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. When I worked at MS Canada, slacking off was just not part of the company culture. There was always so much exciting stuff to do, that slacking off rarely crossed my mind. Despite being the corporate behemoth that it is, its rare that anyone take a flight first class, or books an expensive hotel room. I know I didn’t when on tour, and neither did my colleagues.

    Jason has some excellent points in his article to maximize cost efficiency when cash flow is tight, but I have to say that there’s a fine line between setting a productive organizational mindset, and being an autocratic boss. I admit that there’s a lot of signal behind the noise, yet, personal PR plays a very important part in how the public perceived Jason’s comments.

    Dev Basu

  2. When I worked at MS Canada, slacking off was just not part of the company culture. There was always so much exciting stuff to do, that slacking off rarely crossed my mind. Despite being the corporate behemoth that it is, its rare that anyone take a flight first class, or books an expensive hotel room. I know I didn’t when on tour, and neither did my colleagues.

    Jason has some excellent points in his article to maximize cost efficiency when cash flow is tight, but I have to say that there’s a fine line between setting a productive organizational mindset, and being an autocratic boss. I admit that there’s a lot of signal behind the noise, yet, personal PR plays a very important part in how the public perceived Jason’s comments.

    Dev Basu

  3. “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”

    Actually, that shows very poor management skills. The right thing would have been to pull the employees aside & discuss the matter with them. In addition, the whole point of a lunch is to take a break & shouldn’t count against the employees.

    I may smoke but there’s not a person in my company that would question my productivity because of it. I’ve seen people do a lot worse, start-up or not, such as chatting on the phone with friends, sending countless personal emails, wasting time on social networks, checking their eBay auctions, etc. I think there were probably other factors at play with the employees as well.

    Comments like that are one of reasons I largely stopped reading tech blogs…

  4. “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”

    Actually, that shows very poor management skills. The right thing would have been to pull the employees aside & discuss the matter with them. In addition, the whole point of a lunch is to take a break & shouldn’t count against the employees.

    I may smoke but there’s not a person in my company that would question my productivity because of it. I’ve seen people do a lot worse, start-up or not, such as chatting on the phone with friends, sending countless personal emails, wasting time on social networks, checking their eBay auctions, etc. I think there were probably other factors at play with the employees as well.

    Comments like that are one of reasons I largely stopped reading tech blogs…

  5. “You measure people by the work they produce, not by the number of hours they put in.”

    Right on.

    “What are the companies which do not have A holes?
    How do you find them? advice needed.”

    I’m currently at a web start-up, BizUnite. We have a “no a holes policy” and so far, it’s worked! It can be done!

  6. “You measure people by the work they produce, not by the number of hours they put in.”

    Right on.

    “What are the companies which do not have A holes?
    How do you find them? advice needed.”

    I’m currently at a web start-up, BizUnite. We have a “no a holes policy” and so far, it’s worked! It can be done!

  7. Although I haven’t met Calacanis, all I’ve read about him, including the foregoing, leads me to believe that he’s the asshole you warn people not to tolerate.

  8. Although I haven’t met Calacanis, all I’ve read about him, including the foregoing, leads me to believe that he’s the asshole you warn people not to tolerate.

  9. @63 Unfortunately, it’s hard to know before you get hired and, if you got into a slave-pit like the kind of purgatory some people believe a startup “should” be.

    However, Googling for every mention and blog-post about a company before you accept a job offer can really prevent you from making that sort of mistake.

    For example, 37Signals just made a very favorable impression on all prospective employees when they openly opposed underpaying & overworking their people.

    I, for one, would accept a job with them before working for a company run by a soul-crusher any day. Even if the soul-crusher paid more…

    And since happy, passionate, and productive employees can make (or break, if there is a lack of them) a company, the soul-crushers will start to catch on…eventually.

  10. @63 Unfortunately, it’s hard to know before you get hired and, if you got into a slave-pit like the kind of purgatory some people believe a startup “should” be.

    However, Googling for every mention and blog-post about a company before you accept a job offer can really prevent you from making that sort of mistake.

    For example, 37Signals just made a very favorable impression on all prospective employees when they openly opposed underpaying & overworking their people.

    I, for one, would accept a job with them before working for a company run by a soul-crusher any day. Even if the soul-crusher paid more…

    And since happy, passionate, and productive employees can make (or break, if there is a lack of them) a company, the soul-crushers will start to catch on…eventually.

  11. Firing people for not working during their lunchbreaks? Jesus, he’s lucky America has third-world labour laws. In Europe that would be a lawsuit at the very least.

  12. Firing people for not working during their lunchbreaks? Jesus, he’s lucky America has third-world labour laws. In Europe that would be a lawsuit at the very least.

  13. Re $400 hotel room — there are (still) a lot of folks at Microsoft who try to stay in relatively inexpensive hotel rooms.

    Family and slacker are not synonymous. Yes, family does take up time that once would have been spent at work. As we get older, we, I hope, learn to focus more, to make the most of every minute no matter where it is spent. I’d certainly rather work with someone who busts their hump at work ten solid hours a day and then goes home to be renewed with family than someone who is present but not deeply engaged for 15 hours.

  14. Re $400 hotel room — there are (still) a lot of folks at Microsoft who try to stay in relatively inexpensive hotel rooms.

    Family and slacker are not synonymous. Yes, family does take up time that once would have been spent at work. As we get older, we, I hope, learn to focus more, to make the most of every minute no matter where it is spent. I’d certainly rather work with someone who busts their hump at work ten solid hours a day and then goes home to be renewed with family than someone who is present but not deeply engaged for 15 hours.

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