Sometime around 2002, I attempted to start my own business, not as part of the grand plan, but rather as a fallback for lack of options. It didn’t do so hot. I was living at home and the highlight of each week was meeting up with friends at a bar on spinner night where you would spin to find out the price of your beers. (Anywhere from free to $1.) I digress.
That business lasted a couple of years, and if I had to guess, my effective hourly rate was about $1-2 an hour. I was under the impression that 60-80 hour weeks were the way to do it. I thought that If the company wasn’t succeeding, it was simply because I wasn’t working hard enough. Inevitably, I would get burnt out and be wildly unproductive for weeks at a time.
Eventually I realized that I needed to move on. Despite being a complete failure in and of itself, that experience contributed enormously to my ability to launch Sifter. More importantly, as I look back on that time these days, the importance of having a healthy work/life balance was the most important lesson of them all. That’s not to say that it’s important for everyone, but it’s very important for me.
Fast forward 6 years. I launched a hosted web application that’s available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I’m essentially always on call. I got a dog, got engaged and subsequently married, bought a house, and did a handful of other things that made absolutely zero sense from the standpoint of managing a young business.
There’s no doubt that those decisions made Sifter more difficult. Much more difficult. Raising a puppy. (You don’t realize how often they go to the bathroom until you’re trying to concentrate on writing code and you have to stop regularly and carry them down three flights of stairs.) Planning a wedding. Going on a honeymoon. Buying a house and committing to a mortgage.
We all have our priorities, and different things are important to different people. Nothing wrong with that. This time around, when I set out to build a business, I promised myself not to let it get in the way of living my life. It hasn’t been easy, but for me, it’s clearly been the right decision. From where I’m standing, Sifter wouldn’t be what it is if I wasn’t actively making sure to have a little bit of a life on the side.
Finding time for all of these things required a lot of time and effort. It’s been worth it, though. Had I put those things off to focus on the business, I can assure you that the depth of my regret would not be quantifiable. So, next time you read an article with the media glorifying somebody starting a company and working 168 hours per week, don’t assume that’s the only way or even the best way. It’s just one way. It’s just as possible to have your startup and friends and family too.