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).

132 thoughts on “Calacanis is right: startups can’t afford slackers

  1. I spent several years working for a slave driver in a small company. It worked fine till the economy picked up – at which point the entire workforce left within 6 months.

    Now I have a real job in a real company. And a real life.

    And I ain’t going back, slacker or not.

  2. how hard was was Jason working when he was racing around with you in his small penis compensating Corvette a couple of weeks ago? Why wasn’t be at the office?

  3. how hard was was Jason working when he was racing around with you in his small penis compensating Corvette a couple of weeks ago? Why wasn’t be at the office?

  4. I gotta agree w/ #9– how much should these people really work for $35k a year? To them its just a job UNLESS they have equity then all that hard works means something. The startup “work-until-you-drop” mentality applies to people who are directly benefiting from a growth in the value of the company. If you are working at Mahalo and pulling 60hr weeks it’s not like you are going to be promoted to VP next year or given a nice chunk of the site, maybe you’ll get a bonus, but probably not. More likely is you do a good job there, don’t kill yourself, and then trade up to a position at another company in a few years, just like everyone else.

    I write this as I take a break from (willingly) working at my non-startup job on Saturday afternoon, so I would probably be good Calacanis hire, but that’s my own fault.

  5. I gotta agree w/ #9– how much should these people really work for $35k a year? To them its just a job UNLESS they have equity then all that hard works means something. The startup “work-until-you-drop” mentality applies to people who are directly benefiting from a growth in the value of the company. If you are working at Mahalo and pulling 60hr weeks it’s not like you are going to be promoted to VP next year or given a nice chunk of the site, maybe you’ll get a bonus, but probably not. More likely is you do a good job there, don’t kill yourself, and then trade up to a position at another company in a few years, just like everyone else.

    I write this as I take a break from (willingly) working at my non-startup job on Saturday afternoon, so I would probably be good Calacanis hire, but that’s my own fault.

  6. For the record I smoke and Jason hasn’t canned me yet :) He does give me a hard time about though, which is actually for my own good really. When I do finally successfully quit (I’ve tried twice this year) Jason you owe me a bonus! :P

  7. For the record I smoke and Jason hasn’t canned me yet :) He does give me a hard time about though, which is actually for my own good really. When I do finally successfully quit (I’ve tried twice this year) Jason you owe me a bonus! :P

  8. Since when did having balance in your life (balance is the word Calacanis used, he only did the strike through after everyone complained) make you a slacker? I struggle to maintain balance in my life but I work f**king long hours Scoble. I suppose you compensate by combining the time with your son and work. I never once defended slackers and that you’d suggest that I did speaks volumes for you and your low opinion of human beings. Here’s hoping you don’t end up doing an Om.

  9. Since when did having balance in your life (balance is the word Calacanis used, he only did the strike through after everyone complained) make you a slacker? I struggle to maintain balance in my life but I work f**king long hours Scoble. I suppose you compensate by combining the time with your son and work. I never once defended slackers and that you’d suggest that I did speaks volumes for you and your low opinion of human beings. Here’s hoping you don’t end up doing an Om.

  10. You’d do well not to conflate productivity with long hours. The link between the two is far from clear. The mistake is in thinking that a productive worker gets 25% more done in an hour than an unproductive one, when in fact the difference can be hundreds of percent. This applies in almost all occupations but is even more true when it comes to coding – which can be quite taxing.

  11. You’d do well not to conflate productivity with long hours. The link between the two is far from clear. The mistake is in thinking that a productive worker gets 25% more done in an hour than an unproductive one, when in fact the difference can be hundreds of percent. This applies in almost all occupations but is even more true when it comes to coding – which can be quite taxing.

  12. Christopher has made perhaps the best point in all these posts. It seems whatever grabs the most headlines or clicks is what Scoble “belives” in at that moment.
    I’m amazed more and more about the whoring Robert will do to get the attention he feels he deserves.

    I would rather work for a boss that believed in spending time with families then a hard driving workaholic…. Also how do we define these “slackers?” Do they finish their assigned tasks early and are waiting on others? Are the others not working effiecntly and posting on sites and slashdot and appearing productive vs. being productive.

  13. Christopher has made perhaps the best point in all these posts. It seems whatever grabs the most headlines or clicks is what Scoble “belives” in at that moment.
    I’m amazed more and more about the whoring Robert will do to get the attention he feels he deserves.

