Most startups aren't, despite the fact that lots of the folks there are in effectively the same personal position and feeling the exact same thing - in addition to the added pressure of not feeling like they measure up to stories like this one because their quarter didn't go nearly as well. I really feel for those people, and I wish they felt more freedom to be honest and public about these kinds of feelings.
Rather tangentially - I have a one and a half year old daughter who recently turned a question we posed her ("Woah, kiddo. Are you freaking out!?") on it's head. Now sometimes when she gets wound up she goes full-meta and runs back and forth in the kitchen waving her hands in the air yelling "freaking out!", in self-parody.
That reminds me, a little bit, of our startup-culture's relationship to overwork... and don't get me wrong, I don't think articles like this are the ridiculous self-parody, I think they're the really troubling and all-too-real consequence.
Put simply I think we need to do a little more wiggling our toes in the carpet and chilling the fuck out. The world's not suffering from a shortage of first-world martyrs.
Take a breath, go home, do great work tomorrow, and for God's sake appreciate the fact that you're in the hilariously small fraction of people who get to blog about the pains of working too hard by choice.
I started having the notion of starting my own company specifically because I was sick of being treated like nothing more than an input variable on some MBAs Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Does it make any sort of sense to work myself to death, in that same vein, in my own endeavours? I would have only traded one tyrant whom I could escape for one I'd be stuck with forever: myself.
> Most startups aren't, despite the fact that lots of the folks there are in effectively the same personal position and feeling the exact same thing - in addition to the added pressure of not feeling like they measure up to stories like this one because their quarter didn't go nearly as well. I really feel for those people, and I wish they felt more freedom to be honest and public about these kinds of feelings.
...and let's also not forget all the folks who are barely making ends meet at their existing jobs, putting in 60+ hour work weeks for a measly salary that's been stagnate for years or all the folks needing to work an extra job or two just to survive.
It's hard to fairly cover every situation the OP is enjoying more privilege than, because frankly there's an ocean of them.
This made me think: How would a similar blog post from one of the albañiles (construction worker) be? Earning 13 bucks a day doing hard physical work and then having to do another job to earn a little more.
Because if his startup was doing bad and he says what he said, he will be ridiculed and/or pitied for being a loser.
He was managed and coached by his uncle who had experience in being a professional football player.
What shocked me is that he did not sacrifice Rafael's life like most of other kids that could be good(examples like Michael Jackson or in tennis the Wiilians' sisters or Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in Spain).
At the time everybody believed that if Rafael was not sent to Barcelona to a tennis Boarding school without seeing their family and giving it all to tennis, he couldn't make it.
Toni, his uncle, believed that if he were to be a good tennis player sacrificing everything else, it was not worth it.
Rafael got to be the best Spanish player of all time.
When I created my company I wanted to be rich, but rich meant not just money, but having time to make love to my wife, see my children grow or reading and writing in HN.
At the end, you discover you could delegate lots of work.
Easily considered the world's 2nd best tennis player ever, with chances of being the best tennis player ever.
While I think it's worth throwing oneself into a startup for a few years, because there are learnings you will get this way, that you will never get anywhere else, there should be a long term vision.
The story of Rafael Nadal is great and applies to startups 100%, because the best founder is the one who has a balanced life and can make use of all of his creativity. A startup founder who doesn't have a life besides the startup, simply won't create a huge startup. Yes, they might be able to make a few hundred million, but they won't be the ones creating a transformative startup.
That's hustle. For those of us who are not gifted, we "make it" through hard work and sweat. Whether it's worth it or not is another question, but for most of us giving it your all is necessary to climb high.
If you‘re doing something for money so that you can live your life the way you want later, that doesn‘t work because it takes time to learn to live your life the way you want. Typically it takes a lifetime to do that, so you must start early: you must start now if you wish to make it. Otherwise you‘ll end up with a lot of cash and no idea of what kind of life makes you fulfilled.
If you‘re doing something to make a difference – or to make the world a better place – then if you feel like you‘re running out of time then you‘re probably doing it wrong. That sort of goals are rarely if ever such undertakings that are constrained by time. Paradoxically, life is short yet there‘s always plenty of time so as to not have to hurry things. If you work madly for a few years what is it that you think you‘ll win from it if you compare doing that thing you can‘t not do for decades? Or maybe you weren‘t doing a thing you can‘t not do in the first place?
Rush is a sign that you have grown an inflated sense of importance. Nothing is that important, not even the important things.
If you‘re building a company, you have all the time to grow the business. Some families have been doing that for centuries, many individuals for decades. If you have a really great idea, take the time to work on it. If you‘re lucky, someone else does the same thing and finishes faster than you which means you don‘t have to do it at all! You can just enjoy the benefits of the addition of widget X or feature Y in the pool of things tangible in our lives. Maybe the idea wasn‘t that unique after all. But some ideas are and thosee you can work on for years. For many things in life, building them slower makes them last longer. Even a good relationship or a family tree.
