Sacrifice your health for your startup

The Internet is full of good advice about how to lead a healthy, balanced work/home life:

Leo Bauboa of Zen Habits built his Technorati 100 blog on one hour a day, leaving plenty of time for a day job and a family.

Tim Brownson reshuffles our priorities so we realize what’s important to accomplish and what’s not important to worry about.

Merlin Mann of 43folders shows us how merely admitting what we don’t like about ourselves and our life leads to a vast menu of options for fixing it.

Penelope Trunk demonstrates that the point of a job is fulfillment and happiness, not the blind pursuit of money.

If you don’t have your health and your family, nothing else matters. On your deathbed will you wish you had worked longer hours or been a better parent? Will you wish you had spent more time Twittering or more time exercising, extending your life by five years?

Compelling. And yet, in my experience this attitude is not the path to success in small business.

Maximizing your chance for success means sacrificing health and family.

This sounds controversial, but it’s not just me:

Jeremiah Owyang of Web Strategist: “How do I Keep Up?” This is one of the most common questions I get from folks, or a variant: “Do you sleep?” or “Do you have a family?” I can answer succinctly: “I don’t, in shifts, and yes… I think.” … I’m lucky I fell into my passion. It comes with costs however, I’m out of shape, stressed, I don’t sleep well, and my blood pressure is up.

Mark Cuban, self-made millionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks on how he acheived success: “I slept on the couch or floor … Because I was living on happy hour food, and the 2 beer cover charge, I was gaining weight like a pig. But I was having fun. … Every night I would read [software manuals], no matter how late. … I remember sitting in that little office till 10pm … I would get so involved with learning that I would forget to eat …

More from Mark in an interview with YoungMoney Magazine: Question: “Did you have to sacrifice your personal life in order to become a business success?”  Answer: “Sure, ask about five of my former girlfriends that question. I went seven years without a vacation. I didn’t even read a fiction book in that time. I was focused.”

Penelope Trunk (yes, she has insights on both sides of this issue) on how all-consuming her company is: “I’m desperate. … You’re always sick, but not take-a-day-off-work sick. … So I suffer with the pink eye, because it’s not having all that gross green discharge yet, so I think I can deal with it after funding. … I diagnose my [temporary] blindness as stress related. … I say, ‘My eyes are nothing compared to the pain of raising money.’ … There’s no time for family.

“So what,” you could argue, “just because many successful entrepreneurs are workaholics doesn’t mean that’s the only path to success.”

Indeed, study after study has shown that “working more hours” doesn’t translate into “accomplishing more shit.” If you’re not getting enough sleep, for instance, working extra hours doesn’t make up for your foggy brain.

Also, optimizing how you spend your time can increase productivity several times over — an increase you couldn’t possibly match by working more hours.

Yeah, but here’s the problem.

The “Rule of Closets” is that the amount of crap you own will expand to fill all available closet space. You can create more space by adding shelves and organizers, but then you’ll soon discover you have more stuff.

Well I have a “Rule of Time in Startups”: How much time does a bootstrapped company take? All of it.

Even ten people could hardly keep up with everything you do in small business — creating, consulting, designing, fixing, self-promotion, blogging, networking, bookkeeping, taxes, customer support and cultivation, reading startup blogs for ideas and inspiration (!), and all those little crappy things like losing an afternoon troubleshooting your fancy outsourced IP phone system that was supposed to let you “work from anywhere.”

One, two, or even three people can’t do everything, so of course it takes all your time. If you’re working a day job while starting something on the side, of course you don’t have time to exercise or play with your kids before bed.

It takes obsession to make a little company go. Forget “passion” — everyone’s favorite word — it’s “obsession.” It’s not just that you love working, it’s that you can’t stop working. You’re putting your entire self on the line — your finances, your career, your ideas.

The obsession is there even when you’re away from the office, having lunch with a friend or reading to your kids. As my wife would frequently point out in the early years of Smart Bear, my “mental and emotional bandwidth” was entirely consumed. You’re physically there, but you’re not really there.

Read those quotes above again and you’ll see not just passion but self-destructive devotion. You don’t put yourself through this meat grinder just because you “like something a lot.”

