Monday, December 7, 2009

Fire the workaholics - (37signals)

Fire the workaholics David Mar 07

122 comments Latest by Joe

Jason Calacanis wants you to save money for your startup, so he has come up with 17 tips on how. The intention is good. Working lean is great and means you probably won’t need outside money. And there’s some good stuff, like don’t buy Microsoft Office and skip the phone system. But there’s also some depressing bullshit like:

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

Here’s another take on that: Fire the people who are workaholics! Here’s five reasons why:

  1. Workaholics may well say that they enjoy those 14 hour days week after week, but despite their claims, working like that all month, all the time is not going to be sustainable. When the burnout crash comes, and it will, it’ll hit all the harder and according to Murphy at the least convenient time.
  2. People who are workaholics are likely to attempt to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at the problem. If you’re dealing with people working with anything creatively that’s a deadbeat way to get great work done.
  3. People who always work late makes the people who don’t feel inadequate for merely working reasonable hours. That’ll lead to guilt, misery, and poor morale. Worse, it’ll lead to ass-in-seat mentality where people will “stay late” out of obligation, but not really be productive.
  4. If all you do is work, your value judgements are unlikely to be sound. Making good calls on “is it worth it?” is absolutely critical to great work. Missing out on life in general to put more hours in at the office screams “misguided values”.
  5. Working with interesting people is more interesting than just working. If all you got going for your life is work, work, work, the good team-gelling lunches are going to be some pretty boring straight shop talk. Yawn. I’d much rather hear more about your whittling project, your last trek, how your garden is doing, or when you’ll get your flight certificate.

If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.

Update: Calacanis reeled it in and reconsidered, sorta. Requiring passion is certainly something we hopefully can all rally about.

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122 comments so far

Neil Kelty 08 Mar 08


Thank you. Just thank you.

This idea has been praised by many. If I worked there, I would have quit upon seeing that post.

some guy 08 Mar 08

Hopefully the title wasn’t meant to be taken literally and was just hyperbole to make a point, which I agree with the spirit of.

You really don’t get twice as much done in an 80 hour week as you do in a 40 hour week for any kind of creative knowledge work. Your subconscious needs time off to think about things so that you can make the time you put in count.

But seriously, couldn’t you counsel them? There are different kinds of people who work lots of hours – real bona fide workaholics who are beyond hope and people who just think it’s better to work a lot of hours.

As a side note, Mahalo is really boring—for anything other than high school essay topics and pop culture, it can’t do anything better than punt to Google. How is that adding value? The next Rails screencast should be a “search engine” that looks to see if wikipedia has a page on the topic, and if not presents Google results instead. That’d be about 80% as good as Mahalo and take like 10 minutes to code.

Beerzie 08 Mar 08

Yep. In my experience, a lot of the overtime braggarts are the people who spend 12 hours at work taking long lunches and spend half the day running their mouth instead of working.

Moreover, a workaholic is often a one-track person who is great for that track, but because they are so absorbed in their job/task/self they rarely see the big picture; that is, they make great wage slaves, but are useless for anything complex.

george 08 Mar 08

calacanis is an idiot

J Lane 08 Mar 08

Heheh, there’s a topic over on Hacker News titled “Calcanis Fires People who Have a Life”.

Can’t wait for the “37signals fires people who don’t have a life” topic appears. :-)

By Calcanis’ logic, your employees shouldn’t have families either. With a pair of younger kids in the house, I couldn’t wait to get home at the end of the day to have my 2 hours with them before they had to go to bed (in my last jon). I love working at home now, I can spend time with them in the morning, and if I feel like kicking off early one afternoon to take them to the park, it’s all good.

J Lane 08 Mar 08

The HN thread apparently links up to a nice piece on TechCrunch:

Wow, 18 hours a day for $35G a year! Where can I sign up?

Luke G 08 Mar 08

Haaaa word.

For a lot of us, I think it takes both. Sometimes gnarly hours are definitely necessary – this business is unpredictable – but I’ve never seen a beautiful, important, creative idea come out of a 100-hour week. I have, though, figured some important stuff out during a mid-afternoon surf session.

dustin 08 Mar 08

I’m quite sure you took this out of context. You can’t argue that nine to fivers have a place in a startup.

Drone 08 Mar 08

Your staff has to work that hard when the CEO is on facebook and twitter all day long.

Jonathan 08 Mar 08

It’s a balance… building something great and fast takes passionate people and- sometimes -lots of hours.

I think that if you’re passionate about what you do, spending more time to make sure it’s done right isn’t out of the ordinary.

I certainly don’t want simple workaholics in my business, but I certainly don’t want people who want to just clock in for 8 hours and leave.

Dedication, passion, and balance are the hallmarks of good employees.

... and sometimes that may mean working through the night. But if that’s the norm, then it is indeed a problem.

DHH 08 Mar 08

dustin, nine-to-fivers have the connotation of someone with no passion, who’s just there for the paycheck. The spectrum is a lot wider than either you’re a nine-to-fiver or you’re a workaholic. That’s a bullshit dichotomy.