For these reasons, I consider it a better approach to weave the things you can‘t not do and your life together. This removes a divide: life goes on at its own pace and along comes your calling but they‘re not in conflict. There‘s no contrast between work and family, or business and private life because everything is scattered around in the timeline of your life in small pieces. There‘s always some work but there‘s always home and family too. Neither is more important than the other and none of the areas can continuously hog a big chunk of your focus.
Daddy must work now, daddy has to write an important email because those people need daddy‘s opinion.
I can‘t have the meeting today, I need to cook dinner and water the garden with my daughter.
I agree that there's a need to balance the now and planning for the future, and an awful lot of start ups seem, at least to me, to get the balance badly wrong.
But there are often sacrifices you need to do now to gain far bigger rewards in the future. Whether that's resisting that dessert sat in front of you because you want to be 50lbs lighter, saving money now so that you don't starve in retirement, or sometimes trading off time with the family for time spent working so that you've still got a job or a company in 5 years time.
If I've learned anything, it's that the really important things you're talking about—those get done. They have my focus for most of every day, and I care deeply about them. I don't let them hit the floor.
The things that are missed are the ones I put out of mind to do that; that are broader than my current focus, more long-term, and especially, the things that are more human and soft. The long-range planning, the investment in systems to make my work more effective and less of a hamster-wheel, and the investment of time in life itself and the things that make me feel like myself, and make me truly inspired and motivated to to better work with the time I have.
It is these things that I forget as I'm trying to work harder and "do the right thing" for my future and my company's future. Ironically, the very things that would help its success most are the ones that fly out the window as soon as the going gets tough. That's why keeping this balance is so incredibly difficult, and incredibly important.
Your company needs a human, not a machine. It needs someone who is sane and effective every day, consistently, without fail. And if you're leading a group, multiply that importance by the number of people in it, because they will all be affected by your imbalance more than you will.
This is one of the kernels of Zen, by the way. The harder you try to hit the target, the further away your arrow lands. Success is not all about pure effort.
My hypothesis about your anecdotal examples is that they were probably missing something else. There are so many things. Or, their lack of investment in their company was not, in fact, balance, but simply lack of care or attention. They are not the same.
And if I've learned anything by looking at obesity, people stuck in an ever downward spiral of payday loans, people who never saved for their pensions etc, they frequently don't.
> Ironically, the very things that would help its success most are the ones that fly out the window as soon as the going gets tough.
Indeed. That's a great example of companies living for the now. "Who cares about whether my employee will be off with stress in a month's time? That's the future and I'll let future me worry about that. I need this bit of work out now."
Like I say, and I think you're agreeing, it's about balance. What it's not about (which is what I was challenging) is always living for the now.
To the examples you listed, I'd say it is extremely important to look at systems and their effects on individual behavior. There's a reason those problems are epidemic and not just outliers. The same goes for management and poor work/life balance: people don't make these types of decisions in absence of influence, and as leaders we have the ability and responsibility to understand that influence.
"Now" is a "rolling window". Lost 'nows" also agrregate.
Why would you need to cook dinner or water a garden (who even has a garden) or even have children in the first place? People have been doing that for thousands of years. If you want to scratch dirt you can move to Kansas and be a dirt farmer. Plenty of time with your kids with that career track.
If you're building a company, you have almost no time to do anything. Building a company is a very difficult task that very few people can successfully execute, and even fewer can successfully execute in the limit. It's just intrinsically hard.
In comparison, cooking dinner or putting the hose on some lettuce or some anemic tomato plants is easy as balls. They pay people pennies an hour to do those things for you. You can just pay them to do them, and do interesting, hard things yourself.
Personally, I think preferring easy things to hard things is a sign of weakness. Doing hard things is fulfilling. Cash is incidental, but it is a very good metric of how hard something is. If you are not making very much money, you aren't doing things that are very hard.
Life is, truly, very short. You can spend it doing hard things and, if you die, know that you were able to go further and faster and better than all the people around you, that you've won, or you can die knowing that you did the same boring things people did since they were barely past apes.
And if you say that farming and parenting are easy, then we know two things about you:
(1) You call the things that you value "hard."
(2) You've never farmed or raised a child.
You also clearly believe in an afterlife ("if you die, [you can] know..."); and you believe in one that looks something like a throne from which you can gaze down on your own and others' accomplishments. These two ideas may well have some truth to them, but neither are guaranteed.
Frankly, it's strange to me that in a society in which we are constantly exposed to the memoirs, memories, junkets, and essays of the roundly accomplished, we still think they are any happier than anyone else. Surely some must be or must have been, but I don't know of any confessors. I have heard plenty admit to dissatisfaction, to put it mildly. I hope you don't run into the same trap that many do.
The only thing I agree with you on is that I, too, am a misanthrope in even some of my best hours. I just don't think any more highly of myself for the fact.
Still, I would be proud to have made a better world for the people I do care about--and would even be happy with this George Eliot line for an epitaph, although the pronouns don't map quite right:
"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
Life is truly very short, I think everybody's going to agree on that. You can spend your limited time turning it into a competition where you look down on "dirt farmers" for the weakness inherent in them that leads them to make food which allows you to survive, or you can figure that some people aren't worth competing with and find things that make you happy.