“If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?”


Of course those life-coaches are still correct: This isn’t a great way to live your entire life. You need to accept that this is going to happen and ask whether it’s OK to incur this penalty right now. For me, I did all this in my 20’s when I had no kids, I had enough savings to risk everything for a while, and I had a wife who had her own business and who therefore understood how much work it took and why I was spacing out over dinner.

Bottom line: Every successful bootstrapper I know puts work before self. (Until financial freedom is achieved.) I did too.

Let’s discuss this! There are more arguments for both sides. Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

56 responses to “Sacrifice your health for your startup”

  1. I thought this was going to be about universal health care. I guess I’ve been in Washington too long.

    From this point of view, it’s interesting that the Kauffman Foundation has some statistics that "the average age of U.S.-born technology founders when they started their companies was 39." (link)

    So there are a bunch of folks out there who are not limiting their poor work-life balance to their 20s.


  2. @Alex: Or maybe they spent their twenties knocking around the globe, cooking with friends, dancing, and generally working as little as possible. And then figured it was time to get down to business in their 30s.

    This my plan :)

  3. LOL @ thanks for upvoting on Hacker News. Shameless.

    But hey. You’re the dude that shipped me that free book. So you got my vote.

    I think the key thing I am taking from your blog entry is that these are sacrifices for your startup. Don’t go on a death march if you work for the man. However if the company is your baby, sometimes you have to pay with your life.

  4. Great post. I could not agree more.

    One minor point regarding the first Mark Cuban quote: "I slept on the couch or floor … Because I was living on happy hour food, and the 2 beer cover charge, I was gaining weight like a pig."

    I am pretty sure that was taken out of context. That was at a low point in his life. I believe later in that post, when he talks about starting his own business, he begins to eat better and starts working out daily.

  5. Hi there!

    Very interesting point. Gary Vaynerchuk oftern speaks about these things, especially passion. He said that if you’re "stuck" with a daily job, you just have to work over-time. 9-5: work, 5-8:eat,kids,family, 8-12/1 work on your side hustle. I think this is a very possible way to achieve your goals. If you are putting family before work that doesn’t mean that your dream won’t play out, it just means that it might take longer, or that you might sacrifice something else (Vaynerchuk: "Stop watching f*cking LOST!") :)

  6. @Jonathan — Your path is surely the wisest! I won’t argue it. :-)

    @MaintMan — You have taken the (correct!) median approach. Some sacrifices are inevitable. I would also argue that obsession (not just working on the side) is also required.

    @Rich — You’re right about the Cuban quote. He does say other things (like the second quote) that is specifically embedded in running a business. It’s true that that text was more extreme. :-/

    @Feyyaz — So true that often when we say "I don’t have time to read/play/work/exercise" it really means "I’m choosing to do other things with my time." Penelope Trunk has a fun post about that WRT reading blogs.

  7. Are you promoting this nonsense?

    Without your health you cannot do work therefore health must come first.

    Most of the hackers/programmers I know lack a mind-body connection.
    They live in their minds and are wired to their computers. Many forget
    that they even have a body–for hours, weeks, months. This can have
    disastrous consequences later in life.

    They are practising "deprivation chic"–they get a feeling of
    satisfaction out of self-deprivation. Because it hurts they think they
    must be doing the right thing.

    As a 27-year-old entrepreneur and cancer survivor, I can tell you that
    deprivation chic is just stupid. The long-term sacrifice of one’s
    health is never acceptable.

    It is possible to find a work-life balance. But many people get a
    sense of validation from working for work’s sake. It’s easier for many
    to program and blog and run a business than it is for them to
    cultivate personal relationships, exercise, and enjoy recreation. "The
    Business" is a great excuse to validate an imbalanced life.

    That said, it’s possible to be productive and successful without
    sacrificing health and recreation and personal relationships. It just
    takes a bit more creativity.

  8. @TiCo — Thanks for an excellent rebuttal.

    I agree many people use a business as an excuse for not taking care of important things like health and family. But how do you tell the difference between that and actually needing to work that much to pull it off?

