When it comes to a startup, the luxuries shared with established companies are few and far between. Chief among them is the luxury to close at the end of the day. Big companies have the benefits of capital, customers and receivables. Startups, on the other hand, have jack squat. They need to work twice as hard to make half as much, and even then they’re not working nearly enough.
If you had any delusions going into this new venture that things were going to be easy and you were going to be on your own schedule then let me serve as your wake-up call. A startup runs like a casino – it’s all about making money, it’s a huge gamble, and no matter what, a startup never closes!
Your new business hours: every waking moment
Working like a slave is the norm in a startup company, not the exception. When I started my first company, Blue Diesel, I didn't see my family, celebrate Christmas, or take a weekend day off for three years. After a while I forgot that people go home on the weekends and sick days shouldn’t be considered a vacation. Sure, I was demented, but I wasn’t alone.
Startups realize that in order to get ahead they need to trade their time (and their lives) for the good of the company. You can only accomplish so much by working smart – the rest just comes down to lots and lots of hours.
Even if you’ve go the stamina to put this kind of time in, it doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of your team does. Make sure that everyone is well aware of what is expected of them and what they’re signing up for.
Set Clear Expectations, And Live by Them
It's always helpful to let people know what they are getting into before they get started. Inform potential employees during the interview that the demands of a startup are far and beyond anything of a regular 9–to-5 job. Let them know that you don't think twice about working weekends or into the evening and that you expect the same of them. You'll find that the clock-punchers won’t return your phone calls and the truly insane will show up on Monday with a case of Red Bull. It’s a twisted form of “natural selection”.
And remember, the pace of a startup starts with you, so it's important that you set a tone by consistent example. Don't expect your team to show up before you and leave after you. You need to demonstrate that if sacrifices are going to be made, that you are as willing to make them as anyone. Action speaks a whole lot louder than words.
How to know you're working for a startup
Let me give you some indicators to let you know when you're truly working for a startup. I'll give these to you Jeff Foxworthy style. If you really don't know what day it is, you're probably working for a startup. If you know the number for pizza delivery to your office by heart, you're probably working for a startup. If you look forward to holidays because you'll miss traffic and get to work ten minutes sooner, you're probably working for a startup. Welcome to your new life.
Send 5:01 home
Not everyone will be on board with this “every waking hour” schedule. In fact, you'll inevitably hire the guy who will quickly become known as "5:01". We call him 5:01 because when the clock strikes 5:01, his stuff is already packed up and he’s heading out the door. This is a problem because startups don't close at 5:00 - they leave when the job is done.
When the rest of the team is working around the clock and forgoing all sleep, 5:01 is going to be about as popular as cancer. This isn't to say that 5:01 isn't a good guy who can do good work. There's plenty of room for him - just not in a startup.
The Star that Burns Brightest Burns Fastest
There’s a real downside to this schedule and that’s burnout. You can only run the engine at red line for so long – eventually it’s going to explode. Knowing this, you need to give you and your team a well-deserved break from time to time. When your performance slows down all the extra hours in the world won’t make up for it. Don’t be afraid to take a pit stop from time to time and refresh. Get as far away from work as possible and just unwind.
It better be worth it
Needless to say, if you are going to make a sacrifice this great, you had better feel extremely passionately about what you are doing. In the end, when you make your dream a reality, the payoff will be worth it. Until then, put this column down, chug another Mountain Dew, and get back to work!