There are tons of people out there, including I’d like to think the team at 37signals, who are very passionate about what they do, but still celebrate the fact of having a life outside of work.

And I agree with Luke that there are times where you work more, but it’s not simply because you’re a workaholic with little else in your life drawing for attention.

Rather, it’s because you’re either in a short-burst crunch of some sort or because of a crisis. Working long hours for those events have nothing to do with being a workaholic.

Mike D. 08 Mar 08

Score one for work / life balance!

Lance 08 Mar 08

Great workers can have great ideas OUTSIDE of work. Nuff said.

sandofsky 08 Mar 08

I pull 12 hour days if it’s the result of my own error. But if an employer tells me I need to pull long hours, they can either offer me a really, really good explanation, or significant, immediate compensation.

I’ve seen developers pull 12 hour days for no reason other than “business wants it.” That’s a sign you have insufficient resources. The worst thing you can do is succeed, because then it shows it works.

We should define workaholics. I think all corporations need to fire unproductive employees, but don’t due to legal hassles. I’ve endured senior developers who showed up the same hours as junior developers, but were 1/10 as productive.

As Zed Shaw points out, MBA ’s are trained for factory production. They equate more hours with more productivity.

Constant 12 hour days are the sign of an exploitative industry (read: EA), or an impending epic failure.

PabloC 08 Mar 08

Thank you. Just thank you again!

colly 08 Mar 08


Morgan 08 Mar 08

Greetings, It’s not that simple.

In the extremely successful startups I’ve worked at, a core of people staying late, working long hours, was a symptom of having an idea that people can believe in.

Workaholics don’t make the company successful, the company being one that the employees can believe in, to the point of wanting to be there, wanting to be making it better, makes the company successful.

You need both kinds, the folks who are passionate, committed, and yes, really hard-working, and the somewhat detached, less focused people, who can see other opportunities that are on the sides of the path being built.

— Morgan

Ricky Irvine 08 Mar 08

Hear, hear! Oddly (perhaps), I find it hard not to be working basically all day long (as an independent). I don’t think I’m a workaholic, but my work is spread throughout the whole day.

Stilgherrian 08 Mar 08

David, agree with you 100%. Innovation is creative work. Happy employees are loyal employees — and they’ll put in those extra hours voluntarily when they’re really needed.

Mr Calacanis may have generated more dollars in a shorter time than 37signals — or maybe he hasn’t, I don’t know. But I know who I’d rather sit next to on a long flight. And I know who I’d invite to dinner or to share a beer.

I’ve expounded on this at How do you treat your staff? Like 37signals, or like this prick?

DHH 08 Mar 08

Morgan, again I think that division is complete bullshit. People are not either “passionate and working long hours” or “detached, less focused [and working less]”. I consider myself passionate and I love to take time off work as does everyone else at 37signals.

Phil 08 Mar 08

“Whole People” has got to be the most refreshing phrase I’ve read this week. Thank you for stating the obvious!

Duncan 08 Mar 08

Where do I apply to join 37signals :-)

Some great points, in the post and comments.

Rob 08 Mar 08

It is a Friday night, what is everyone doing on svn and techcrunch?

It depends on what type of works that is involved. I know Apple iPhone devs were putting in crazy hours to get the product finished.

If they are page builders at Mahalo then it does take plenty of webtime since it is all research based work.

Edmundo 08 Mar 08

The calacanis blog post has been reedited with that one list item striked through with a new version:

“Fire people who don’t love their work… come on folks, this is startup life. don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it—go work at the post office or stabucks if you’re not into it.”

And a response post.

I’m siding with 37 on this one. I was just talking to my adviser today (I’m a grad student) on how my teammates by being there all the time kind of makes me actually feel bad if I take something like Saturday mornings off, and yet I need time off, because doing so much work fries my brain, and my work gets sloppy. And yes, I certainly love what I’m working on right now.

Richard 08 Mar 08

Work-aholics burn out and seldom make sound decisions as rested and rounded people.

When we begin to get unpredictable or sloppy results here it is more often than not attributed to someone who has been pulling too many hours. This is typically because creativity has gone out the window and has been replaced with shear herculean effort resulting is a bazillion lines of crap.

So see the kids, bask in the sun and give your mind a break. Just make sure that when you are back at it (either here or remotely) allow your mind to be creative rather than bringing the sledge hammer to work everyday.

Ryan Allen 08 Mar 08

That’s the first question we get when recruiting – we describe ourselves as a start up and the first question is “will I have to work long hours?”. Our response always is “no, we’re in to long term sustainability, so 14 hours days day after day is out of the question”.

In Peopleware they have a study on burnout (IIRC), and basically if you try to force people to work more than 8 hours a day you’re only going to get diminishing returns, and eventually loose your staff entirely.

Ro 08 Mar 08

Calacanis leads an ass-in-seat life because it suits his pyschological disposition and it is dangerous and inconsiderate of him to force others to comply.