    That is, is there not an argument to be made that the hours and dedication required in a non-funded startup simply require sacrifices?

    Of course there’s sacrificing more than you would for a regular job and then there’s sacrificing so much that you’re permanently ill, but is it really true that neglecting your health for a few years (in your 20’s) has long-term consequences? Surely the experience of crazy, unhealthy college days demonstrates that most people can abuse their bodies for a few years without long-term effects.

    Finally, it’s rare to hear about a successful, bootstrapped entrepreneur who didn’t sacrifice like that. I agree that just because "a lot of people do it" does not prove that it’s required or that it’s a good idea! Still, it seems to me like overwhelming evidence.

    Of course if that’s not true, we all need more specific advice about how to do that. Just saying "it takes creativity" and "if you sleep more you get more done" just isn’t enough.

  9. This was a great blog post (article), because for a long time when I worked at start-ups, this was definitely the standard approach. We all worked really really hard, for really long hours, sacrificing contact with the outside world.

    My current start-up, which I came into a few months after its inception, took a different tact. People work for a normal work day, but instead of playing around or browsing the internet during the day, we just worked. Really, really hard. I’d leave work at 5:30 or 6:00 feeling like I’d been in a boxing match. But I didn’t really have to think about the work at the end of the day. It was extremely liberating. But the most surprising thing, completely contrary to my experience in the past, was that we never once slipped a date. We actually released our product into the commercial market on time with the features the business team really thought were important to launch with.

    Now as I contemplate building my own company, I think that there is some middle ground, between all of the product development, engineering, and business management tasks that need to be done and maintaining a somewhat (pseudo-) normal life.

  10. As a start-up myself I feel every word of this post. In fact, now I will worry more and stay up later as a result..! It is good to know that my insomnia, night terrors, paused friendship and detachment from life is "normal." I too hope to evolve one day and move on to writing a blog about startups, then I can make someone else feel good about their dark eye circles and added trips to drive thru’s as a daily meal option!

    Thanks Jason – as always, great post.
    -Tina Cannon
    President & CEO & insomniac

  11. Why it’s important:

    In your 20’s, you are building a foundation for future health. It’s important to start with good habits when your body is young.
    Women especially have only until their early 30’s to build bone density. It’s vitally important for women in their 20’s to engage in weight bearing exercise on a regular basis so that they can avoid osteoporosis.

    For example, many people that I went to college with went into high-stress long-hour professions like banking – and they aged twice as fast as everyone else. Grey hair at 26, high blood pressure, weight gain, anorexia, stress disorders, drug dependencies, depression/anxiety… they have a huge gamut of problems that could have been avoided by getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and overall living more healthy.
    What’s going to happen to them when they’re in their 30’s? 40’s?

    Young people think they are indestructible and often underestimate how much long-term damage they can do to their bodies in a short amount of time.

    It’s not worth it!

    How to do it:

    There’s a lot of work that isn’t actually important and/or can be outsourced to a virtual assistant or intern, or contracted to a specialist. It’s important to focus your time on the key tasks that actually will make a difference, vs the endless minutae–cos it is endless.

    It’s also important to spend some non-working time every day NOT thinking about the business. Have dinner with your friends, have a drink, see a show… do something to give you distance from what you’re working on. This will create perspective and you’ll feel fresh and energized when you go back to work.

  12. @Jeremy — I think you’ve got something there with the idea of working really hard, and specifically in cutting out the "filler activities" that can dominate a surprisingly large amount of the day. Then you don’t need to work more than 8 hours per day, and therefore you have time for exercise, family, etc..

    I’m trying to do exactly that now. Specifically, when I sit down I decide exactly what I’m going to work on now and remove distractions. Close email, close IM, no twitter, no finding interesting things on the Internet.

    Of course it’s inevitable that you wake up at night thinking about it, that you talk about it at dinner, etc.. But this is still healthier!

    @Tina — Yup, it is what it is.

    @TiCo — Thanks, once again terrific advice. You’re right about being re-energized and giving the brain a chance to process. Also interesting notes about health; you’re right too about the idea of being indestructible.

