There’s an interesting few blog posts going on about folks who work really hard. It started from Jason Calacanis’s article of tips on how to save money when running a startup (many of which are good, but #11 is ‘Fire people who are not workaholics…’) and that was picked up at the 37signals SvN blog which comes out strongly against workaholics.

As with everything else, it’s not that simple…

In the 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.

I have not seen any very successful startups where the developers weren’t at least a little monomaniacal about their work.

On the contrary, I’ve been at two successful startups (defined here as wildly successful IPO’s) where having those fanatic developers was a core reason of why they were successful.

The people who were putting in overwhelming hours at those companies weren’t doing it because they’re workaholics. They were doing it because they were true believers. Both in the company itself and the product they were building.

It’s not about the workaholics making the company successful, it’s about the company being one that the employees can believe in, to the point of _wanting_ to be there, wanting to be making it better.

In those cases, you don’t fire the people who are passionate about building your company. You support them, and accept that they’re going to crash occasionally, and try to nerf the crash some…

In my experience, it’s the fervent employees who are the core of successful startups. This was true at McAfee Associates (went public in 1992), and PayPal (went public in 2002), both successful startups that I was part of.

You also need people who aren’t as fervent, who can see a wider view, so it’s always a balance. So you can’t really ‘fire’ either of them, out of hand.

I’ve been that true believer, focusing everything into a job or project that I deeply care about. I’m a much calmer, more balanced person now, though. We’ll see what happens in 2012… 🙂

— Morgan


  1. On byproxy Says:

    FWIW, I wholeheartedly agree. Our startup is filled with people who have families, who work every hour they can reasonably spare away from their families, because they believe in the value proposition. But no more.

  2. On Paul Smith Says:

    I totally agree. I work very long hours no because I have to, but because I WANT to. It’s almost not even work when you truly believe in something.