Thank you for standing up the bully!

Matthew 08 Mar 08

Wow. Tell my wife 14+ hour days 6 days a week isn’t sustainable. She’s been at it (VOIP) for about 5 years.

Rich 08 Mar 08

I was reading the story over at Tech Crunch and couldn’t agree more with both takes on the story. Working lean is one thing but there is a line.

I do find it ironic however that Jason suggests cutting back a bunch of minor areas but yet they gave away things like cups, towels ect to their PTG ’s. And however many millions he’s blown on travel, and other expenses.

A $20+million startup shouldn’t need to cut corners to the point of messing up accounting (which was done on numerous occasions), delaying payments, or not paying at all.

Passionate people will work hard no matter what. Building that passion is a good thing but firing people that aren’t workaholics is a little much in my opinion.

Morgan 08 Mar 08

Greetings, My point was that in many startups there are people who are ‘true believers’ in the company, the product, or even an idea, and they will work insane hours because of that belief. Your post comes across putting them down for that.

— Morgan

MikeInAZ 08 Mar 08

I’m a workhardaholic. I work hard and in spurts, but not for 14 hours a day.

Eric 08 Mar 08

DHH ~ any comments about medical residents working long hours, essentially putting in the time for a bigger [potential] payoff later?

Brooks Jordan 08 Mar 08

dustin, nine-to-fivers have the connotation of someone with no passion, who’s just there for the paycheck. The spectrum is a lot wider than either you’re a nine-to-fiver or you’re a workaholic. That’s a bullshit dichotomy.

David, thanks for breaking down this myth. I like to work 24/7. And I like to live 24/7. I dream work and my play is work related.

Scott 08 Mar 08

I wish Calcanis hadn’t called his search engine Mahalo (Hawaiian for thank you) because I really love Hawaii, and I really hate Calcanis.

Tony Wright 08 Mar 08

I’m going to second @Morgan on this one.

I don’t work long hours ‘cause I have to. It’s because I WANT to. Having lots of people wanting to is good. As 37s says over and over again—constraints are critical. One constraint many businesses labor under is that they are slowly (or quickly) going broke. Going with the “work smarter, not harder” mantra might work, but not quite as well as “work smarter AND harder”.

That being said, breaks are critical. I have the luxury of working at a startup that builds a tool that allows you to know exactly how you spend your time—it’s VERY easy to see what happens when I work a ton—3 days of 12-14 hour days and I’m generally pretty useless.

vanderleun 08 Mar 08

Ah, a sane reply to an insane man’s tired and already been done to death ideas.

Ryan 08 Mar 08

I’m passionate about my work as well, but do not stay too long at the office. Why? Because my office environment, like most of yours, is horrible for intellectual work! I’m more likely to come up with the great idea that shapes the project at home while reflecting on my day’s work. So, I think leaving the office a little earlier than most actually makes me more effective than they are.

Mark 08 Mar 08

Calcanis’s other suggestions to limit trips out of the office are equally numbifying. Trips out of the office for a quick walk around the block breath oxygen into the brain and permit new ideas to flow. Being made to sit in the office all day long is torture that cannot produce good work.

Dustin 08 Mar 08

“And I agree with Luke that there are times where you work more, but it’s not simply because you’re a workaholic with little else in your life drawing for attention.”

That’s not what you said originally so I inferred. Do you have to cuss everytime you make a point?

James Garner 08 Mar 08

Wow, this post really hit me like a ton of bricks as I am on my 16th hour of the day (this is the norm). I need a new job!

paul 08 Mar 08

thanks for getting me fired.

Drew 08 Mar 08

It all depends on your definition of “workaholic”. I think your definition is more accurate than Jason’s on this one – someone who is at the office all of the time, running around like a chicken with their head cut off when any problem arises, eventually burning out.

Workaholics don’t actually ‘work harder’ at work; we’ve all known the guy who comes in and surfs all day, begins work at 4 and leaves at 9. The true workaholic doesn’t really get anything done but merely gets in a lot of face-time. These people need a talking to from management, maybe a week off to re-adjust, and let go of if their addictive habits continue.

Jason’s definition is more around those who are dispassionate about their work. I don’t know Jason, but I be he’d be fine with the person who leaves at 3, but starts up again at 8pm because she has a great idea and has to get it down.

In any case, love the paradigm-shift. We’re using the 37signals methodology with our startup.

art 08 Mar 08

cheers to a great post! reading jason c’s suggestions was a bit of a shocker. i’m really glad you’ve come in to respond with a little bit of sense and sensibility.

Brian 08 Mar 08

Nothing wrong with a push for a product release for a very limited period of time, but it should be very much the exception. Life is too short, even when you are young and in a startup, to spend all of your hours chained to a desk. Smart CEO ’s know this, and realize the most effective employees are passionate but will have rich and varied lives.

roger j 08 Mar 08

We get that you’re all crafty mofos, so enough with mentioning the whittling shit every other post. Is it just that other employees’ hobbies don’t sound well-rounded enough?

