Posted by: danielharan | May 25, 2007

The part-time startup

Over at the Instigator Blog, Ben is arguing that startups aren’t necessarily worse than other places for insane hours. I propose we need to start thinking about the part-time startup.

Paul Graham often talks about startup hackers working crazy hours in his essays, as if this was a good thing (See A Students Guide to Startups). Ben’s right that this doesn’t have to be this way, and he’s fighting a battle against a lot of entrenched opinion from some very bright people.

Most VC’s would probably scoff if you said you wanted to work 25 hour weeks. Angels might not want to have anything to do with you. I do have the sneaking suspicion that 5-6 hours of daily and focused work would be far more productive than 80 hours a week.

After an 8 hour day, a hacker working overtime is usually adding more bugs than they are fixing. Startups usually only care about shipping, and ignore the fact that 80% of the cost of software is in maintenance. After binge work, our software not going to be elegant or maintainable. Our code may not even be readable. Smart as we may be, we’re still falling for that near-universal delusion in the Western world that work equals productivity. Busy-ness only masks a lack of efficacy.

Our society is slowly starting to care about overwork. Indeed, 36 hour shifts for medical residents are only now starting to be phased out. Is anyone really surprised that doctors that were put through such a grueling schedule end up unhealthy and making poor decisions? I can’t imagine what my bedside manners would be like after 12 hours of straight work, never mind 36.

Many people join startups hoping for a home-run, wanting to escape the rat-race. I think it could be the exit. Imagine people dropping out of the corporate world after having a child, and joining a startup so they can enjoy more time parenting. That would be my kind of work environment. Hell, that idea might seem sufficiently appealing to a lot of hackers that hiring might become easier.

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