Startups: forget work-life balance, work now and reap the rewards later

life and work life balance

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a Techstars-backed agency which helps early stage companies acquire users and grow their social communities. In this article, he examines whether it is possible, and appropriate, for startup employees to develop a good work-life balance.

Things that have happened in the last month: my aunt asked me to come over for a pre-Christmas lunch. I said no, I had to work.

My best friends asked me to come to a house party on New Years’ Eve as they hadn’t seen me in months. I stayed in and worked.

A model asked me to go out with her on a Friday night. I told her I couldn’t. When she asked why, I said I wanted to stay in and work instead. She has not asked me out since.

Depending on your existing viewpoint on work-life balance, I’m either the best or the worst person to talk about this subject.

Making a living

I am going to assume that you run your own company, have equity in the company that you’re working for, or you’re part of a small, growing team on a mission.

In any of the cases, I’m going to (hope) you care about what you do. If you work for a startup I’ll presume you hold ambitions of starting your own company one day, or have an interest in your career.

Your work should be so enjoyable that it is your life, making the point about work-life balance largely redundant.

Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham said it best: “You have to make a living, and a startup is a way to get that done quickly, instead of letting it drag on through your whole life.”

Entrepreneurs live for a few years like most people won’t, so that they can live for a lifetime like most people can’t.

I’ve recently written about how burnout is good, in short because the alternative is, where most people sit, not doing enough.

Common pitfalls

Here are some things that have happened to me on my entrepreneurial journey, and likely have happened/will happen to you if you have no money and are building a business from scratch:

  • Your girlfriend will shout at you to get a job/will discuss leaving you if you don’t.
  • Your parents won’t think you can do it and/or you will have to go back to them after you’ve moved out and ask them to give you money to live on (this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do).
  • People with steady jobs will look down on you (Rohan Silva wrote an excellent post on how British people (and the British establishment) look down on entrepreneurs).
  • Your electricity will run out/get cut off or you will face other problems with bills.

When considering the above, why wouldn’t you forego things you don’t really need on the way to becoming what you want to be? Either be fully on or fully off.

I used to work dead-end jobs, daydreaming and living a wild life when I left the office. My work-life balance was great: I did no work, then balanced meeting new friends and going out, with drinking the colours of the night-time (sometimes all at once).

If you’re running your own company or building a career, “life” can wait. Anything you spend money on to enjoy will generally always be there. Things can move real quickly if you put the hours in.

Two-and-a-half years ago I was signing on at the Jobcentre. A couple of months ago The Duke Of York invited me to St James’ Palace and Princess Beatrice took my business card.

Earlier in the summer I partied with millionaires paying for all my drinks in the best clubs in Las Vegas after being asked by SXSW V2V to give a talk out there (I later found out it was voted best talk of the conference).

Get your ass in the chair and work. “Life” will come and find you if you do good things. And that life is unbalanced, but it will give you more than you could ever believe was possible when you first started out.