Congratulations; you're probably going to go "further and faster and better" than I am. But I've got a job I love, I'm early in my career, I'm married to a woman I'm crazy in love with, and every evening I'm happy to fall asleep, every morning I'm excited to start my day. It's hard for me to see how I could be doing much better than that. Hopefully your categorical victory over me will give you some time to take a break, you sound like you need it.
This is the just world fallacy. How much people earn isn't analogous to how hard they work, how important their work is or how challenging. It's a product of supply and demand.
Yes, life is truly, very short. And in both cases, when all the people who knew you themselves die, you'll be completely forgotten. So you can spend life being happy or you can spend it being miserable. And when you die, it won't matter either way.
You don't get to say "haha, I won". There is no past tense to death. You're going to die and you're going to cease to be. That's it.
And nobody will thank you for the things you do. Even if--in the exceedingly rare case somewhere did--you won't know it.
And who knows, maybe you're all a figment of my imagination and the universe itself ceases to exist around me when I die. What then about all my achievements? What will I do with my degree and my money and my wife and my car and my house and my whatever when the universe ceases to exist?
NOTHING. That's the point. Nothing.
You think you are so big, but you are so small. You are just as small as the rest of us. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Once you've had the kids, however, I'd suggest that most startups (perhaps not absolutely all) are objectively less important than making sure your kids grow up to be decent, empathetic, constructive members of society – for whatever definition of society you choose. It may be tough for your kid to grow up to change everyone's world, but it's really easy to let one grow up to destroy someone's world, and preventing that is the job you took on when you decided to take the step of having a child that may one day interact with mine.
Yeah, it is. And you can't take your money with you. Your startup might be the next Facebook. It also might fail in six weeks time leaving you with nothing.
The fact that you define life success in terms of whether you won against other people guarantees one thing: you will lose. There will always be someone above you that you can stress and obsess over beating. Or, you can decide you want none of it and find success on your own terms.
I echo the other poster that described your mentality as "simple". In other situations I'd consider that a little too insulting to say, but you've already described people who focus on anything other than "hard" things as "weak". Truly complex people get fulfillment from a variety of sources. Cooking, gardening, spending time with a loved one, whatever. Success is not the only metric for most of us.
I agree with the parent of this comment that it takes a life to learn how to live. If you want to live the life of a founder, live that life. I have found great joy in different aspects of life.
I think some people (you, obviously) are motivated by difficult tasks. Some are motivated by other kinds of difficult tasks (even ones that have been done for 1000s of years, like farming--a very difficult task, trust me!). Some people are motivated by learning, some by activism, etc, etc.
Amen, I'm 34 and for the first time in my life when exposed to unexpected complexity from life I don't retreat back into a set of circumstances that allow me to control the situation (i.e. throw myself into work and minimise all distractions).
I had a fairly horrible (if not unusual) upbringing so I fear messy complex life situations, I deliberately live a Spartan existence (I don't drink, smoke, do drugs or socialise that much (outside the local developer meet up and odd cycle club event)) but I'm working at it, reducing life to a problem simplified enough to be solved is one coping strategy but as I'm starting to realise there are others, my business partner is a Buddhist and while I'm not in the slightest religious I find much of the foundation interesting particulary acceptance and mindfulness.
24 year old me would have never even stopped to question what he was doing, 10 years can make a hell of a difference.
What exactly has been won here? There have probably been ultra-driven people for as long as people have been cooking or gardening or "scratching dirt." Being ultra-driven and ambitious is probably as boring and quotidian as any of those other things.
All of us die, it is usually unremarkable, and after a while no one remembers. You're optimizing so that you spend most of your life doing the things that seems most meaningful to you. Those people who are having children and watering gardens are probably doing the same. Each type of person can do that without condescending to the other type of person.
Please do not act as if 100% of the things you do on a daily basis are "hard" things. You're commenting on HN, so I know you are not 100% tapped on the hard things.
I believe that the author chose to use the example of cooking as a way to do a relaxing (easy) thing that doesn't need a whole lot of brain power.
Some founders have trouble letting go of control. They want to do it all themselves. That doesn't scale.
Moreover, the only point of money is to spend it. They should focus on enjoyment now. They'll be playing catch up with other people who've been working to live through their forties. Ideally they'd sell the company if they wouldn't have to work again, so it's not a distraction.
George Bernard Shaw said: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."
This may be veering off-topic, but reading the suggestions submitted by the reader in that post made me wonder some people (many, in fact) have to actively work so hard to hold off depression. Something is going wrong (organically, culturally, or both) that depression is the default state for so many.
Culturally, I think our relationship with work is certainly part of it. And, some personalities (e.g. driven or obsessive) may just be more susceptible.