  13. Jason, I want to post a rebuttal, but your post was basically a rebuttal of a typical point, so a rebuttal of a rebuttal seems like overkill.

    Your post does remind me about something I wonder about myself… One of my traits is I have a short attention span, and I enjoy just spacing out and being lazy. So I always wondered if I had what it took to be an entrepreneur. I actually plan on taking a peek at the examples you have on top about people who can do things with an hour a day.

    I think that fits my personality more… I’m watching a baseball game right now as I’m writing this. I’m happy to take three hours to do what usually takes 30 min if I can watch baseball while doing it. I wish I were obsessed enough to be able to work and not realize it’s 2 AM, but that’s just not me.

    I recognize this; so what I try to do is find people who are more obsessive and results focused (work with people whose strengths complement your weaknesses right?). Also, one of the positive things of my personality is I won’t obsessively work on a task for 4 hours and then have it all be moot because I picked the wrong thing to work on. So I can be a little more strategic.

  14. Jason, I just wanted to say thanks a lot for the link, I appreciate it. For some reason WordPress didn’t pick it up, but somebody told me via Twitter.

    Not the most inspiring and profound comment I have ever left I’m afraid, but there you go.


  15. Jason,

    The story rings true to my ears. I am starting my own software company while still employed, so basically I’m working full time twice. I have conference calls at 7am but both my wife and my kid are asleep and so to not wake them up I have the calls inside my car in my garage. Then I rush to work so I don’t show up late.

    All in life involves sacrifices. As long as you know why you are doing it (whatever your motives, be true to yourself), it is worth it.

    Wish me luck!

  16. I totally agree with you that obsession is the key driver. I don’t think it’s cool that I’m writing code at 1am on Friday nights. I don’t like arguing with the missus for not providing enough attention/affection and being more or less a meat stump rooted in front of a computer.

    All I know is that even when I’m not working on my creation, my brain is inextricably drawn in by the inertial forces of THE OBSESSION. And while I have modified my schedule and flexed my self-control somewhat to create a better work/life boundary, I did that more to create boundaries for other people to observe. Like, I’ll be free at these times so don’t mess with me while I’m in the zone.

    Kinda sad, yes. But as long as others are aware that you’re not fully in control and you mean no harm, things should work out eventually…right?

  17. A certain level of obsession is necessary to succeed which is why you get these kinds of stories. But on the same token, the amount of time it takes to build a successful business really has no correlation to how much time the entrepreneur has in their life.

    As humans we are terrific optimizers. Working 50 hours a week doesn’t usually mean doing half the work that you would do in 100. Having the extra constraint will force you to make smarter decisions. It’s sort of the same as moving from a regular job in a large organization to bootstrapping a startup… all of a sudden every second counts and if you have what it takes you’ll be more effective.

    I don’t disagree with the premise that a startup should fill all your free time. I mean if you don’t have that level of passion how will you ever succeed? But I also think that workaholism can obscure the reality of burnout and diminishing returns. If you make some hard commitments to your personal life, I believe it can only help in the long haul… the key is forcefully setting aside the time and embracing it as another constraint.

  18. Fuck off – it doesn’t take obsession – that’s for stupid fucks. Just have a good idea and work away happily each day, go home at 5. Choose an idea that has a number one requirement of:

    * Don’t fuck it up.

    Don’t choose an idea that requires: "We become hugely famous on the internet".

    This is shitty advice – fuck off and die of bowel cancer – us relaxed types will keep building our tech companies and going snowboarding midweek. ;D

  19. @Dale — Good idea to follow those links at the top. I included them on purpose — it’s like an automatic counter-argument right off the bat! Also, of course you should after all strive to have a better balance.

    You’re right about not going down a rabbit hole for four hours and finding you’ve wasted your time. However, it’s often true that you don’t discover it was a waste of time until after you do it. That is, often just "thinking it through" is insufficient. In fact this is the basis of Agile development and Lean manufacturing.

    @Bootstrapped — Good luck indeed! Especially when there’s a day job you have no choice but to fill the rest of the time. But still it’s better than raising money, so good for you.

