Can you have a life and work at a startup company?

< warning: somewhat rambling post follows. will probably be a little disjointed >

My “pal” Duncan Riley seems to be channeling Valleywag today. He took my post centered around tips to save money at a startup and spun them into the headline “Calacanis Fires People who Have a Life.” He keyed this comment off my line from “How to save moeny for your startup:” Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz.”

Additionally, the comments on the post were *really* harsh, in large part due to the fact that Dunan paraphrased my comments and spun them to make me look like a real jerk. You know what they say, with friend like TechCrunch… :-)

This got me to thinking, why are folks so upset with this concept of working really hard?

I’m sure some of it has to do with Duncan’s views on family when he says “expect to check your family at the door.” I DON’T expect folks to check their family at the door. In fact, some of the most productive folks on staff have families, spend tons of time with them, and ARE workaholics. It seems to me that folks with families somehow get much more focused and do more in less time, or find strange hours to work. I can’t explain it (anyone with kids want to check in?!).

Truth be told, I’ve never asked anyone to work harder than I do, and I work seven days a week. I never stop thinking about whatever project I’m working on, and I don’t consider what I do work–never have. Sure, I’ll go on vacation, but that’s when I get my inspiration and when I do a ton of thinking about solving problems. In fact, the entire post was around how to make folks lives BETTER by bringing in food, getting them great equipment, providing resources, and buying the good coffee.

After some thought I realized that what I wrote is not actually how I feel: I do look at what we do as a game! Allow me to “unpack” my thoughts a little:

  • Running Silicon Alley Reporter for me was like one big party. I got to write every day, go to meetings with interesting people, and run huge exciting events. It wasn’t work, it was play.
  • Weblogs, Inc. was a total party for me because, again, I got to write, build brands, and work with some of the most creative, driven and intelligent people I’ve ever met. It was a blast and it never felt like work.
  • Mahalo doesn’t feel like work to me either. It’s so much fun to build a service, evolve it, and spread the word to people who might find it useful.

My work *is* my life.

In fact, I was writing about technology while I was an IT consultant in the early 90s. Now, I did feel like my IT job was work–in the bad sense. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the IT business but many times it felt like drudgery. So, I can feel Duncan on that front: when you don’t love what you do it sucks. The solution to that is fairly obvious, go find something you love to do in life. It might take some time, but it really isn’t THAT hard given how amazing the market is (at least in the United Stats).

Some people work in order to live (like I did in IT), while others live to work (like I’ve done most of my adult life).

My philosophy of building companies is not that I “fire people who have a life,” it’s that “I don’t work with folks who don’t love their work.” If you’re not into it and I fire you than I’ve actually done you a HUGE favor in my mind. So, perhaps we should change the headline to “Calacanis fires folks who don’t love their work.


What about stress?

Stress is a real issue. You can love what you do and have a problem managing the stress. I’ve watched friends work themselves into such anxiety and stress recently that it’s scary. You really need to be a centered person to not internalize the stress that comes from building a startup company. It’s not for everyone, and if you’re going to play in the startup world you have to learn to look at what we do as one giant game.

Some amount of stress is good, because it alerts you to things to focus on. When you’re ridding down the road and a deer jumps in front of your car you feel stress. Hopefully that stress makes you take action. The key is to be able to calm yourself down after the near miss and keep driving down the road.

Now, when I was a younger entrepreneur I would sweat it, but now that I’m older I really don’t get stressed out. It’s not that I don’t care about the things that cause stress, I do. I just don’t let that stress internalize. If a deer jumps out in front of me I respond quickly, but my heart doesn’t jump out of chest for two hours like it used to.

The people who don’t feel stress are the ones who look at things with perspective: Our lives in technology industry are really easy. We’re blessed to play in such a dynamic space that is, at the end of the day, one big fun research project. It’s a big, fun game we’re all in here–nothing more. Don’t take it so serious… play hard and enjoy it!

We get to build huge products that can become big businesses. If they don’t, you can just move on and do it again. Let’s face it, very few people have it as good as us in the technology industry.