    I would rather work for a boss that believed in spending time with families then a hard driving workaholic…. Also how do we define these “slackers?” Do they finish their assigned tasks early and are waiting on others? Are the others not working effiecntly and posting on sites and slashdot and appearing productive vs. being productive.

  14. Robert, get a clue. You measure people by the work they produce, not by the number of hours they put in.

  15. Robert, get a clue. You measure people by the work they produce, not by the number of hours they put in.

  16. As an administrative support professional working in the Midwest, I have to agree with Jason, Mike, and Robert. This is how business works in America. I may get a lot of downtime at my job, but I am so on top of my job that my boss knows he’s lucky I don’t leave for him to try to find someone half as capable as I am. Yet the actual employees of the company work like dogs. I’ve had my share of 12+ hour days and I will do them again, whenever I am needed. I love what I do, I love even more that I’m not doing it for AT&T, Microsoft, Walmart, or any other huge company. Participating in the building of a company is half the fun of working hard and being good at what you do.

  17. As an administrative support professional working in the Midwest, I have to agree with Jason, Mike, and Robert. This is how business works in America. I may get a lot of downtime at my job, but I am so on top of my job that my boss knows he’s lucky I don’t leave for him to try to find someone half as capable as I am. Yet the actual employees of the company work like dogs. I’ve had my share of 12+ hour days and I will do them again, whenever I am needed. I love what I do, I love even more that I’m not doing it for AT&T, Microsoft, Walmart, or any other huge company. Participating in the building of a company is half the fun of working hard and being good at what you do.

  18. Is it some sort of brilliant analysis to say “don’t hire unproductive workers.”? What’s next, a post warning against hiring drug addicts and felons? Is a light going to switch on for people reading a post like this, or something?

  19. Is it some sort of brilliant analysis to say “don’t hire unproductive workers.”? What’s next, a post warning against hiring drug addicts and felons? Is a light going to switch on for people reading a post like this, or something?

  20. First of all people who work 40hrs/week are not slackers. They’re good workers (assuming they really do work during that time). Second if you got paid $35000/year and assuming you worked 60hrs/week, that works out to about $11.5/hr. I think I can make that working as a McDonald’s manager, which I don’t think requires more than a high school education. When you consider that a stressful job also shortens your life, I pity Calacanis’ employees.

  21. First of all people who work 40hrs/week are not slackers. They’re good workers (assuming they really do work during that time). Second if you got paid $35000/year and assuming you worked 60hrs/week, that works out to about $11.5/hr. I think I can make that working as a McDonald’s manager, which I don’t think requires more than a high school education. When you consider that a stressful job also shortens your life, I pity Calacanis’ employees.

  22. Brian is right. While the owner is slaving away with the workers (and I suggest at a minimum of 110%) then your argument holds. But that does not justify asking people to work beyond their terms & conditions. It does not justify asking them to work for free, or for working at a rediculous hourly rate by paying a medium to high “salary” then expecting a 60hour week that works out to minimum wage when you do the $/hour conversion.

    And I REALLY do not get why you slummed it while working at MS. Sure it’s admirable not ripping off your employer with execssive charges, but a hostle? Why didn’t you just take a park bench? That was simply dumb – not admirable (unless it was in the late 1970′s)

  23. Brian is right. While the owner is slaving away with the workers (and I suggest at a minimum of 110%) then your argument holds. But that does not justify asking people to work beyond their terms & conditions. It does not justify asking them to work for free, or for working at a rediculous hourly rate by paying a medium to high “salary” then expecting a 60hour week that works out to minimum wage when you do the $/hour conversion.

    And I REALLY do not get why you slummed it while working at MS. Sure it’s admirable not ripping off your employer with execssive charges, but a hostle? Why didn’t you just take a park bench? That was simply dumb – not admirable (unless it was in the late 1970′s)

  24. I’ve been at companies that demanded long hours and it’s funny how quickly the marginal return of those additional hours approaches zero. If you’re talking mindless sweatshops then fine more hours for the same pay is great but for knowledge workers there’s a max output per week and in my experience it’s reached way before you get to the “no life/workaholic zone”.

    I’ve also done a bootstrapped very successful startup while both having a life/taking vacations and often looking to the outside world like a slacker. It’s fine (and actually good) to get away from work as long as you’re there to do what needs to be done when the demand arises (even if that’s at night or on a weekend).

  25. I’ve been at companies that demanded long hours and it’s funny how quickly the marginal return of those additional hours approaches zero. If you’re talking mindless sweatshops then fine more hours for the same pay is great but for knowledge workers there’s a max output per week and in my experience it’s reached way before you get to the “no life/workaholic zone”.