    @Jung — You’ve made the phrase of the week: "I’m more or less a meat stump rooted in front of the computer." Ha! Yes, what you’re describing is how it is, at least for most of us. You say it’s "sad," but I could turn that around — it’s sad that most people don’t believe in anything enough to care that much, and instead waste their time "watching Lost" (as another commenter put it).

    @Gabe — I like your point of making "time" another constraint, and in general I agree. To play Devil’s Advocate, though, aren’t there enough constraints in a startups already, and isn’t "time" one of the few things you can throw at it?

    @Ben — Haha, thanks for throwing in some hilarity. I think we needed that right then. How about: "Don’t do things that prevent you from making $10m."

  20. "I did all this in my 20’s when I had no kids, I had enough savings to risk everything for a while, and I had a wife who had her own business and who therefore understood how much work it took and why I was spacing out over dinner."

    As a whole this is an insightful post however that part in particular made me feel better about the sacrifices Im currently making, in my life as a 20-something, socially.

    The afternoons and nights where I skip happy hour with friends, parties with the homies to stay home and/or work on my side hustle.

    Im reminded that its normal, that its temporary and that its worth it.


    PS: Its absolute awesomeness that commenting on your blog doesnt require inputing an email, that has forever irked me that its not optional.

  21. It takes obsession to make a little company go

    AMEN!!! (But Ben- you’re quite amusing in your dissent! I wanna work in YOUR field!!!)

    I work with a lot of start ups – and I frequently hear the "balance" bullshit .

    I can’t tell you how many of these people know not only what season it is on "American Idol" but also the bio of the remaining contestants – yet they can’t find the "time" to build their business.

    That’s why I give an hearty AMEN to your statement that your business dream has got to go beyond passion and become an obsession!

    One client recently complained to me about how she doesn’t have a "life" now that she is deeply in the trenches of launching her amazing start up.

    She’s been busting her ass 7 days a week and she confessed that she didn’t know it would be this hard – or take this long. In the interim, she’s childless and now she’s also divorced… which gives her more time to focus on what’s "important" – her revolutionary product.

    My business is still "itty" because I’ve been dedicated to maintaining "balance". Do I want bigger and better? You bet. Am I willing to sacrifice my relationships with my kids for it? No(t yet). I’m hoping there will be plenty of time for empire building when they go off to college. (My husband can just buck up and put on his big boy pants when that day comes!)

  22. @Deuce — I’m glad it was encouraging. That was actually my main purpose: To say "take heart, this is normal." Of course there should underline under the work "temporary" in your comment! But yes, it’s temporary, that’s true too.

    @Kathy — You bring up an important point: That’s it’s also possible — and quite possibly smarter — to decide to just stay small and maintain the other areas of your life. This is
    exactly what my wife did and it was a very healthy and happy way to go!

    Bigger != better

  23. Damn straight!

    There; that’s all I have time to contribute because I have a PR article to proof read before the chicken comes out of the oven and then I have 3 emails to respond to, an upload to QA, some SQL traces to analyse and I REALLY need to do the taxes before the 7th. When is the 7th? Oh shit!


    p.s. Thanks for taking the time to write ME this article Jason. Sure would be swell if you were going to be in SF in Nov.

    Back to proof reading….

  24. @Jeremy Sounds like your latest startup had the luxury of financing… bootstrapping a startup means working your bread-n-butter job for 8 hours a day and then going home to work your startup…

    In my 20s I was obsessed with my babies, nursing, homeschooling… life balance wasn’t possible. In my thirties my children entered "real schools" and I was working fulltime while managing the lives and schedules of four children in addition to my own… at least they no longer required middle of the night feedings!

    Now, as I enter my 40s with the dream of birthing & nursing a business, something needed to give… my kids, at 9-17yrs, are now old enough to take responsibility for their own lives to a large extent, and my husband of 19 years s taking on additional/new household & parental responsibilities… like cooking!

