Years ago, I was invited to a presentation for aspiring startups in the Silicon Valley by a VC firm. My company had just been funded, but I wanted to go to listen to some of the featured speakers.
During the Q & A, someone asked the CEO of a company that just went public about how he maintained work life balance. His answer was a classic:
“Work life balance? You can’t have work life balance in a startup!”
And you could hear by the CEO’s tone, that we really serious about it.
All I could think was, I am glad I don’t work with him.
Can you imagine how depressing it would be if there was only work in your life?
Picture life working with this CEO. Every day, including Sunday, you’re working 12 to 16 hours pushing for deadline after deadline.
After each deadline, you’re told there’s another equally challenging deadline to meet. But the CEO keeps pushing, and you have no choice but to keep grinding away.
And since it usually takes seven to ten years to get to a liquidity event, you’ve got a long way to go.
Burnout? Oh yeah, you’ll be burned out alright. And it’s not just you that’s burned out. Just about everyone in the company is burned out in this sweatshop.
You can have work life balance, work hard, and succeed in a startup.
I’ve seen it, and I’m sure others have too.
I saw it first during my time at Maxim Integrated Products. Maxim was one of the most successful semiconductor companies ever.
The CEO, the late Jack Gifford, was extremely demanding and the pressure was intense. You were expected to work hard and the standards were extremely high.
You need a release valve for your team.
At the same time, we had fun, laughed a lot, and we were all encouraged to take vacations. And the accelerator wasn’t always pushed to the floor.
That was one of the greatest lessons Gifford taught me. He told me:
“Think of running a company like driving a car. You need to understand when to put on the gas, and when to use the brakes.”
And that release valve was a key to the company’s success.
You would go through periods where you were working normal hours, and then there were times when you have to push. But you knew that there would be downtime coming.
Remember, your team is going to be working for seven to ten years before they see success, if they see success at all.
That's why you should remember Gifford’s analogy as you build your team and culture. Yes, run the car hard. Yes, floor it when you have. However, you need to know when to apply the brakes.
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