DHH 08 Mar 08

I actually mentioned four hobbies that are all from 37signals people. Jason likes to garden, Jeremy likes to trek, Mark is learning to fly an airplane.

Thomas Messier 08 Mar 08

This post reminds me of an episode of House where one of his employees goes home while the other two spend the night at the hospital. In the morning, when the employee who went home comes in with a fresh solution, the others get pissed because House praises him. House then says: “Work smarter, not harder.”

Sean 08 Mar 08

Balance applies to everything…EVERYTHING. It applies to physics, biology, ecology, economics, chemistry, psychology, and LIFE (working, partying, shopping, working out, eating, whatever).

When the balance is off, bad things happen. The severity of the consequences are usually directly correlated to degree of imbalance and the length of time that the imbalance as existed.

Paulo Delgado 08 Mar 08

Ah! I was wondering what your take would be on Calacanis’ post ( I read it earlier today on Techcrunch). I really hated that part about firing the non-workaholics!

I believe that success on any organization big or small is not about the number of hours you put in and instead it is about those hours that you put in that actually make a difference.. the hours where talent is used.

Perhaps I am being too optimistic by thinking that taking an organization to the next level is done by using your employee’s talents, not abusing them.

I’m still waiting on your reply to Jeff Atwood’s:

Sebhelyesfarku 08 Mar 08

I agree, Jason Calacanis is a moron.

CS 08 Mar 08

I don’t think its worthwhile to split this between long work days, and short ones. The key productivity trait to retain, if you can foster such an environment, is where long stretches of time can be devoted in a natural way when inspiration strikes. Sometimes these long stretches are due to tracing a bug because of an oversight caused by poor judgement, or tiredness, in the first place. The ideal would be to be in a healthy, fit state of mind with the option to go for any stretch of time as needed.

Kayla 08 Mar 08

You should email this to ALL employers. I used to work at an online, college apps service provider in San Francisco and I knew for a fact, I was getting paid less than most hotel housekeepers… If you’re going to rent out a pricey office in FiDi (Financial District), write off huge bar tabs, and still insist on top-quality work, I’m going to assume you’ve got the funding. Otherwise, you might as well just pack up and open up shop in China or India. I don’t know why so many businesses, not just start-ups, don’t realize that American workers are going to demand adequate pay.

JC is a first rate moron. 08 Mar 08

Jason is such a tool, why anybody listens to that blowhard anymore is beyond me!

Josh Farkas of Pixelton 08 Mar 08

I do feel that the word work-a-holic here was originally misused and should have been “passionate”. Passion can’t be purchased but is necessary to create a start-up.

Obviously just clocking hours doesn’t equal instant success.

But being a work-a-holic doesn’t mean you are unproductive. The bullets here slightly miss the point and create a straw-man in my opinion.

Thejesh GN 08 Mar 08


Eric 08 Mar 08

Both of these point of views are such broad generalizations that I can’t say I would agree with either one. To state that someone who is a “workaholic” is unbalanced, uninteresting and incapable of good judgment is ridiculous.

I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where I am largely able to make my own schedule work unmonitored, and I’m proud to call myself a workaholic. I’m passionate about what I’m able to do and thrilled that I have the opportunity to “work” (because it sure doesn’t feel like that) with a subject I’ve always loved.

When an individual can devote themselves to what they love, get paid for it, and learn and learn and learn more than they ever thought they’d have the opportunity to, I do not blame them for putting in the extra hours. What you’re saying might apply to some people who are in the office more than usual, but certainly not to all of them.

Dave 08 Mar 08

As a former Project Manager and Project Management consultant, I’ve seen the numbers on working excessively long hours. That being a little more than forty. A metric is used called “Effective Productivity” to measure how much USEFUL work is getting done. It’s calculated by measuring the work effort and the product but then subtracting the cost to fix any mistakes, like wasted materials or below quality product, in a manufacturing environment. In a service environment, the cost of correcting mistakes made, including poor decisions due to fatigue, are factored in. When you compare people working forty hours a week to people working 45 or more this way, what you see is that the “Effective Productivity” goes below forty hours in 2 to 4 weeks. That is, working overtime for more than 2 to 4 weeks COSTS THE COMPANY MORE than any imagined return they might be getting. This is provable and predictable, and has been measured many times in many different environments and holds true in them all. The belief that working long hours is cost effective is a modern day myth, like believing the world was flat a few centuries ago. It simply isn’t.

Over the years, as an employee and as a consultant, I’ve seen this proven so many times. In many organizations, it’s a requirement to move into management that you work at least 50 hours a week or more. Which means that it’s a management requirement that you be fatigued and unable to make good decisions! This is not helping business in general or the economy as a whole. It is part of the reason that employees find themselves amazed at the obviously poor decisions their management so often makes.