I'm not convinced that this is any different from the "natural state" of humans (which granted is not completely well-defined). I do not see any reason to expect people to be generally happy. While it's overly reductionist to think of evolution in terms of individual "fitness", it is not clear to me that a general trend of being unhappy (which in slightly more outlying cases becomes depression) decreases fitness. The only obvious effect I can see is suicide, but that's pretty rare statistically speaking, and we have strong self-preservation instincts independent of happiness that are pretty hard to override. Being reliably happy on the other hand is probably ruinous to fitness--what motivation would I have to do anything?
Depression is a mental health issue. Unhealthiness is not a natural state.
You are also profoundly misguided in your understanding that depression is the opposite of happiness. Most of your argument seems to rest on that confusion.
Well, it seems that you said what you meant to say, because your clarification still leans pretty heavily on the notion of happiness vs. depression.
>I'm not arguing that depression is "naturally" common. Only that reliable happiness is perhaps not naturally common.
Here's the problem. Statements about "reliable" or "unreliable" happiness in response to a discussion about depression reduce depression to, essentially, a period of unhappiness. Your suggestion is that consistent happiness may not be naturally common. The corollary (in this context) is that the intermittent periods of unhappiness represent depression.
So, I'm really not sure how the response that you're repeating here about "reliable happiness" can be construed than anything other than an erroneous framing of what depression is.
This is not to pick nits, but I think it's a common misconception that reduces depression to a mental state or emotion on par with "happiness" or "sadness". That characterization does a disservice to sufferers, even if unintentional.
Depression is an ugly, dark beast that attaches itself to the depressed person and refuses to let go. In situations that should generate "happiness", the depressed person is often unable to feel it. Depression can be wholly orthogonal to "regular" emotions.
>I'm not arguing that depression is the opposite of happiness; however, I do not think it's unreasonable that if people are overall less happy, this will increase the incidence of depression.
None of what you say contradicts this. You point out
> Depression can be wholly orthogonal to "regular" emotions.
which is certainly true, but it also can be quite parallel to them. In my experience, my worst episodes of depression were usually triggered by periods of profound unhappiness, even if during these episodes the experience is not the same as being continuously unhappy.
(Characterizing depression as coming in "episodes" is also misleading, as it is generally ever-present to some extent; but any characterization less than several pages long is misleading. I'd appreciate the benefit of the doubt that I understand the other issues and subtleties in play even if I do not discuss them.)
>None of what you say contradicts this.
It actually does in that I've effectively stated that the sentence has no meaning in this context.
Replying further would only belabor the point and I don't want to be antagonistic. I'll just chalk it up to miscommunication. Thanks for the discussion.
I don't have a wife or a puppy, but I shouldn't have allowed this to happen. I was hired to work for a set salary under the assumption of a 40-hour work-week - although I am naturally obsessive so I knew that wouldn't actually last. But I didn't expect my boss to say things like, "If we don't have a working build by 3pm tomorrow, we're all fired," (which turned out to be false, actually).
Pacing is important, and I think it would be interesting to do a startup where pacing is actively encouraged. I think this might be possible at a startup with strong IP protection, good funding, and leadership that sets realistic goals and trusts it's people to be motivated to get it done. It may mean that the public has to wait a bit longer before having a cool new thing available to them, but it also means that the thing will have been constructed by fresh, happy minds.
There is a moral imperative to not buy goods made in sweatshops. There is also a moral imperative to not use software produced under inhumane conditions. Congratulations on discovering this for yourself - and I hope you encourage your coworkers to be humane to each other and themselves as well.
This is a bothersome and worrisome comment that probably has been repeated (in some variation) too often. How is this the fault of the developer(s)?
I appreciate that founders need to fulfill their promises, especially when having the backing of investors, but these type of statements seem to indicate a failure in communication and planning (more than execution).
This happens frequently enough that by now it should be a thing that people are 'on to'. If you're being tempted with equity then insist on drawing it up in writing with a solid vesting schedule and don't work a day past the first vesting point without your stock.
I work at a startup. I'm the product manager and we are rebuilding the product from the ground up, in December we will have been working on the rebuild for a full year and our first beta customers will be starting on the new platform. The five weeks immediately previous to that, I'm out of the office for an extended period.
This is to say, you have to make the time for yourself. We both work hard, both of our new jobs (which are way better than our pre big trip jobs btw) allowed us to take this five weeks without much hassle. The team will survive and I'll come back refreshed and ready to tackle new problems.
Perhaps some think our startup will fail because someone took time off for this long, I'll tell you that I sure don't.
Haven't seen my folks in years. Spouse dumped me because I practically didn't exist outside of work. Absolutely no hobbies or traveling in years. No guarantee the company will be anything but a massive drop in my financial history. You're constantly running out of money, so you're cutting every unnecessary expense, and you're living on scraps for years, knowing that you could be making 10x that much in the workforce. You can't quit though because so many people look up to you for direction, they need you to be there and lead them, to be certain of where you're going. The stress can be so high you just want to roll up in fetal in a corner and disappear. You understand why so many founders end their lives.
