Monday, July 25, 2011

How much work is a startup?

I sat down with a friend today, mint tea and conversation on an otherwise wintery summer day.  We catch up about family, kids, my trip back to the US, their home improvements.

  “And, how are the businesses going?”

Overall, well:  We’re funded, we’re getting good laboratory results, the strength of our investor and development teams grows by the day.  I’m doing more operations and less fundraising, and the money problems that dominated work and life for the past six months are receding.

But, you know, it’s a lot of work.  I’m at my desk, on the phone, mid-morning until late in the evening.  This is the big chance, maybe my only chance, and I absolutely want to make the most of it.  Every day is a step forward, but every step brings an assessment of opportunities, tasks, and priorities.  And every day is another step:  The to-do list waxes and wanes but never empties.

Ironically, I’m in Europe is for the opportunities to travel, experience cultures, to learn, to meet people.  Increasingly I don’t do any of those things: my world is gradually narrowing to just work.  Day by day I get out less, do less, associate less.

And that can’t be good.

Do you actually want to start a startup? What it amounts to, economically, is compressing your working life into the smallest possible space. Instead of working at an ordinary rate for 40 years, you work like hell for four. And maybe end up with nothing-- though in that case it probably won't take four years.

During this time you'll do little but work, because when you're not working, your competitors will be. My only leisure activities were running, which I needed to do to keep working anyway, and about fifteen minutes of reading a night. I had a girlfriend for a total of two months during that three year period. Every couple weeks I would take a few hours off to visit a used bookshop or go to a friend's house for dinner. I went to visit my family twice. Otherwise I just worked.

Paul Graham, How to Start a Startup

It’s really true.

Well, most of it is really true…

People shouldn’t do startups if they are over 38.  I don’t think many people have the physical stamina much past that age. I used to work till 2:00 or 3:00 AM every night, seven days a week. I don't know if I could do that now. Also, startups are a big risk financially. If you try something that blows up and leaves you broke at 26, big deal; a lot of 26 year olds are broke. By 38 you can't take so many risks.

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