From my personal experience, I can’t count how many times I’ve been stuck on a problem at work or in my own businesses, gotten up and left my desk, take a short walk, come back and figure out the solution the minute I get back to it. Our minds are very complex, the right brain does most of the creative problem solving, and it works best when it’s rested and usually resolves a problem when it’s been away from it for a while. This according to recent studies of the brain and how each side functions.

Working long hours for more than a few weeks is self-defeating and not healthy for human beings. This is a generally well-known fact by the people who’ve taken the time to study it, but generally ignored by management most places because of the “work ethic” that they mistakenly encourage.

tommy 08 Mar 08

I also think that the true startup types are willing to dish out the hours knowing that it will be worth in the long run. If the workers are having fun doing their job, what’s wrong with that?

abhi 08 Mar 08

I think why management styles adopt the route of keeping people tightly wrapped up and controlled is that there are too few passionate people (about their work) compared to people who just want to earn something doing something.

If you allow the ‘lets be free, creative’ etc kind of philosophy then maybe the passionate people might use it to the company’s advantage but the huge number of ‘others’ will misuse it and eventually the sum total will be a loss.

Also remember that the ‘cut corners’, keep everyone in office, tie them up’ kind of philosophy mostly originates from huge corporations which have a lot of ‘others’ and very few ‘passionates’. So for them its less costly to be more restrictive. But unfortunately many startups follow these styles and end up losing on a lot of good ideas , and employees.

Many normal people end up working long hours because they are concerned about the damage or lack of productivity caused by below par performing colleagues, and they still sit after hours because THEY CARE about the product and the company. Otherwise how is it that workaholics (if they are made out to be the asskissers they are) end up working in low pay high risk startups in the first place? they should be in some cushy 9-5 job with a fixed permanent pay anyway.

And when your thinking about a great idea to improve your product when you go on a trek, your still working, and that means your working longer hours than that workaholic who totally forgets about his job the moment he (or his boss) steps out of the office. A truly passionate person always thinks about the product, and thats why he may have a great idea in the bathtub. THAT never happens to a workaholic

eric 08 Mar 08

Those five reasons couldn’t be more right. Thank you for coming out and saying this.

rick 08 Mar 08

I used to work for a guy whose family would call the office to ask if he was “home”. I was labelled “uncommitted” if I left before 8pm. After a 90 minute commute, I was home after my kids were long asleep. Never been so miserable. Too bad, cuz the work itself was enjoyable.

Now I work for myself and put in long hours, but I’m with my family more than ever. Balance IS the key. As a result, both life AND work are sweeter.

Don Schenck 08 Mar 08

David: Amen, amen, amen amen amen!

Don Schenck 08 Mar 08

Heyu Calacanis … the 1910’s called … they want their child laborers back.

Art 08 Mar 08

When your young, “Work” IS the game … If you want to win the game. You need to work harder AND smarted. Once you have a wife and kids, then “Family” IS the game, and to win at that, you need to work harder AND smarted.

At the end of it all, I think the “Family” games consistently shows more rewards than the “Work” game … But, it you don’t have a family .. Relish in the “Work” game .. it can be fun ..

Note: In either case .. Money should have nothing to do with it !

Anonymous Coward 08 Mar 08

Great post – thanks for having the guts to get real and put this out there.

One of my previous jobs was for a startup that had been around for a number of years. I’m a 9-to-5er; I definitely value the work/life separation. When I started at this job I noticed that I was usually the first one leaving for the day at 5. I asked a higher-up if that was all right; he said yes, so long as I got my work done.

That turned out to be a lie. I was later canned from that job for questionable reasons, one of them being that I wasn’t “devoted” enough to the company because I wasn’t working late and wasn’t working weekends. This was the same company that had financial problems to the point where we had to skip a paycheck (!) because they didn’t have enough cash. (We later got that money back.) I was getting my job done; they thought I wasn’t because I wasn’t pulling 12-hour days and going out drinking with them after (or during!) work.

The culture of that company was such that the people who worked there didn’t just work there, but also used work as a social circle. These weren’t just your co-workers… they were your friends, too. Your drinking buddies. Your smoking buddies. And so on. I don’t mind that to some degree but this was overkill.

I strongly dislike a lack of boundaries. A company doesn’t own a person, and it’s not absurd to think one would want to, you know, go home sometime.

jr.duboc 08 Mar 08

I’m working for a company that implicitly promotes that kind of thing. As it turns out, the reason why we have to work late is that most projects are actually poorly managed, leading us to be late on every single deadline, and to build websites that just simply and plainly suck, for unhappy clients. Two programmers got fired, one among them being one of the best I ever met. As a result, we where ask to lie to clients, telling them that the projects that programmer use to deal with are all well taken care of. I resigned, along with one of my collegues . I’m not going to screw up my career because of those people.

Jason 08 Mar 08

The “fire folks who aren’t workaholics” was said with a grin and a nod… thought that would be obvious from the “post office” and “for realz” jokes. Anyway…

This has sparked some great debate which I think is healthy. Different people have different styles and run different projects. If 37signals is, from what I’ve read, more reductionist (i.e. less features done better) and slow, steady growth that’s just fine by me.