The experiences however and the connections are priceless. The feeling of playing the game on your terms is liberating and the hope of the upside is exhilarating, but I still wish the price wasn't so high. The amount of personal growth is astounding: once you go through the above, everything else feels like easy mode. You have to develop resilience, charisma, diplomacy, discipline and so many other traits or you will sink fast.
In hindsight, I don't know if I'd do anything differently. When you're this deep, you try not to dwell on hypotheticals.
I remember many years ago when I was sold to the startup lifestyle by the sexiness of the message, but the dozens of PG essays and stories of success and freedom. Nowadays I caution people to truly dig deep and understand if this is worth it to them, ask them if they're ready to sacrifice everything for likely nothing at all. Ultimately we're slaves of power law and similar to Hollywood talent in our outcomes: a very small fraction of us is going to becomes gods through either luck or huge sacrifice, and 99.9% of us will be waiting tables for the rest of our lives, or decide to do something else.
You say you have developed these incredible skills, and perhaps you have. What will they do for you... what is your endgame? Perhaps your next startup will be massive success and you will be rich, but will you be happy with no relationships? Who will be happy for your success that is not also making money from it?
You have been conned into playing a game you cannot win at the cost of your humanity. Run away now.
I don't think that the experience of not seeing or having a family and not having a life (traveling or hobbies) is a priceless experience!!!
I think we buy into the story that it has to be so difficult, but it doesn't.
All this talk of sacrifice and being gods tells me you need to step outside your bubble. You are trying to start a company, not solve World hunger.
I'm 3 months out of my last CEO role and depressed, despite being depressed in my CEO role. Now I'm depressed because I'm bored. I don't know what happiness is anymore. It turns out that happiness is chasing the dream, not the dream itself. I've lost sight of it. I don't remember what it is or if it even existed.
It's like what Alan Watts said: it's not the end of the journey, it is the journey. Remember that and try to enjoy it while it lasts.
"I'm not working even close to that level."
In a way, it's a glimpse into the reality required to do Great Things. Followed by the painful self-awareness that you're nowhere close.
Jamie Zawinski has a great great blog post about this , which I'll quote part of:
> He's trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don't do that, you're a pussy. He's using my words to try and back up that thesis. I hate this, because it's not true, and it's disingenuous.
I'm not saying the OP is trying to sell this lie too. He is posting about how he is tired and wants to go home and relax. However, the life he describes is very much in the vein of Jamie's blog post. This lifestyle is not required to succeed, and it may in fact be quite counter-productive (as this blog post is attesting to). If your life isn't like this and you aren't working this hard it really isn't saying anything about how likely to succeed you are.
1: Though I don't know exactly what "great things" is... Making a lot of money? Going to Mars? Getting on the cover of Forbes magazine? Some of these require more effort than others.
>But the people who made 100x as much as the engineers did? I can tell you for a fact that none of them slept under their desk.
There are lots of people who work 80 hours a week and their startup is garbage. But there are very few (if any at all) people who got their startup off the ground with 50 hours of work per week. Working long hours is necessary but not sufficient. (There are lots of people who claim it isn't necessary, but none of them actually had a successful startup)
If you're passionate about your job, you're likely to work hard. But there's a line between "working hard", and overworking. Beyond a certain point, more hours may (or may not) mean more things done, but almost certainly doesn't mean more of the right things done.
I look at these guys pushing themselves beyond the point of physical, mental and emotion exhaustion, and I just wonder how they do it. I wonder what drives them go on.
If that's true, it should be possible to make a list of companies that have been built without the founders working very hard (or rather, extremely long hours). What are some companies that could go onto such a list?
As a filter, let's use criteria "The founders got rich enough not to have to work anymore, or the company went public," since that's generally why people start startups.
EDIT: I've updated the question to ask specifically for instances of companies that have IPO'd or been acquired without the founders working extremely long hours, and also to clarify that I'm asking about the founders' working hours, not the employees. Thanks, enjo.
I remember hearing him lecture where he said he always tried to be home by 5:30 to have dinner with his family.
Grid, Palm, Numenta, Handspring, are all great successes.
If people were more worried about results than appearances, they would not do this though as working that much leads to stupid mistakes and burn-out.
It might make sense if you are just trying to cash out and want to put on a good show for investors by sleeping under your desk, though I would think this only impresses stupid investors.
Is instructive to see the environments where this goes the other way.
In Oxford and Cambridge Universities there is the concept of the 'Grey Man'.
These are the people who are seen to work hard and it used to be considered a terrible affliction and an indication of mediocre talents.
Consider this quote from Stephen Hawking
“The prevailing attitude at Oxford at that time was very anti-work. You were supposed to either be brilliant without effort or accept your limitations and get a fourth-class degree. To work hard to get a better class of degree was the mark of a ‘grey man’, the worst epithet in the Oxford vocabulary.”
Hawking calculated that he worked on average for about an hour a day as an undergraduate physicist: “We affected an air of complete boredom and the feeling that nothing was worth making an effort for.”
from here - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/e59f5792-1a23-11e3-b3da-00144feab7...