    Everyone in our family is making sacrifices, it’s our collective dream to make this work.
    Thanks for the great article…

  25. I think in saying that work-life balance is not "a path to success in small business", you’re talking about a specific sort of small business — i.e., the Silicon Valley type of startup — and a specific type of success — i.e., a business that makes its founders rich and grows like crazy and could go public. Fair enough, but there are other small businesses, and other sorts of success, that are possible with more balanced lives. (In particular, being "successful in small business" doesn’t mean being the founder. I’m having a perfectly pleasant success in a small business working a normal workweek, as an employee.)

    Anyhow. Just wanted to throw that out — this is a choice, not a necessity — it may be necessary in order to get to a specific end state, but there’s plenty of success to be had at different end states too.

    I suspect this is rather like a bit of advice on writing novels for a living that I’ve heard a few times: If someone asks for advice on doing that, do your best to convince them to do something else. The only people with enough drive to actually finish a novel and go through the process (often involving iterations of waiting months for a rejection letter and then sending it to the next place) of submitting it are the people that you wouldn’t be able to dissuade by that discouragement. If starting a fabulously successful startup of this sort takes obsession, you’re not going to get it just by reading a blog post and deciding, "Okay, I’ll be obsessed." You’ll already have it, or you’ll get hit by it like an oncoming bus.

    And, no, choosing to sacrifice your health for your startup isn’t going to help anything if you don’t already have the obsession. It’s just going to smash any drive you’ve got right out of you.

    Also, there’s a certain point where you need to remember that your body is a tool, and in order for a tool to be useful, you need to keep it in good condition. (See the "Rands in Repose" post talking about the parable of the woodcutter who was in too much of a hurry to sharpen his dull axe.) That quote from Penelope Trunk in particular sounds like someone who isn’t keeping her body in good condition, and whose work is liable to be suffering for it in ways that mean she’s not getting nearly as much quality work done as she could be.

  26. What I find interesting is the enormous number of baby boomers and retirees who are starting their own businesses now due to the bad economy and the necessity to create additional income due to the stone cold fact that they need addition sources of income. There are also many tax advantages and strategies for them to dip into a 401k or similar retirement fund to finance their new business.

    Time will tell.

    Kind Regards,
    Ellisa Brenneman

  27. Obsession is good by all means, but those who scowl others who don’t put in as many hours as them are just as bad. Doing more hours doesn’t add up to getting more money, or being lazier. As long as you’re paying your own way and not thinking things should be on a plate, for some, that’s good enough.

  28. @Jason Glover — Just remember that it’s OK that you’re not doing everything. I’ll be posting more on that subject in future.

    @Susan — Thanks so much for pointing out how this applies equally to things like raising children, career choices, startups, and what everyone in the family is doing and giving up. So true! In fact my wife is working on a follow-up post to address exactly that — she started her own business and made choices relating to career and babies. Now we’re expected and both of us are changing priorities again. Cheers and good luck!

    @Brooks — Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed comment. I would argue with you that my statements are only for "silicon valley startups" where "the goal is to become rich." The three startups I’ve done have not been that way, nor was the lifestyle-business my wife started, yet this was true in all four of those cases.

    I do like your points about taking the long view about career and happiness, and I won’t argue with them. However I must say that being an employee at a startup and being the founder who took all the risk is not the same. I’m also not saying one is better than another! As you point out, it’s a personal choice about fulfillment and sacrifice. But you cannot mix the two.

    @Ross — You’re right: Just putting in more hours isn’t better, and certainly deciding to not exercise is not better either! My point was the other way around — that often obsession leads to other sacrifices or poor choices, not that poor choices leads to a successful company.

  29. @Jason: Well, sounds like you have a good bit more experience with that than me, then. I still wonder if the common factor is that you are a person who becomes obsessed about your small businesses rather than it being necessary, but who knows. Certainly they take lots of effort, even if it’s not "sacrifice your health" levels.

    Oh, and I fully agree that being an employee and being a founder are not the same — even though I do get some of the thrills of watching my company grow. I was just ribbing you about a loophole in your wording to point out that they’re both respectable choices. (When I read too many blogs about how to run startups, I start to feel like there’s a culture in which the only people who are respected are those who start companies and obsess themselves into ill health to get rich — and in which the assumption is that anyone who’s looking for balance in their lives is a hopeless slacker. But maybe that’s my baggage from living in Silicon Valley too long!)