What do you guys think:

  1. Can you have a life and work at a startup?
  2. How do you manage stress?
  • http://visnum.com Osman

    Well, having a life and working is usual and healthy.

    Whether you work at a startup or not is not an employee’s question. It’s the employer’s question. If you are not eager to take your risks, than you are not an employer. That’s why not anybopdy succeeds.

    By the way, your comment section sucks on Firefox.

  • http://visnum.com Osman

    Sorry, I have to add that your comment form and the sidebar is not wholly visible on Firefox. Did you fire the browser? :)

  • http://www.charlesju.com Charles Ju

    Good post Jason,

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

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  • Mark Withrow

    Your ideas regarding “working hard” seem to be only about encouraging your employees to put in the maximum amount of “face time” in the corporate office during the day/week, supposedly out of “love”. That’s absolute BS. The only thing – and I do mean the ONLY thing that matters is RESULTS, pure and simple.

    If you’ve spent even 30 days in a company you’ve seen the type of useless drone who – while never actually accomplish much of anything – still manages to be the first one in in the morning and the last one to leave at night, while also showing up on the weekends as much as possible. These are usually the same corporate dweebs who manage to get their nose as far up the ass of senior management as they can.

    If you haven’t instituted a RESULTS-ORIENTED management system, you’re going to be left with only the incompetent brown-nosers, as their the only types who will happily stick around and put up with your “put in the maximum hours” BS (particularly after the economy starts to improve).

    However, if you really want to learn about how to manage and reward the most competent workers so that they produce the best and highest-quality RESULTS, then I’d recommend taking the following steps:

    1. Negative Reinforcement – Buy a DVD of Office Space. Make yourself watch it at least once a week.
    2. Positive Reinforcement – Visit http://www.culturerx.com and buy yourself a copy of Why Work Sucks. And start building a R.O.W.E. (Results Oriented Work Environment).

    I’ll guarantee after you start measuring and managing for RESULTS (and ONLY results), you’ll be firing about 30% of the “long-hours brown-nosers” now working at Mahalo. Of course, measuring REAL RESULTS requires a REAL MANAGER, instead of some coporate pinhead who requires having his butt smooched on a daily basis…

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  • h

    What about the people who are really effective at managing their time? Those people who spend all hrs at work might not love their jobs, they could just be f’ing around and not very productive. Long hrs don’t necessarily equal dedication or productivity.

  • http://www.packabs.com A S

    Good post.

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  • David Marks

    Jason.. I do suggest that you conduct an anonymous survey/feedback withing
    your organization and see what your employees think of your environment
    and you. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have worked with people
    that have your personality. They are kind of blind to the outside world
    and think they are always right. Obviously they become rich, because
    their ego pushes them through. I do think you are a great guy, but
    in all honesty, you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to work with you.
    I mean, the notion that you love your job and that everyone else
    should love their job as well is not correct imho.. you are already a rich man
    and probably own the majority of shares at Mahalo, obviously you
    should always be happy and pumped. btw, your commenting system
    is broken. The right border is missing.

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  • http://www.bilgiliportal.com güncel blog

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

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  • http://www.videooynat.net Video oynat

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

  • http://www.eoyunlar.org oyunlar

    What about the people who are really effective at managing their time? Those people who spend all hrs at work might not love their jobs, they could just be f’ing around and not very productive. Long hrs don’t necessarily equal dedication or productivity.

  • http://www.e-saglikci.net domuz gribi

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

  • http://www.videooynat.net/tag/smackdown smackdown

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

  • http://www.tradult.org Adult

    I completely feel the same way, if you love what you do, then why wouldn’t you want to do it 24/7? it’s the same concept of loving your wife, if you love her, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with her.

    I’m only 22, but I am in love with the startup life. It’s 2 PM right now and there are 4 people at my school’s computer lab. Everyone else looks miserable, I am loving the fact that I’m awake and working for myself and something I can be proud of.

  • http://www.bluecorona.com Ben

    I’ve been wondering how to get *all* of our employees to embrace start up culture. It’s much easier if you’ve had a few other jobs – even if they weren’t start ups – much harder when you’re coming straight out of college. Great post.

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