If something is menial, doesn't require much mental process. Than its okay to keep going but if its something new which require even small amount of mental effort than working super hard is not going to get you anywhere.
I also sometimes work late, because I don't want the context switch that will happen if I leave the task in half completed state right now so I want to take it to logical conclusion where it would easy to pickup next day (in most cases I am excited to see the end product of task).
As with everything in life there is fine line between working hard vs working yourself to death and nobody else can decide this line for you.
If so, a dearth of examples of successful startups by founders lacking a chronic death-march work ethic doesn't speak at all to whether burnout is a requirement for success.
We'd have the occasional long night, but there weren't many even 60 hour weeks being put in.
The first startup I joined was run by a guy who had not, to my knowledge, ever been more than a line manager (directly managing people who did things, versus managing people who managed people to did things) He had a really really hard time working with the indirection, unable to feel comfortable that things were "in control" unless he went and talked to the actual people doing the work himself. As the company got bigger that became a bigger and bigger issue for him. He didn't scale, and I could tell that there would come a time when he would be 110% subscribed with tasks that he couldn't figure out how to delegate.
The message about getting home though is really really important. Too many people are sleeping at work because they have no home to go home to any more. If you can set a goal for 'quality hours with the family per week' and when that is in jeopardy due to work commitments restructure work to reduce its impact.
1) In the smart long-term play, family & few close friends are most important. Everything else (including your startup) is trivial.
2) Even if you value your startup at 100% value (over family/friends/health/life), you're incredibly short-sited and killing your own startup baby if you don't have some balance in your life. Startup life is NOT a sprint. It's a marathon. To give the BEST to your startup, you need to bring your BEST every day.
Phrased another way, I often ask, "Let's say you're going to be interviewed on the Colbert Report, or other big-huge-friggin' deal tomorrow, what would you do today?" Often, people say, "I'll eat well, build something, hug my family, build something, help someone, build more, chat with a friend, take a walk, build more, play a game, go to bed early" So, if that's what you do to bring your BEST tomorrow, then what would you do if you wanted to bring your BEST EVERY day?
That tends to drive home the message that work-life balance isn't just helping your life, it's truly what matters to helping your work too.
Corollary: If you're overstressed, you aren't helping your work. Often, overstressed people at startups will add much more friction in the small team, hurting efficiency as arguments & disrespect poisons the day's actions. Not to mention the zombie-brain mistakes in execution when you're not taking proper care of yourself.
To go further, if you want to do more than just handle the unexpected (which is kind of like putting out a fire) you will need to bring wisdom to the situation.
Developing wisdom requires an even greater reserve of energy _and_ some downtime to reflect.
Startups are rewarding because you are not simply an employee but also part owner and they are hard because you have to undertake a lot of extra work and responsibility and risk.
Maybe there could be a third way were you are part owner but undertake less risk and less responsibility and less work. Imagine a startup where instead of the typical 2/3 founders 3/15 employees you have a 15 employees who all share an equal amount of ownership and responsibility.
The point of such a startup would be to provide better working terms and better pay than one would get when working as an employee or contractor but at the same time lessen exposure to risk and responsibility.
I don't know how doable it is but I always thought that it was strange that most startups were trying to emulate the same corporate structure the, founders themselves probably wanted to avoid because it didn't suit them very well as employees.
Sorry for going of tangent but it's just random idea that crept into my head and wanted to share.
Kind of a tangent, but there's a lot to be said for cooperative living, too. One of my favorite experiences in college was living in a student cooperative. There were about 40 of us in a large, early 20th century Victorian house, each taking on a fair share of maintenance, cooking, and management. Every decision, including major ones like renovating parts of the house, was made democratically and collectively: there was no real centralized oversight. (There was a "central office" for the entire co-op system — itself largely made up of house representatives — but they mostly stayed out of individual house affairs.) Important positions such as president or workshift manager were voted in collectively and had certain benefits, like decreased rent or less hours required per week. It worked well for the most part, and many lifelong friendships were forged in the house.
I think it would be an interesting experiment to get a bunch of self-motivated creative folks together in such an environment and have them work on projects together. Perhaps the members would be selected by occupation, so that there's a solid pool of artists, programmers, designers, writers, etc. at all times. A majority of the money generated from these projects would go towards the members' collective benefit. Projects would be formed spontaneously, either by individuals working alone, or by people trying to "recruit" other members — kind of like how Valve does things.
A combination of cooperative living and cooperative working. I know it's not for everyone, and maybe it's a pipe dream, but the idea really appeals to me!
At BMW a former director told some trainees that he's the most lonely person in the world. Lost his wife, kids and friends. Hobbies? None. Money? More than can be spend. Power? You bet. "Too soon old, too late wise" is true even for extraordinary achievers like this guy.
I always like to point out to those younger folks that they need to be aware of their true motivation. To 99 % in the startup scene or at the big companies it's not to make the world a better place. It's not to be creative and productive. The main drive is ambition. That's OK, it's human. But it needs to be controlled. When you are aware of your true selfish motivation, it's easier to stop when it's all too much. You do it for yourself, not your family (you would choose a solid 9 to 5 job) or the world.