    I’m also reminded of my time as a grad student — and, in some ways, doing a Ph.D. is similar to this, in that it takes a substantial bit of obsession. My problem was that after enough years of not having a life outside schoolwork, I started feeling burnt out — I’d started out thinking "this is just for a few short years, and then I’ll be done," and making choices (about sacrificing ideals of balance with the rest of my life) for that — and then, when a few short years became several long years, I had to completely rethink things. I only really got over the burnout once I decided that regardless of whether it seemed like there was only a year to go, I had to structure my daily life in such a way that I’d be happy doing it ad infinitum.

    So, I guess I’m curious: If you make a decision to unbalance your life like this "on a temporary basis", how do you decide when that time is up? What if the company is still at a point where it needs an obsessive founder at its core when that time comes?

  30. @Brooks

    Regarding your statement: "I still wonder if the common factor is that you are a person who becomes obsessed about your small businesses rather than it being necessary." I certainly admit that could be the case, and some people (like the ones I list at the front of the article) have been successful without sacrificing family. Still, I think it’s 10-to-1, and I do know there’s a lot of companies that fizzle out due to lack of big-time commitment, especially the ones built "on the side" while you still have a day job.

    Regarding your lament: "I start to feel like there’s a culture in which the only people who are respected are those who start companies and obsess themselves into ill health to get rich — and in which the assumption is that anyone who’s looking for balance in their lives is a hopeless slacker." I completely agree! And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of that, in this article and others.

    As a rhetorical device for making strong points and as a position where I can be most persuasive and helpful to company founders, I think it’s a good thing.

    But in that it alienates people like yourself who are also living in the world of little companies, it’s clearly a bad thing.

    I thank you for calling this out. It’s a great criticism, and although I don’t want it to affect my core message or my style of writing, it’s one of those little voices in my ear that will help me communicate better with everyone.

    As for your question about "when is enough enough," I think it just happens. For me it was maybe three years. Also it depends on how much help you have, both with co-founders and employees. Also it depends on choices you make, e.g. you want to grow more and more profit so you keep more work for yourself, or you decide money and "growth" isn’t everything (and yeah, it isn’t!) so you make different choices about when to dial it back.

    I look forward to more discussion with you in future, and thanks for keeping me straight and honest!

  31. I think that if you are not obesessed enough, then someone else will be. It’s basically matter of survival. As long as there exists another startup founder, who is willing to sacrifice his health, you have to do it too, or you will be history.

  32. The obsession is where you begin to neglect your health (physical, mental ect…). If you look at the inside of your car when you are at your peak productivity, if it’s clean, you are not really obsessing about your product. Obsession pulls from other areas like gravitation. Folks with o.c.d. suffer from such difficulties. They just don’t have a business to show for it as they are channeling it to non-productive areas. Love the podcast with techZing.

  33. You are absolutely right man! I remember my first innings as an entrepreneur, I was in my teens (19), I had passion, I don’t remember when i used to sleep… skipping dinner, skipping college… it paid off.. my obsession continued for 5 long years till I established, enjoyed success and demolished my business…. Then was a break of do just this thin, a phase when I started working for some one and doing bit of real estate… I soon realized all my sacrifices I did in entrepreneurial phase of my career are showing on my health…. I just turned 30 and last few years, I am again trying to get into entrepreneurial mode but not able to get to the mode of obsession…. I don’t know whats wrong, the passion is there, but somehow my risk appetite has reduced… how do you think I can handle this situation…

    • I’m right there with you — 32 and also now with a new baby.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to reduce your risk. It’s not true that just taking big risks is always necessary.

      For example, the next time around I’m joining with co-founders I like and trust, and because both they and I have had successful exits and have worked together a little, I’m optimistic about that.

      Second, in this business model there’s a combination of consulting and new startups. Normally I don’t like mixing the two because consulting tends to take all the time and products don’t get made (a separate discussion), but because we all have perspective I don’t think that will be a problem, but the steady flow of income also reduces risk.