You haven’t raised tons of money and you’re building a “lifestyle” business from what I gather (correct?). You’re not trying to displace Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. You’re not trying to build a service that gets to 100M monthly users, and you’re not on some aggressive timeline. You’re trying to build something that you enjoy working on and that helps people… correct?

When you take VC money and try to compete in a really aggressive space like search/research you’re faced with folks like Google, Wikipedia,, Yahoo, eHow, DMOZ , etc. These are big companies with lots of resources… the way you beat them is to zig where they zag and/or out hustle them. So, if you want to compete in that space you’re gonna need to really work hard—you’re not going to do it working a four hour work week that’s for sure!

Now, the crazy part of this whole discussion is that it leaves out free will. I’ve always created environments where folks who are hungry can work hard and excel. They can achieve things that are not possible at a big company because the opportunity is just not there.

This is only for 10% of the population in my experience. Not everyone wants to burn the midnight oil, but some do and they take five years out of their career path in one year. It’s their choice to go faster and if they want to grow and move faster I respect that.

I also respect folks who want to work at the New York Times or a magazine for 10 years before becoming an editor, then do 10 years as an editor before they become a VP, and then 30 years from now maybe have a shot at becoming the CEO , President, COO , etc. That’s a fine path… me? I wanted to be CEO immediately and I did when I was 25 and started Silicon Alley Reporter on my credit cards.

Some folks I knew who were 35 years old and working at big newspapers or magazine for 12-15 years were very upset that I was able to build a platform that quickly…. but you know what???! Screw them!!! They didn’t go for it, they waited in line, and they got exactly what they signed up: a place on line.

Some folks wait in line, some folks make their own lane.

The folks who’ve worked for me at Silicon Alley Reporter, Weblogs, Inc., and Netscape/Propeller are all racing off to run their own shows now… that’s the true measure of what I represent as a “boss.” I’m damn proud of the work folks have done with me, but more proud of the opportunities they’ve taken now without me.

To the folks who want to wait in line? More power to you… we’ll see you inside the tent in 30 years—or not!

Now back to work everyone!

best j

linkerjpatrick 08 Mar 08

I can certainly understand where Jason is coming from. I’m self-employed and while I don’t like to consider myself a “work-a-holic” per se I pretty much am one as I am thinking about my business almost all of the time. Blogging about it, networking, working hard to satisfy customers and come up with innovative ideas.

I’ve worked for others and while I tried to have to best attitude there I was often discouraged by “breakroom bitchers” who were constantly complaining about the work place, the boss, etc.

marshal sandler 08 Mar 08

I am 72 years old and when younger was taught to work with the Calacanis Method ,as did all of us who had Immigrant Parents and Grandparents ! The work ethic is not an easy learning curve and if Mr Calacanis teaches it only to a few these folks , they will achieve their goals in life ! We have to many Mug Wumps in the work force today ! Of course as someone said he has guts, because very few today can face a taste or reality ! I am sure he works very hard because he understands success is when preparation meets opportunity ! I read his Blog I like what he say , but then i am a Man Of Good Taste !:)

Rick Hood 08 Mar 08

I agree. It’s quality that counts not quantity. Quality goes up with minds that are refreshed and down with minds that are burned out. I know from my own experience of having burned out and gotten nothing decent done, and having come back from vacation, or maybe a conference, and getting shitloads of good stuff done.

Nine-to-five is just that, nothing else. There are 9-5ers that do great work and those who don’t.

DHH 08 Mar 08

Jason, no we’re not building a “lifestyle” business. We’re just building a business. To take the sound bytes from the recent Wired article, a multimillion dollar one that doubled in revenues last year (chest-thumbing not implied, merely that we’re 10 people because we choose to be, not because that’s what we can afford).

So please don’t make the choices we’ve made about treating our employees one of a “lifestyle” (aka “small timer”, “toy”) vs “real” business. That somehow only those happy hippies who are not going for the gold can afford to hire whole people with a life outside of work. That’s bullcrap.

I very much do believe, though, that taking VC money with loads of strings attached will put hard pressures and increased stress on the decision making. And that in turn can lead to a culture where long hours and no walking outside for coffee can be seen as good, patriotic practices.

What I take the most offense to, though, is the dichotomist split between the workaholic go-getters who gets the quick cash and the lame waiting-in-line nine-to-fivers who get a gold watch after 30 years. What a crock.

We launched Basecamp four years ago. We built it off a 10 hour/week technical time budget. It’s very possible to build a “real”, multimillion dollar business that has high growth without resorting to the workaholic path.

You’re the one choosing to be a workaholic, which is your choice for sure, but don’t equate it with the only path to success. Because that’s patently false and we’re happy to live as a counter-example to that.

Glenn Fleishman 08 Mar 08

I worked at Amazon in 96-97, and people routinely put in 80 to 100 hour weeks. Many, many marriages broke up in the years after I left, no wonder.