I'm not so sure about that. I'm also not convinced "most founders are in it to get filthy rich," as lemming says elsewhere in this thread. I think there's a spectrum of motivations, including:
* Creative drive/wanting to build something
* Aversion to corporate culture/large organizations
* Opportunity to make a lot of money
* Social needs
It's possible to have multiple motivations. But the one that interests me is "social needs." This includes everything from wanting to work with a great team to doing something because it's the "hot thing" or the activity that gets the most respect in the community. The recent news about YC applications rising 40% YOY may reflect some of that, and also explains the huge turnout for pitch events, networking sessions, etc.
There are so many different angles to startup burnout, that sometimes it seems like we're playing a really rough game like American football, only instead of head and spine injuries we've got mental health problems and repetitive stress disorders.
Early in a startup the big enemy is yourself and poverty. Try to get yourself to finish that feature; to push the product over the line. To persevere after the launch basically goes unnoticed. The burnout is emotional because it's rooted in self doubt. Once a startup starts getting traction a different type of mental stress sets in: a fear of squandering an opportunity. All the late nights are rooted in the fear that your startup has had some luck and some traction, and maybe if you don't push so hard it will become another Excite. Used, but left to the wayside while a better contender came in.
It's basically an exciting game for privileged people with too much time on their hands. The worst outcome is you have to go work at a regular job.
Relax, no one is being sent to the scaffold over this!
All these conferences and these meetings are rarely world changing. They hold potential opportunities and the start of relationships, but we never know if those opportunities would have come to us through cheaper, more effective means.
Travel bothers me so much because it feels incredibly suboptimal, like I'm working harder not smarter.
I'll probably write an enlightening blog post one day about how sometimes you have to take a nap during the day, especially if you feel sleepy. I'll encapsulate it into a life lesson: Don't lie to yourself, you are sleepy so just take that nap.
Awesome , gutsy article though.
The best part - after all this effort, majority will none the less fail. But in the meanwhile they will be doing huge amounts of work, while their investors can breathe easy, no need to worry much about overtimes, vacations, sick leaves, finding work for people after the project ends, etc.
This system is rigged against us, but a truly IT specific thing is that so many of us enjoy exploiting ourselves like this. Sure, many people would start their business anyway, but now we're dealing with a trend, "everyone" is doing it, it's the hip way to be, and there's very little criticism about this model, if any. The failures are merely presented as lessons to learn, it's rarely considered to call the emperor naked, to stop the show.
This text is nice, family is important, but this is from someone who can afford it, now that he has succeeded. I see no retrospect, no reflection here - could he have cancelled trips like this years ago, when he was still fighting? Is that what he is suggesting to people now? I don't think so, and that makes it all sound just so hollow.
Put the right systems in place, whether it be delegation, or software, or a personal task management system (GTD is all about systems), and you don't have to worry about work all the time. You lead it by leading the right systems to function and continually improve themselves.
A systems-focused approach to work would improve every company because it's closer to reality. The reason we don't have the ability to put things down is because we make ourselves into the critical system of function, and that makes us part of the machine. Build a better machine you can trust instead. Remove yourself as a dependency.
Start with Deming: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming
Perhaps I am a little harsh, but if you guy are having success now and you want to give a good impression I should take the banner out.
Also, I find it completely right to rebalance your life, now is the moment in which you can take a little rest and recover from the strenuous effort and stress. Is not only a desire, if a necessity for your enterprise to go on, don't get burned!
Enjoy family, get your batteries full, let your mind and mood recover. Cheers.
When I was sprinting at full pace, I learned that I could only reasonably expect about 5-6 weeks before I crashed (hard). I always planned for a much more relaxed pace for a couple months afterwards.
On the other hand, if we had a long-term project I could plan about 55-60 hours per week maximum, but I could sustain that pace almost indefinitely while still maintaining a life.
If you're doing continuous 80+ hour weeks you need to stop now ... if you don't, your body will fail you and other parts of your life will degrade (relationships). It's simply not worth it ... a few extra bills in your pocket is not going to compensate for missing life.
Is the price of being an entrepreneur high? Yes, it is. I do not know anyone enrolled in "creating something from the scratch" that might contradict the prior statement
Do we have to learn to put some limits to the price we are paying? Definitely yes, and this guy is putting a name to a lot of muted voices. Personally, I do not distinct so much between my personal or professional time since in my case I do love what I do, but I try not to bother F&Fs with conversations about startups and I do try to talk about other topics. This has double benefits. One not to bother others (as mentioned) and Two open your mind talking about things you don't usually have the opportunity to discuss about
I've done startups. At the end I got better at what I was doing but I wasn't ultimately proud of the work I did. The startup even succeeded (I helped other people get rich, I just made a living). Many startups don't even do that.
