt when I take time off too, I just learned to do it anyway :)

Most folks this way is sold to haven't lived much and the marketing machine reaches them.

There's no question its more work than anyone expects. I just believe there's a better way than perpetually stumbling a startup

Being constantly overworked is not sustainable.

However start-up life does include periods of overwork to get things done. Things that you could put off for a couple of days if you had a regular job.

And what exactly would change in those couple of days?

A lot, and those things stack up over time. If I finish something today it frees up my mind to think about some other, possibly larger problem tomorrow. Do this enough times and it can be the difference between success and failure. I know people like to think in big black swan moments, but most of life is not like that. Life is about making lots of little decisions that add up over time. The speech from Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday talks about fighting for each inch on the football field and really how it is no different than life itself. Over time those inches add up.

From what I've seen - a lot. You can lose a leading client (or cause huge bump on the road), your marketing plan can fall apart.

It's about finishing stuff today, so tomorrow you can do more important strategical stuff.

Start-up contrary to some of beliefs is not one big effort to reach the summit. It's a series of small wins (and loses) that accumulate. And you need to be accumulating them faster than your money runs out or competition takes the space, etc.

I see this genre of writing as less about practical business advice and more about a certain kind of evangelism: leave your old ideas behind and join the new movement! It can be startups, or something else. The general template is an aspiration that a new life awaits you, if you dive in and commit to it, but only if you really treat it as a new life, not just a new job.

Starting a new business is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Yes, but marathons are won by those who can run at the speed most others sprint.

> You don’t need time off. If you think you do, you’re in a Job and should stop thinking it’s a startup, because it will fail.

Strongly disagree. Start-ups fail for lots of reasons; burn-out being one of them.

Start-ups are just high risk/reward jobs without many of the guarantees or safety nets that the traditional employer/employee relationship can provide.

If you don't have your work life balance sorted out, then something will fail; be it your start-up, your relationships/marriage/family, or both.

If you get to the point of burn out and it's a choice of either burn-out completely or - by taking a holiday - a failed start-up then you can't blame the holiday, I'd be looking at the original idea and/or the execution.

Founder's Prayer (with apologizes to AA & the original author)

God, grant me the tolerance to accept the limitations of my MVP, strength and determination to work on what must be worked on now, and wisdom to know the difference.

Also, could we stop pretending that every startup founder is in it to "change the world"?

startups make money by making people behave differently - paying them instead of someone else. that's changing the world.

let's stop pretending there is more to it than that, because it's hard enough.

I step on ants and consume bacteria everytime I eat. So I change the world as well.

Great observation there. Wanna know a secret? You can demean and belittle someone's argument just just by taking it out of context anywhere on in the world, not JUST hacker news.

You don’t need time off. If you think you do, you’re in a Job and should stop thinking it’s a startup, because it will fail.

Or you're a human being and you'll be just fine.

Do yourself a favor: take time off and mean it. Who are you racing against? Probably just yourself.

So I'm curious, what would you define a job? True, running a startup requires you to make some concessions with your private time. But when you have what you describe as a job, assuming there is no need to excel (i.e., prioritising, pushing), seems a bit judging. Aiming to be good at what you do, doesn't that hold for anything?

So with that argument turned around again on startups, if you need time off, vacations, private me time or whatever to get better at what you do, you should take it. Excessive stress does not make a better person, nor a better life.

great question, thanks.

i call a 'job' something that has a stable job description, clear career path and predictable roadmap. vacation becomes just another item on the calendar then, which is perfectly fine.

you can and should still excel in those conditions, but the project won't be jeopardized or stalled if you take time off. and when you come back, chances are that the specs of your project didn't shift yet.

there is a surprising amount of people working in jobs, even in technology sector, but they are not founders or employees of early stage companies.

and yes, if you feel like you need time off, you need time off. but planned vacations in this environment I just don't see plausible. I've never been able to even book a plane ticket more than a week in advance, because plans always changed.

best, b

I've never been able to even book a plane ticket more than a week in advance, because plans always changed.

Fix that if you can.

From your comments on this thread, I get the sense that you've let your business get out of control a bit. You think that it's all normal and part of the deal because it's all you know. But lots of people here are trying to tell you it's not.

If you can't mold the business you created yourself to fit the pattern you want, that's a big red flag. Now, it's likely that the pattern you want actually is to be occupied 24/7 and pour your whole life into your thing, in which case you've succeeded.

But know that it doesn't need to be that way. It's entirely your choice.

Agreed except for holidays. If you don't have a clear sharp line between work and life day-to-day, then you need those more than ever.

hey guys,

a) i'm not saying anyone should overwork themselves, you're seeing that in my post. all i'm saying is that even when entrepreneur (or a type thereof) tries to unplug, the brain still works on the same problems.

b) work-life balance is bullshit, doesn't work. you can't switch contexts like that efficiently. if you try and think you'll be able to, no surprise you need vacation as well.

c) i'm racing against wantrepreneurs who think they have a hard job building a startup because they worry about paying for office space and other non-essential things. as more cash is sent towards early-stage startups, I see more of this behavior emerging.

best, b

"work-life balance is bullshit, doesn't work. you can't switch contexts like that efficiently"

Efficiency is the anti-goal of a well-balanced life.

It's not efficient to drive four hours to Yosemite just to hike a new trail with my wife. It's not efficient to spend all afternoon trying to cook my own pizza instead of just ordering one for delivery. It's certainly not efficient to spend years learning to speak a new language for no practical reason.

However inefficient, all these "life" activities enrich and contextualize your work. There is nothing quite like a long hike to help you wrap your head around a difficult algorithm, or bringing a team together over some bad homemade pizza, or serendipitously running across a potential investor who speaks your otherwise "useless" second language.

This is what work-life balance is all about. It's about investing in yourself and, indirectly, your work. It's never efficient, but a lot of us find it necessary and rewarding.

This time crunch is exacerbated even further when you're trying to bootstrap. 8 hour day job (at least) + at least 3 or 4 hours nightly trying to hustle your way through a product doesn't leave much time for sleep/breathing etc. let alone relaxing your mind in any substantive way. Plus the guilt you feel if you take a day off from the day job and don't spend that on what you're working on.

I'm trying to figure out better ways to maximize my time and squeeze the absolute most out of it, while maintaining some semblance of work/life balance. But it's a struggle, there's no doubt. There's the momentary victory of working out all of the scheduling but if you burn out, it's not worth much, is it?

well... i'd say nothing is worth over-working yourself. i like my sleep very much.

Depends how you define "job". If a job is defined as repetitive, non-engaging, focused, simple work, then a startup is not a job. If define a job as anything, no matter how board, critical, and requiring abstract though, then a startup is a job.

In my opinion, a job is what you spend time doing to live your life. If you do a startup so you can continue to live, that's your job.

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