    I’ve also done a bootstrapped very successful startup while both having a life/taking vacations and often looking to the outside world like a slacker. It’s fine (and actually good) to get away from work as long as you’re there to do what needs to be done when the demand arises (even if that’s at night or on a weekend).

  26. I once shared a $48/night hotel room in New Jersey with our VP of Marketing, who, god bless him, you really don’t want to share a room with. That’s some stretching…

  27. I once shared a $48/night hotel room in New Jersey with our VP of Marketing, who, god bless him, you really don’t want to share a room with. That’s some stretching…

  28. “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.”

    How so? Should people be fired if they have a bladder problem and need to go to the restroom every 2 hours to relieve themselves? Does what they do the rest of the time matter? Perhaps they arrive early and stay late, and chances are they might be as team players as everyone else. Hey, smoking is bad for you and for your insurance company, but it has nothing to do with your ability to work as a team.

    Look, I’m not going to make a pro-smokers point here, but I have one employee who smokes. Yes he takes his 3-5 minutes break every 2-3 hours. And for some reason, I actually find that a good thing. When he gets back from his 3min “break” he sits down and not only works as hard as everyone else, he’s been rewarded with some “fresh air” (not the one from the smoke, of course) that makes him even more productive than those who stay put at their chair for 6 hours straight. Ever talked to a truck driver? Breaks are mandatory, and for a good reason. Why should it be different when you spend your time in an office? 5 minutes breaks every 2-3 hours are a very good thing – spend it at the water cooler, having a smoke or talking a walk. Just please, do get off that chair every once in a while. It’s a GOOD THING.

    Of course, taking those “breaks” has absolutely nothing to do with being a team player or not.

  29. “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.”

    How so? Should people be fired if they have a bladder problem and need to go to the restroom every 2 hours to relieve themselves? Does what they do the rest of the time matter? Perhaps they arrive early and stay late, and chances are they might be as team players as everyone else. Hey, smoking is bad for you and for your insurance company, but it has nothing to do with your ability to work as a team.

    Look, I’m not going to make a pro-smokers point here, but I have one employee who smokes. Yes he takes his 3-5 minutes break every 2-3 hours. And for some reason, I actually find that a good thing. When he gets back from his 3min “break” he sits down and not only works as hard as everyone else, he’s been rewarded with some “fresh air” (not the one from the smoke, of course) that makes him even more productive than those who stay put at their chair for 6 hours straight. Ever talked to a truck driver? Breaks are mandatory, and for a good reason. Why should it be different when you spend your time in an office? 5 minutes breaks every 2-3 hours are a very good thing – spend it at the water cooler, having a smoke or talking a walk. Just please, do get off that chair every once in a while. It’s a GOOD THING.

    Of course, taking those “breaks” has absolutely nothing to do with being a team player or not.

  30. The people at the top work their asses off because of the potential big payout at the end – to expect people on $35k to work their asses off is dumb.

    With regards to sharing a room – let’s hope the other guy doesn’t snore too loudly or the money you saved will be counteracted by the loss due to a not so good performance the next day.

    It’s all about balance – do you think JCal would work HIS ass off for $35k.

  31. The people at the top work their asses off because of the potential big payout at the end – to expect people on $35k to work their asses off is dumb.

    With regards to sharing a room – let’s hope the other guy doesn’t snore too loudly or the money you saved will be counteracted by the loss due to a not so good performance the next day.

    It’s all about balance – do you think JCal would work HIS ass off for $35k.

  32. We’ve all done our time at startups; I’ve repeated the process 6 times during my 20+ years (including a stint with one of your former employers). In an age where most technifados hitch their trailer blog to the latest trends, one has to wonder where the axiom work smarter not harder (read:longer) fell off.

    Some of Jason’s “ideas” fall under the headline – common sense – or things to avoid before the next bubble bursts; however, his Machiavellian approach and attitude is the antithesis of what makes great startups become great companies.

  33. We’ve all done our time at startups; I’ve repeated the process 6 times during my 20+ years (including a stint with one of your former employers). In an age where most technifados hitch their trailer blog to the latest trends, one has to wonder where the axiom work smarter not harder (read:longer) fell off.

    Some of Jason’s “ideas” fall under the headline – common sense – or things to avoid before the next bubble bursts; however, his Machiavellian approach and attitude is the antithesis of what makes great startups become great companies.