Maybe these "compromises" mean I will never quite get to that level - but regardless I'm not willing to do compromise them. At any expense.
I know it's (way) easier said than done, but I would suggets to stop hoping and start doing. I have never been married nor in a big commitment relationship, but I would assume than when you start thinking that a bad thing could happen, it's probably happening right now, or soon.
Good luck anyway, hope everything work out for you.
That's probably already happening, you're just not being told/aware of it yet. If you're only in town for birthdays and leave at 6 am the next morning and wreck your social life you're well underway. Been there, done that so take it from me as an experience to avoid.
I would kill to be in Ben's place. He is making an impact. We aren't reading his words because he is a great dad or husband or whatever, he is impacting us and making us spill thousands of words because he is making something impactful. I could never turn that off, nothing is as great in my opinion. So like I said, I don't get it. If anything the more substantive work that is piled on (not bullshit bureaucratic stuff), the more effective I am across all components. Maybe I'm wierd.
Anyone who does this type of work for a living and responds negatively to you saying “I’m unable to make it, I miss my family and want+need to spend some time at home” isn’t a friend, partner, or an investor you should want to work with anyway.
See, at the same time I understand this also, because not all people are like me and just love doing good work they are passionate about. So when my co-founders or partners say things like this, its great because I know that they need that time and we will adjust things to give it to them.
The last thing I will say is this: No one's legacy is based on how good of a dad/partner they were.
What the actual hell? You really think that? Let's take another view: Dwolla might tank. It could be dead and gone within a year - that's how startups work. What is "impactful" today can be forgotten within six months.
Your legacy literally is how good a dad you were because the only legacy you can really rely on (within reason, of course) is your children and your family. I challenge you to find a father that does not think their "work" with their child is not "impactful".
I would argue that we are spilling thousands of words on his post because we identify with it emotionally, not because he is the founder of Dwolla. I barely know anything about the startup and I care even less, but his words still resonated with me - that's why I'm here.
Except that is completely untrue. Every family I have ever encountered is split and bifurcated and generally not that reliable. True they exist, but by and large families are not that reliable.
I'm a father of three and have studied parenting outcomes for a while now. My children's outcomes in life are marginally related to how available I am as a parent beyond a certain minimal threshold - more important are socioeconomic factors. Even if you take that into account, even the most perfectly raised children (Whatever that means) have a high chance of winding up in an outcome that is less than optimal based on parental expectations - assuming that you have some aspirational expectations to begin with for them.
All that is to say that raising kids is a crap shoot and outcomes, either for you or for them, do not necessarily correlate with effort spent. Again, caveat this with "beyond a certain point" which is the bar of not living in poverty - arguably one major benefit of being successful in business.
You've never heard tribute paid to a parent by someone you admired? Or do you think it's always ceremony?
I can assure that you that there are those whom you look up to, who in turn look up far higher to a mother or father. And there are people who write about life as a parent--and not just mawkish mess with a glossy cover, I mean that rare stuff of substance--who cause far more words to pour out than Ben has here, which is to say nothing against him but much in their favor.
One final note: maybe no one is remembered by name for their work as a parent or partner--not that it matters to most--but there are some who are known and remembered for how bad of one they were. And their legacies are tainted, no matter what else they did.
Sure but that is not a legacy in my mind. Said this way, how good of a dad Steve Jobs was rarely if ever is discussed when talking about his legacy. If I recall he even had an "illegitimate" son.
One final note: maybe no one is remembered by name for their work as a parent or partner--not that it matters to most--but there are some who are known and remembered for how bad of one they were. And their legacies are tainted, no matter what else they did.
No doubt about that, but those are cases of actual abuse, and real hardcore neglect. Is Nelson Mandela admonished for being a bad and absent father? No.
As for your remarks upthread about broken families: I'm sorry you, or anyone, should have to live at the extreme end of that curve.
It's a short read and worth every page.
Reminds me of how I took the decision of coming back to stay with my family from a far off place, leaving behind an excellent opportunity, just to spend more time with my lovely family
I learned this in some book about Buddhism. We must have a balanced life. Life is a long trip. The end is the objective and, of course, very important, but we also need to enjoy the travel.
If I had a one tenth of the success these guys are having I'd tell myself to keep going.
However, working on the project alone, for the past couple of years has been devastating. I've really no more friends left as a result of blindly pursuiting my passion. I admit it hasn't even been worth it to this date. But something, this lizard brain keeps telling me to go go go don't stop.
I've been working on my project off with about 3 years of full time development and 2 years of working at a job to support myself.
I don't know. I'm super confused and agitated after reading this article. I had this gut feeling not to read the article but I did it anyways.
I will probably continue. Crazy.
Remember, people are more important than things.
When you see African countries torn up and people fleeing with nothing, do you stop and think "why aren't they carrying all their important belongings?"
The belongings and "stuff" are worthless; they can always acquire things again. What is important to them is their family and friends.
You cannot easily acquire lost friends again. But you can acquire "stuff" again.
Things don't make you happy; people do.
Out of interest, what have you been working on?