      Third, now spending time at home IS more important to me, even if that means I need to spend money hiring other people to burn the midnight oil fixing a server problem on Sunday at 3am.

      Having a big exit means I can afford that, so of course it’s a luxury!

      In short, I just rearrange the manner in which I approach problems to optimize for other things in my life which are now more important to me.

      (And there’s this blog which has been fun and a great learning experience!)

  34. Great info. I spent most of Saturday going over many of the concepts that you cover on your blog, but in a less organized and concise manner, with my sister who is starting her own virtual assistant business. I forwarded the link to her. I hope she gets some good info out of it.

    We started two businesses 10 years ago and I missed a lot of trips with friends in the early years. It was probably inexperience that kept me from going more than anything. Not feeling like I could be away. Fearing the other side of being on top of it every day. Unfortunately, outside of inventing a better mousetrap and living off of licensing (still my dream), sacrifice is more often than not the path to success. The good news is that it does get better in time, at least ours has and I think most would agree. The ventures are now affording the wife to stay at home with our little one, which suddenly makes it all worthwhile.

    Kiddos bring clarity. At least for me.

    Thanks again.

  35. The only thing I have to add is that it’s critical to have someone along for the ride who believes and challenges and supports and helps … who’s physically with you / geo-close who maintains the energy, focus and drive needed when yours falters. And it will.

  36. last night I watched Back to the Future (Part 1). In the bonus features section there is an interview with Michael J Fox who claims he worked on Family Ties from 6am to 5 pm, and then from 5 to 2 am on back to the future, sleeping about 2-3 hours a night. He said it was hard and it affected his sanity, but he loved it, he was living his dream of making movies… now fast forward, he has Parkinsons Disease. Could it be from burning the candle at both ends? There are so many unknowns that we can’t really say (take THAT Fox News!), but it makes me think.

    Well this brings up some interesting points for me. Number one is, do I want to live long or do I want to have fun NOW? Growing up (42 yrs young now) all I heard from well meaning parents was work hard, save money, etc. But I correlated their unhappiness came from sacrificing alot of things when they were young. Yeah maybe they had some money now that they were older, but they were too old and jaded to enjoy life anymore. So I partied and didn’t worry much until I saw SOME of my friends starting to make money. But even then, I’ve watched them sacrifice their partner and kids time for their business. Now that they are “successful” they have a partner and kids who are not so happy with them, and they use most of their “money” trying to repair the relationships that were damaged from years of neglect. It just doesn’t work that way. They hold so many memories of neglect, and anger that money or time spent now just won’t erase. So I would label that a failure.

    The other part of this thought is, what will mean more to me, my memories of good times in the past, or the current moment I am in? If I had fun in the past, but now I’m sitting in a jail cell, or in a nursing home (same thing), I think it’s the current moment, the moment we are living in, that makes life what is is. And yet, this contradicts most entreprenuerial ventures, where you are building something for the future, that you will enjoy your fruits at some FUTURE time. When (and if) that future comes, will it be everything you wanted? If you can’t live with the possibility that it won’t, will you take the risk to try it, or will you just stick with having fun in the present moment? pondering….

    Number 2, I want to stand on the shoulder of giants, meaning I want to learn from those who came before me. I want to believe that it is possible to work hard, accomplish something, and still have time to enjoy the moment and build for a future reward time. So I don’t support the concept of giving everything up in pursuit of the goal. I will work hard, but I will also play hard, and relax hard, so I have a rounded experience. And I think this will pay big dividends now and in the future. In fact, I don’t see any way that you could build your business otherwise. Your business should just be a way for you to do what you want in your life, i.e. your business produces money which allows you to live the lifestyle you want. If this blog and I both survive 20 years, I’ll come back to this post and comment how everything worked out :)

    • Parkinson’s isn’t due to stress, and we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

      However I think you’re exactly right in that the travails of a startup — or working in movies and TV — isn’t the right trade-off for most people. Of course you need to do what’s best for you personally.

      Also I don’t think you’re really talking about “startups” per se. Sounds like a more general question of balancing future rewards with immediate rewards. A non-startup career is no different.

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