Daily Archives: March 8, 2008

On work and family and having a “real life”

Damn, lots of comments are coming in. Most calling me a butthead.

Interesting that on FastCompany.tv we’ll have an interview up in about a week with Jason Calacanis. Why a week? Because I’m not going to force Rocky, my producer/editor, to stay in his hotel room and do work just to get a few more hits today.

So, let’s take them on.

Brian Sullivan says: “This is all fine as long as the “owner” is plugging in the trenches as well and making similar time, committment and comfort sacrifices.”

Calacanis doesn’t disagree. He says he will always work harder than anyone on his team.

Christopher Coulter says: “Jason is a slave driver, breaking OHSA and common sense rules, treating employees as prisoners, whilst adopting Marxist economic outlooks, filing that under hard work is going seriously mental. He’s a lawsuit in the making.”

Funny how Christopher makes shit up about people. The night I was there they bought sushi for everyone. Everyone has huge monitors (most people there had three expensive monitors on their desks). Everyone had a $700 chair. Everyone I’ve talked to who work at Mahalo really loves working there. The two “smokers” notwithstanding.

Coulter continues: “There’s people that work very hard, and there’s slave labor, having a family is not the definition of slackerdom (in fact those with families tend to be the MOST loyal, as the singles are out to court companies and move up at whims).”

Right, many of those at Mahalo (and both employees at FastCompany.tv) have families. You’re missing the point. You CAN have a family and be a productive worker, a team player, and a nice guy.

Coulter continues: “And furthermorehence, some people are more efficient with their time, slackers can grant the appearance of hard work, but it’s the product output that matters.”

This is true. Many people think I’m a slacker, going to conferences all the time and hanging out with Calacanis in fun venues (driving a Tesla, etc). You’re right. Judge people on the output they generate. I guarantee you that if those two smokers had been the most productive that Calacanis probably would have moved the lunch crew outside to join them. Calacanis measures everything about his team’s productivity (that’s why he buys all his workers multiple large monitors, he knows those make his workers more productive).

Coulter continues: “Luck actually has more to do with success than hard work, right time, right place, right product, meeting the right demand.”

I’ve found that the lucky generally are also the ones who work to make that luck. Luck matters most at the meta level anyway. Mahalo does need a little luck to make it big. But that luck will probably be generated by whether they have the best search results. THAT depends on having productive and happy employees who work together as a team.

Coulter continues: “And yah know (just for a sense of history, as I have a good memory), you were on the OTHER SIDE of this argument, when it was Electronic Arts ruining families, and all the bad press that got. You were VERY pro-family then.”

Is Electronic Arts a startup? No. The reason I was mad about Electronic Arts is because it was a systemic abuse of workers due to poor management techniques. That’s VERY DIFFERENT from Jason’s points, despite what Coulter is saying. Jason’s workers are working hard because they have the opportunity to see a huge reward. No one at Electronic Arts is going to see the potential rewards that Mahalo’s employees will see. I know a few startup employees who work for no money. Why would they do that? Because of the potential upside.

Thunk writes: “You, Robert, have described your home-life as fulfilling, so I imagine that you are no workaholic, because otherwise you would hardly ever see your family.”

Keep in mind, that I don’t think what I do is work. Work is putting a roof on a Dallas building in the middle of summer. What I do is NOT work of that kind. And I’m extremely fortunate for that. My son, Milan, is six months old and he’s been to Europe twice already. I include my family in my work. Patrick, my 14-year-old, has been to many of my work functions and gotten dragged to many boring geeky events. I think that’s good for both of us. And I haven’t always been there for him, and right now I’m at SXSW and doing other interviews, which is keeping me away from my family for almost two weeks.

But, again, we’re talking about startups. Startups need people who will pour themselves into the work and, at least, be part of the team. If you want a 9-to-5 job, go work for a bigger company. I’ve done both and startups require more committment than other kinds of companies do.

Dom writes: “Should people be fired if they have a bladder problem and need to go to the restroom every 2 hours to relieve themselves?”

That doesn’t require much time and isn’t a flaunting of teamwork, which is what was going on with the smokers. Also, to tie a bodily function to something optional, like smoking, is ridiculous. I expect my readers to make smart arguments, if you want to make arguments like these please go back to Digg.

Solo writes: “I’ve been at companies that demanded long hours and it’s funny how quickly the marginal return of those additional hours approaches zero.”

Jason doesn’t demand long hours. Most of his workers get in at 11 a.m. He actually is quite liberal with work hours.

AC writes: “First of all people who work 40hrs/week are not slackers. They’re good workers (assuming they really do work during that time).”

That’s true, but startups don’t need “good” workers. They need “great” workers.

Anatoly says: “Robert, get a clue. You measure people by the work they produce, not by the number of hours they put in.”

Good point. But if you can do more great stuff in two hours than I can in eight, please give me a call, I’m hiring.

Duncan Riley, of TechCrunch writes: “I never once defended slackers and that you’d suggest that I did speaks volumes for you and your low opinion of human beings. “

No, you took Jason’s words out of context and put a sensational headline on them. The two people he fired were slackers, were not producing what the rest of the team’s members were, and weren’t team players to boot. Maybe you should go and interview Calacanis and find out what he meant before using it to push your own agenda. One, which, I find your own employer doesn’t agree with.

Anyway, I am at SXSW and gotta run to the Google Party. Just a little “work/life” balance thing I gotta do. More later. :-)

Calacanis is right: startups can’t afford slackers

Jason Calacanis has started a big argument where Duncan Riley over at TechCrunch has stood up for slackers everywhere (he couches it in language of “pro family” in the family/life balance). The thing is, Duncan might talk to his boss, Mike Arrington. Did Mike get to where he is by slacking off and hanging out with his friends and having a “real life?” No. He worked his ass off. I’ve caught Mike on several occasions working until 3 a.m. or later. And he still is doing that work ethic. Of course, that hard work pays off: Mike was on the Charlie Rose show this week.

I’ve been in several startups and have witnessed first hand the ascerbic aspects that slackers bring. Believe me, this is the #1 killer of startups. If you don’t get rid of unproductive people (or even better, avoid hiring them in the first place) your startup will go down.

Jason also told me about two employees who’d be outside smoking while the rest of the company was working hard during lunches. He fired those two. Why? They weren’t team players.

Another killer I’ve seen? Assholes. Every entrepreneur should read “The No Asshole Rule.

But, to Jason Calacanis’ point, how do startups save money? I’m practicing one right now: share hotel rooms. It’s a pain in the ass, yes, but it sure stretches that travel budget further. At CES one year I even stayed a night in a Hostel. This was while I was working at Microsoft and could have spent $400 a night on a hotel room (I don’t recommend going THAT cheap, by the way — you need to be able to lock people out of your stuff).

Conversation with Adobe evangelist

Funny enough I sat next to Adobe Evangelist Mike Downey last night. He just attended the Microsoft Mix conference. Did he have his tail between his legs? No, but he did admit to me that Microsoft is very committed to beating Adobe. He said Adobe has a few tricks of its own. Of course I captured part of our conversation, while sitting in the plane. Watch for more videos coming from SXSW later today (I’m supposed to meet up with Kyte in a little while where the CEO will show me its streaming video service). Qik just updated its Website, too. I love competition!