I was putting in about 60 hours a week, and left when I realized that a) a relationship with a new girlfriend wasn’t sustainable with the work expected of me; b) I wasn’t productive after about 50 to 60 hours a week, and that wasn’t sustainable, either.

That girlfriend became partner and later wife; we have two kids. Life is too short to work too long for the only reward being money and fame. I’d rather be anonymous and a happy father and partner.

Charlei Crystle 08 Mar 08

Jason, you advocate abusing workers, making an argument that seems to justify being an asshole boss. You take credit for your former workers current success. But it’s their work and drive, not your opportunity that got them there. So just stop.

We proudly provide 100% healthcare to employees. We pay competitive salaries and everyone gets a healthy dose of options. People show up between 8 am and 9, and leave between 5 and 9, depending on the status of their project, not out of guilt or badgering. When they crank to meet unreasonable but necessary deadlines, they get time off. When it’s icy out there, we tell them to stay home, work if they can, but if you’ve got kids ya gotta take care of them.

And we win. And we are gunning for large companies out there. But we can get there without abusing our employees. And they are fresher, more energetic, more focused because of it.

Jason, how about making your company a socially responsible, sustainable company? It’s a hell of a lot more fun, and doesn’t preclude you from crushing the competition.

Paul Puri 08 Mar 08

You can always tell the well balanced employee from the do nothing ones. The do nothings are the ones responding to blog posts during work hours, or writing them(unless you get paid for that). The balanced workers will wait until a break or time off.

But it’s just amazing how many people get all fumed over a couple of opinion pieces.

Liz 08 Mar 08

Excellent points. I think both sides of the argument have excellent points. But this makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Bryan Sebastian 08 Mar 08

I understand the point that Jason C is trying to make and I also understand DHH ’s counter point. Personally I do not think being a workaholic is that black and white. Being a workaholic may be necessary at times, like early on in a startup, but it cannot be the norm.

A possible solution that worked for me…

I used to be a workaholic, but I found myself (and family) miserable with that arrangement. The key was to find balance. The solution came from a book called “The Now Habit” by Niel Fiore. Neil has a theory that you should schedule all your play (He calls it “Guilt Free Play”) first and then fill the remainder in with work, etc. Doing this has been instrumental in getting my life back (recreation and fun) and has made me far more productive when I am working.

Personally, I think you need to find people who know how to find that balance.

Neil Wilson 08 Mar 08

That’s one of the great things about the Signals approach, and most of the Rails community. It is grounded in solid values, long-term sustainability and just having a great time being alive.

Great attitude.

Peter S 08 Mar 08

I would have to say that you can work and have a life. By having a life you become more productive. But sometimes you need to put in the time. But don’t put in the time just to put in time.

I have been working on serious and crazy project at work that has been driving my work life and invading my personal life. And now I am paying for it.

All this week I have been really tired and just feeling down. It has been affecting my work and spending time with my kids and family.

I think that you need to step away and relax and do something else so your mind and body recharge. This way you can be better at work and home.

Being a workaholic for the sake of being a workaholic is not good or productive in the long-term.

Jason 08 Mar 08

What I take the most offense to, though, is the dichotomist split between the workaholic go-getters who gets the quick cash and the lame waiting- in-line nine-to-fivers who get a gold watch after 30 years. What a crock.

Well, that’s not exactly what I said. There are obviously many ways to come at a business an there is a wide spectrum of companies operating from “workaholic madness” to “phoning it in.” My guess is both our companies are inbetween those two things, but still on opposite sides of the spectrum.

I like to build fast and run hard, you guys seem to enjoy a slower, steady pace… that’s fine. Weblogs, Inc. took 18 months from start to sale… I loved that pace. It was brutal at times, but that’s how i like to live… i like running hard. It really is a personal choice. Maybe some day I’ll roll slower, but frankly I dont think so. I’m wired for a rapid pace… always have been. I think it’s from coming from the news business where you are on non-stop deadline. I love deadlines, i love racing to the finish line.

You guys seem to have a slow and steady model that works…. that’s great. That pace might not work so well in something like the search market (at least from where I sit). It’s just too competitive… if everyone in your space is burning the midnight oil and building out features at a crazy pace you’re not going to compete. Same with social networking space. I could be wrong… maybe 37signals is so deft they could make a google competitor working 10 hour a week on development… you should try! :-)

none of this is written in stone, there are folks who work like maniacs and get nothing done, and there are folks like 37signals that are deft, lightweight, and effective.

rock on, respect. best j

DHH 08 Mar 08

We had our fair share of approachers to buy us out in the same space of time as you sold Weblogs Inc, we just chose not to do so. Doesn’t mean there’s much difference in pace as it relates to the growth or the development of the business.

Neither do I think there’s a lot of difference in the competitive forces between search/content and collaboration/communication. We do indeed choose to one-down our competitors and build less.

