Is Work Life Balance in a Startup A Good Thing?

What do you think about this (quoting a discussion at

I Don’t Believe in Work Life Balance as a Startup Person. Am I Wrong?

In the discussion on, the person who asks the question is co-founder and CEO of a startup, and is working 60 hours a week. But there are problems:

I wish we all would work like there’s no tomorrow, at least until we reach certain status where we can be confident that we have reached product market fit… However my co-founders have their families and they have to go home when work hours end … I am very dissatisfied because I feel like we can do much more if we tried harder.

If you get into that discussion, you’ll see that the startup community there is divided. There is no consensus.

Just yesterday blogging guru Chris Brogan posted an eloquent argument for balance in his Pay Yourself First:

But when you wonder how I’m getting as successful as I am, oddly, it’s because I’m doing the opposite of what you’d suspect. I’m working fewer hours now than I used to work last year. The trick of it all is that I’m working the right hours, and I’m managing my time and demands on my time much better.

This question keeps coming up. I jumped on a similar discussion a couple of years ago, when I posted Is Startup Life Life, which followed a public debate about work/life balance triggered by this zinger from Jason Calcanis in his How to Save Money Running a Startup:

Fire people who are not workaholics. Come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. Don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it. Go work at the post office or Starbucks if you want balance in your life.

Me? I’m not sure.  I hope for that happy medium, the gray area that isn’t either black or white; a startup that people believe in enough to work like mad, but one that gives them meaningful work to do, and one that hopes they manage to preserve a life as well. As if that were possible.


  • Jerry says:

    I find that singing in my car is a great way relieve stress and make the day more fun.

  • This Week in Small Business: TK, Tk? - says:

    […] writes about five ways to Go Green and make some green. Hey, material girl: Is work/life balance a good thing when starting a business? Angel investor Mike Maples says you have to be ready to throw it all […]

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I have worked as a software developer in four startups. It gets awkward when different people have different expectations. A CEO who says that 60 hours a week isn’t enough for developers ans QA but he only shows up in the office for 2 days a week is sending the wrong message.

  • Todd Hawkins says:

    I view start-up as a race to profitability. You’re going to make sacrifices in everything to get there. Granted, it’s a marathon and not a sprint; however, the key is to regain work-life balance ASAP before you fry. Unfortunately, some people are hard-wired to have no life regardless of how successful they become. I burned out in another career, in my twenties! It’s no fun but thankfully I learned the symptoms, albeit the hard way. The worst, tragic outcome is if you’ve “made it” but no longer have any friends or family.

  • Laura White-Ritchie says:

    Great food for thought!

    I blogged about my thoughts on balance today too. Maybe there’s something in the air. Maybe its the approaching holidays. But, this seems to be a recurring theme for the week.

    I think balance (especially as a parent/entrepreneur) is BS. It’s a constant struggle with your conscience that always ends in second-guessing yourself, your priorities and your path. My new goal is to have a well-blended life where I live, work and learn surrounded by the people I love and want to share my life with. I am completely unsatisfied with compartmentalization. So, I’ve sworn it off.

    I know the answer is going to be different for everyone. Hopefully, everyone reading will find clues & ideas that will help them find theirs…especially with so many amazing bloggers sharing their thoughts about balance this week.

  • Paul Fairlie says:

    Interesting topic. I have some general things to say about work-life balance, and more specific things with respect to entrepreneurs.

    While there is definitely a well-studied negative relationship between working hours and well-being, this is strongly moderated by values and interests. You can be ‘protected’ from long hours by having a high degree of work centrality, intrinsic interest in the work, etc. Thus, there is no one healthy balance. One person’s 50/50 is another person’s 70/30.

    With respect to entrepreneurs, historical studies of famous, creative people (i.e., arts, business etc.) show that some of the most successful people were often ‘consumed’ for periods of time before breakthroughs occurred. Especially for new entrepreneurs and start-ups, late nights may be common in the beginning – partly because the new business is an expression of their self or identity. Some of these people have found their calling. They’re not up late because they’re disorganized (although I’m sure some of them are). Some of them are experiencing ‘flow’ for the first time in their work lives. The key issue is, how long does this go on before the essential creative elements are in place, and before well-being is compromised (e.g., physical, social, psychological)?

  • Reno Luxury Real Estate says:

    Wow. Great stuff. I agree, there needs to be a happy medium! Thanks for the article, it really got me thinking!

  • Glenn says:

    Is this for real? As a veteran of 5 startups, i can tell you that the people who work into the wee hours are many times covering up the fact that they are very disorganized in the first place, and may be procrastinators. That said, I think it’s completely reasonable to expect well paid people in a startup to put in a minimum of 10 hrs a day (8-6), and to work more than that when the needs of the business require it., and should expect to often do some work on a weekend or late night at least once or twice a week. Btw, it’s this same work ethic that makes people successful in any corporation.

    Those folks who want to come in after nine and leave before 6 – they are mostly dead wood anyway and are along for the ride – whether it’s a startup or not. What I find is actually the problem with most people is their priorities. They don’t understand that if they don’t do a kick-ass job, they won’t be able to provide for the families they endlessly go on about (I have one too, fyi). Somehow in modern america, many corporate folks who make 6 figures have forgotten that it’s a privilege to make that kind of money and something more than a 40 hr week is required to maintain that income. Ya can’t go to the dance if you don’t want to buy a ticket.

    My advice to the questioner. Don’t talk to them about their priorities – they will get upset. Simply establish some work requirements that are rock solid. We did it in one startup where the CTO informed his lazy developers who were taking advantage of flex-work rules that regardless of when they came in or left – they were expected to do 10 hours of work per day. It makes it clear – come in early, stay late or get real work done from home at night – but you are expected to work your ass off. Whether they have families or not is irrelevant to that request and that is as it should be. My two cents…

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