The four core needs that every founder must satisfy

Startup founder hierarchy of needs

Sleep, nutrition, exercise, family [floating], startup.

David Mytton
Feb 25 · 3 min read

Last week I was on a panel discussion at an internal Seedcamp “people summit” event to help their portfolio companies think about their teams. My panel was titled “Employee Wellbeing and Sustainable Leadership” and I was asked to talk about some of the experiences I had creating and running the HumanOps community, a series of events I helped start about managing the people side of technical operations.

Within the startup community, there exists a dangerous culture of overwork. This has been dubbed “hustle porn” and includes minimising sleep, working excessively, constant travel at unsociable hours, always being available ( usually on chat) and no holidays.

I’m not sure exactly where this non-stop culture has come from because it is the opposite of what successful CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Ariana Huffington have talked about, but things are starting to change.

The final question on the panel discussion was to give one piece of advice to help startup founders run their companies more effectively.

No doubt you have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. My answer was an adaptation of the psychological element of Maslow’s hierarchy to suggest four core needs that must be satisfied before the startup itself. I certainly didn’t follow them all myself to begin with — it’s easy to get caught up with the pressure to deliver, and survivorship bias is a real problem — but these are crucial to developing a sustainable work ethic.

Startup founder hierarchy of needs

These are the core needs that every founder must satisfy, in this priority order, before they can be effective at their startup.

  1. Sleep — without good quality, uninterrupted sleep, everything else suffers. Bad sleep is linked to poor mental and physical performance. Everything else is based on this core foundation. Recommended reading: Why We Sleep.

There are many other things that could be included in the list above. Friends and social interaction are important, as is having a calm work environment and regular breaks and holidays.

Exceptions are also allowed. Aiming for 100% compliance is unrealistic. There will be the occasional early flight or late evening conference call. But these should be rare and saved only for true emergencies or during those few critical times in the life of a startup such as an M&A transaction.

However, these are the foundations everything is built on. If you focus on these four needs then not only will you increase your chances of success, you will enjoy the journey as well.


Originally published at https://davidmytton.blog on February 25, 2020.

David Mytton

Written by

Formerly SaaS Co-Founder & CEO at serverdensity.com (acquired by stackpath.com); EIR at London VC seedcamp.com; Main blog: davidmytton.blog

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