  34. Why is it that this whole thing is expressed in such black and white terms? There is a middle ground between “slacker” and “workaholic”, which is probably the best balance for long term survival of any company as well as the health of any employee. I make a special exception for the founders of any company, as they have to do what needs to be done. But to expect employees without anywhere as much equity to work “their asses off” and do so all of the time is a bit much. 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. Obviously you are no slacker either. So I wonder if you really mean this post, or are you just trolling for traffic?

  35. Why is it that this whole thing is expressed in such black and white terms? There is a middle ground between “slacker” and “workaholic”, which is probably the best balance for long term survival of any company as well as the health of any employee. I make a special exception for the founders of any company, as they have to do what needs to be done. But to expect employees without anywhere as much equity to work “their asses off” and do so all of the time is a bit much. 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. Obviously you are no slacker either. So I wonder if you really mean this post, or are you just trolling for traffic?

  36. 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.

    Really you have no center ideological compass, you just flag up the most sensational slant possible at any given moment to get dupes like me a commenting. ;)

  37. 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.

    Really you have no center ideological compass, you just flag up the most sensational slant possible at any given moment to get dupes like me a commenting. ;)

  38. Do I ALWAYS hafata correct your headline-grabbing but dead-wrong analysis?

    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.

    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). But as a general rule slackers don’t join start-ups. And Jason would have fired most of Google and Microsoft, as they work and play very hard, indeed playtime is half the culture.

    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. Indeed slackers oft need more time. 5 hours with 90 widgets or 10 hours with 50, which wins?

    And if you bring in millions to the company, you can come in at noon and leave at 2.

    And you know what? Luck actually has more to do with success than hard work, right time, right place, right product, meeting the right demand. To think that only hard work produces results is the Marxist Labor Theory of Value, where the price of a good is determined by the labor that went into it. Nope, the price of a good is decided by what people will PAY for it.

    And parting with Godwin’s Law, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Free) is what the Nazi’s hung over concentration camps.

  39. Do I ALWAYS hafata correct your headline-grabbing but dead-wrong analysis?

    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.

    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). But as a general rule slackers don’t join start-ups. And Jason would have fired most of Google and Microsoft, as they work and play very hard, indeed playtime is half the culture.

    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. Indeed slackers oft need more time. 5 hours with 90 widgets or 10 hours with 50, which wins?

    And if you bring in millions to the company, you can come in at noon and leave at 2.

    And you know what? Luck actually has more to do with success than hard work, right time, right place, right product, meeting the right demand. To think that only hard work produces results is the Marxist Labor Theory of Value, where the price of a good is determined by the labor that went into it. Nope, the price of a good is decided by what people will PAY for it.

    And parting with Godwin’s Law, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Free) is what the Nazi’s hung over concentration camps.

  40. I think with start-ups working ultra-hard is part of the job. Different jobs have different amounts of stress, and while a good life-work balance is important, although unique to everyone, you should take that into consideration BEFORE you take the job. My brother was part of a start-up and he worked his ass off, mostly because another guy at the company wasn’t, and that screwed my brother over until he quit. Hence the rocket blew up mid-way (I’m saying my brother probably could have helped fix that problem, not that he caused it). Me personally, if the start-up was an idea that I personally liked, I’d be willing to work ultra-hard for it, if it wasn’t, I would either make that clear before I agreed to the job or not take the job.

  41. I think with start-ups working ultra-hard is part of the job. Different jobs have different amounts of stress, and while a good life-work balance is important, although unique to everyone, you should take that into consideration BEFORE you take the job. My brother was part of a start-up and he worked his ass off, mostly because another guy at the company wasn’t, and that screwed my brother over until he quit. Hence the rocket blew up mid-way (I’m saying my brother probably could have helped fix that problem, not that he caused it). Me personally, if the start-up was an idea that I personally liked, I’d be willing to work ultra-hard for it, if it wasn’t, I would either make that clear before I agreed to the job or not take the job.

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

    Lots of startups (and non startups as well) seem to demand long hours nose to the grindstone work of employees while the guys at the top are drawing large salaries, buying fancy cars, travelling first class, living on expenses and generally having a good time at the organization’s expense.

    If you want others to eat dog food you better be slopping from the same bowl.

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

    Lots of startups (and non startups as well) seem to demand long hours nose to the grindstone work of employees while the guys at the top are drawing large salaries, buying fancy cars, travelling first class, living on expenses and generally having a good time at the organization’s expense.

    If you want others to eat dog food you better be slopping from the same bowl.

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