Growing kids and growing companies

How much do people work who have both?

I spent many years working non-stop. I pulled all-nighters on a regular basis. I worked holidays and weekends. I had minimal social life. Eating was a distraction — the vending machine would provide sufficient calories to keep going (as long as it was combined with lots of caffeine). Looking back, I don’t regret that. I mean, it wasn’t smart. I certainly would have made more progress overall had I gotten more sleep and taken care of myself. But I don’t feel like I could have done it any other way, given the person I was. I needed total immersion, driven out of fear and lack of knowledge.

This, of course, is also the mythology of the startup life: Everyone works 100-hour weeks — or, at least, everyone who succeeds. But then you grow up. Are startups a young person’s game? Or do they just require foregoing a family life?

As I got older, married, and eventually had kids, I was no longer able (or willing) to live (work) the way I had. Yet, I was still hungry. There was still so much to do. I was still leading growing companies, which created unlimited demand for my time. The work is never done. And the fear still exists. But when your work is your baby and you have actual babies at home, you enter a guilt-if-you-do/guilt-if-you-don’t situation when you work beyond a reasonable amount. But what is reasonable? What is normal? How do other people do it?

Obviously there’s no right answer for everyone, but I thought it’d be useful if we knew more about those questions — particularly the last one. So I constructed a survey and asked a large group of friends and professional acquaintances to fill it out anonymously. For my purposes, I defined “work” as anything done directly in service of your job(s) — email, meetings, phone calls, design/coding/writing, recruiting, etc. I counted only focused work time — e.g., not all the minutes we spend picking off emails one at a time on our phones while at the playground, or the time we’re thinking about product in the shower. Commuting didn’t count (unless you’re focused on the train or doing phone calls), nor did work-related media consumption (though attending conferences did). Purposeful work meals and socializing counted.

One interesting thing after I sent this out was I got several immediate enthusiastic replies from people who wanted to know these answers. And while we’re talking about a very non-scientific, selected-with-my-bias group of folks, the survey response rate was high enough to draw some interesting conclusions about an interesting group of people who have kids and are highly successful. (Also, they’re not all in Silicon Valley geographically, but most are in tech.)

Here are the results:

Hours worked is all over the map, but 55–60 is common.

  • The largest chunk, 29 percent, worked 55–60 hours/week.
  • Only two percent worked 90+ hours.
  • On the low end, just four percent worked as little as 35–40 hours/week.

People at older and bigger companies work more.

  • While only 21 percent of respondents at companies with fewer than 50 employees worked more than 60 hours, this number jumped to 46% for those working at a 50–200 person company, and 55% for those at companies with more than 200 employees.
  • At companies that were younger than five years old, only 25 percent of respondents generally, and 28 percent of founders, said they worked more than 60 hours a week.
  • At companies older than five years, 50 percent of respondents, and 44 percent of founders, worked more than 60 hours a week.

Founders spend more time working out of the office.

  • Overall, 83 percent reported spending 50 percent or more of their time in the office; 60 percent spent more than 75 percent of their time in the office. Only four percent spent just 0–25 percent of their time in the office.
  • 71 percent of the people who responded to the survey classified themselves as founders of their current companies, and only half the founders said they did most (75 percent or more) of their work from the office. Almost all the non-founders — 86 percent of them — did at least 75 percent of their work from the office.

People work on the weekends — though not that much.

  • Only ten percent of all respondents said they worked five-day weeks. A full 85 percent reported working either six or seven days a week.
  • The largest chunk of respondents, about half, said they worked just two to five hours on the weekends.
  • However, 38 percent of the founders worked at least five hours on the weekend (including a committed six percent of founders, who reported working 10–20 weekend hours!).

Help at home is the rule.

  • Exactly half of respondents said both spouses in the household worked.
  • 73 percent had household assistance with the kids (the ones who didn’t, not surprisingly, generally reported that they had older children).
  • And 77 percent of founders, compared to 64 percent of non-founders, reported having household childcare assistance.

We didn’t have enough female respondents to draw meaningful gender conclusions.

  • It was hard to extrapolate much along gender lines. One tantalizing clue… 100% of the women who responded reported exercising regularly, while only 73% of men did.

What conclusions shall we draw from this? I’ll leave that up to the reader (though feel free to respond to this post with your own conclusions or questions). As for myself, I’ll just say: There are many ways to live your life. Do what works for you and your company.

Tonight, I’m eating dinner at the office. This weekend I’m going skiing with my kids.