‘See you at the IPO party’
Nope – not the Zeo IPO party (someday).
I was told by a fellow entrepreneur recently ‘see you at the IPO party’. We had planned a ski trip – flights booked, rooms reserved, powder days forecasted… he decided to work on his startup instead. I said he was crazy – he said ’see you at the IPO party’. Hell, maybe I am wrong and there are personality types that can sprint start to finish – but even among entrepreneurs I think these individuals are in the minority. He has decided to focus on his startup to the exclusion of his life – I hope it works out for him.
I have seen many startups fail – usually not due to a market flaw, product flaw, or financing mishap. That may appear to be the problem – but the more likely scenario is that the entrepreneur just couldn’t keep killing himself/herself to overcome the problem at hand – and they gave out. This isn’t a lack of willpower – people simply run out of the creative and mental juices that allow them to solve tough problems. It’s natural and human – you can only run so far at full speed.
I have spoken with many of these entrepreneurs – they worked as hard as they could, came up short – but damn – at least they gave it their all! Its comforting to feel this way – no one can blame you for running as hard and fast as you could for as long as you could and not making it – right? Not so fast. By continuously sprinting most entrepreneurs make it less likely that their startup will succeed. They also suffer personally. This could come in many forms:
- Can’t stand missing out on children growing up – re-evaluate life time
- Run out of steam emotionally and physically
- A husband/wife puts the foot down – time to get a real job and stop working insane hours
- Start making bad decisions as a result of being at the brink – startup death ensues
- Even startup success can become personal failure – how many entrepreneurs achieve the hollow victory of pre-mature aging, broken relationships, and a full bank account?
A startup culture full of machismo and ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mantras encourages these behaviors. I have fallen repeatedly for this siren song – working long after my productivity has fallen and giving up on events with friends or family to assuage my fear of failure (look how hard I am working!). But honestly – I am on the tame side of the equation. I always needed and took breaks and breathers – made sure to keep my life running as well as my startup. I feel guilty for doing this – like I’m not keeping up with the Jones and the lack of a 80 hour week will lead to failing my partners, investors, and customers. I am getting out of this guilt game – it doesn’t serve anyone.
The strongest and most successful entrepreneurs I know have found balance. They work hard – incredibly hard, but they also recognize and respect their need to become a whole person. Depending on the individual this could mean anything from fewer (smarter) work hours to half-working vacations to weeks off to clear the mind. Sprints happen – startups require them – but these entrepreneurs keep the sprints time-limited and make sure the don’t over-exert themselves to failure.
I took a trip 2 summers ago to Turkey. 10 days – I was meeting up with some friends who were on a round-the-world trip. Just before the trip I felt (and heard) arguments for cancelling my trip – startup needed me! Critical time! I went on the trip. I would love to tell you what the critical work was at the time – but I can’t remember. No clue. Must have gotten done somehow… things are still humming along nicely. I certainly do remember my trip – good friends and adventures.
Don’t get me wrong – there is also time for giving up well-laid plans to watch (from a box seat!) the Red Sox crush the Yankees because you need to put final tweaks on a product launch (been there) – but most entrepreneurs I know cause themselves and their startup more trouble by over-working than by under-working.
I think a great deal about this topic – one of my favorite discussions of the topic is over on Brad Feld’s blog
I plan to keep building companies for a LOOONG time. The better I get at working effectively and living fully the more successful I will be.