Don't Be A Startup Martyr

by Gerard Sychay

This is a reaction to Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining A Startup

Firstly, I don’t know @bradmccarty. This isn’t a criticism or response to his article, but simply a reaction. I think his overall message is positive and useful, and Brad’s other articles are well-written and engaging, especially “So You Want to Work For A Startup.” Also, I worked at a startup as employee #1 and watched it grow to the funded, profitable, 40-ish-employee company it is today. And I’ve been embedded in half-a-dozen other startups as a freelancer and as a partner in Differential. So I believe I have some insight, though limited, into these matters.

“Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining A Startup makes some great points, especially about communicating, learning, and being flexible. Those are paramount amidst the uncertainty of startups.

But passages like:

“I was working 16-18 hour days, sleeping for 4 hours and then doing it all over again.”


“Most days don’t even include time for lunch, or if they do it’s me taking bites in between typing.

Glorify the “startup martyr.” Startup martyrs sleep deprivation like a badge of honor. They hear war stories about employees sleeping beneath their desks and eating Ramen for lunch while coding away before making it big. These are the same people who think it would be cool to work in an office with a foosball table.

There are typically two reasons people think this is okay: 1) They think it’s cool to talk about, or 2) They think there’s a big payoff just around the corner (that is, someone has duped them). Neither of these reasons are very good, or correct because working like this isn’t sustainable.

To be sure, if you work in a startup you will most likely be busier than in any other job you’ve ever had before. And there will be times when you have to burn the midnight oil that week. But joining the startup world is an end in itself. The focus should be put on the journey and the experience and not the destination because there is no destination. Even if you “win” – chances are, you won’t – with an exit or something, entrepreneurs quickly find themselves back at it, onto the next idea.

I guess I’m trying to say that people sometimes join startups for the wrong reasons. The reality is that it encompasses everything in your life, from work to family, and from hobbies to health. It’s part of the reward and part of the challenge. And if you neglect one side for the sake of another for too long, you’ll find yourself slowly getting crushed.

So back to Brad. I’m not saying he’s advocating for anyone to work like this, and as a matter of fact, one of his other points is to find time to relax. But I think too many people read articles like his and confuse the what (uncertainty, long hours) of a startup with the why (meaningful work, making a dent in the world).

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