In any case, I’m not saying that you can’t get stuff done as a workaholic. Obviously you can. I’m just saying that I don’t believe it’s neither necessary nor beneficial and we’re backing that belief up with our own rapid business progress despite working normal or less hours.

frank 08 Mar 08

fire Calanis!

someone 08 Mar 08

obviously the list is compiled / made up by people who doesn’t like people who are serious to their work.

umm 08 Mar 08

Whoa. There seems to be a disturbing dynamic in the tech workforce plaguing us all west coast and east coast.

People blame each other’s work ethics for why teams or ideas fail.

Those with passion and strong work ethics are usually side-lined or ostracized by a douche-bag lazy and uncommitted boss, coworkers or both.

Who found the bug in the product launch, and found the fix? The passionate one, who either cares enough to double-check their work, or worked late regardless if it was because of lack of extreme uber-cool talent or whatnot.

Who doesn’t care about following standards and teamwork? The one uncommitted to the goal of the team/company and constantly ignoring how best they can work as a team-mate. You can be brilliant and still be lazy as hell, and a total gloat and total douche-bag sucking up oxygen.

It is not either type of employee that causes the team to fall, it is having both pitted against each other usually over things like salary politics, favoritism and horrible management.

David C. 08 Mar 08

Hi David,

I have a quick question: have you studied Apple’s work environment, and do you consider Jobs, or Ives workaholics?

I guess I have another question. Which companies do you think have the best work environment and what can we learn from them?


Tieg 08 Mar 08

To add to his suggestions of replacing Starbucks outings, I’d like to suggest the alternative of TEA . Tea is awesome, comes in many varieties, can wake you up, and the electric water heater can usually prove cheaper than the espresso machine. :)

Greg 08 Mar 08

Nice post! Has any of the startups on here checked out Sun Microsystem’s startup essentials program? We went to their event in nyc a few months back and it seemed like they were really out to help startups. Here’s their link for those interested:

AM 08 Mar 08

Thanks for a great post.

I have worked for many startup and had this feeling again and again – god please help these people, they don’t understand the difference between “hard work” and “smart work”.

You may employ 1000s of scientists but that doesn’t mean you would have another Einstein …

John 08 Mar 08

I am a European living in the US. Generally, working environment in the US creates a need where everyone likes to think of themselves as hard workers. Think about it, what does a colleague at work or even your friends tell you when you ask them ‘how is work?’. You hear ‘busy, very busy’. The American culture values hard work, which derives from the Protestant’s work philosophy. On the top of that, just add the level of competitivness in this country and you have created a lot of pressure for people at work. In corporations, it becomes a game ‘who is the hardest worker in the department?’ Too many times, a big part of the game is about perception. Who will look the busiest is key to climbing the ladder. Very few people focus on efficiency at work as that will mean they will finish their work early and they won’t look busy anymore. No promotions, no raises. That’s why there is a lot of brown nosing, back-stabbing, gossiping. It is true that smarter people do not necessarly get ahead, it’s the ones who are ready to sacrifice more personal life for the good of the company they are working in. The guy who needs 10 hours to complete a task will winn over a guy who needs 8 hours. Guess what, the slower guy will be leaving his company late and everyone will percieve him as a hard worker while the smarter guy will be the lazy one. This is especially true during economic down turns such as the one we are in right now. I predict people will have less and less work-life balance as corporations are getting bigger and stronger. Europe is starting to look more and more like the US when it comes to work-life balance. That’s because the competition has become global.

Mark Holton 09 Mar 08

great post… it’s making me think, and is a great conversation. thanks

Noah 09 Mar 08

So Mark, when 37S has a client gig, do you charge by the hour or by the project?

JF 09 Mar 08

So Mark, when 37S has a client gig, do you charge by the hour or by the project?

We don’t do client work, but when we did (2004 and before) we charged by the project.

Scott G 09 Mar 08

Some of the commenters seem stuck in an either/or mentality. The dichotomy is in your heads.

I know people who work longs hours who are not at all passionate about their work; I know people who work long hours who are very passionate about their work; I know people who work short hours who are not at all passionate about their work; I know people who work short hours who are very passionate about their work.

All you can really say is that people are different in how they do their work, and what is motivating individuals to work long or short hours varies. Maybe the long hours in startups is the result of pressure, not passion; or the expectation of a payoff. But to make this an all or nothing thing, and to make the assumption that people working in startups must work long hours or it means they aren’t passionate about their work or vice versa is disingenuous. To also claim that people in startups must work long hours for the startup to be successful is also a bit of a turd.

Human beings will burn out if they work significantly more than 40 hours per week for more than a couple of weeks. They may still come to work, but the number of mistakes they make increases until the benefits the company receives from the longer hours disappears and goes negative. The reason why Henry Ford moved to the 40 hour week was for precisely this reason, and while that is manual labor, there is plenty of evidence that it is true of any kind of work. We humans have limitations; we aren’t machines. Keeping machines busy 100% of the time may make them very efficient, but the same is not true of human beings. The problem is that most of us equate time and productivity—it just isn’t so.


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