As founders, a lot of our identities get wrapped up in our companies. Certainly within our industries, but even to family and friends it’s how people know us. And over time, we sort of become our companies. Most founders or CEOs are the “face” of their businesses and eventually they’re inseparable.
Maybe that’s fine in the short run if you’re trying to go hard for 2-3 years then bank on some big exit, but if you’re in the business of businessing (i.e. an entrepreneur), you just can’t do that long term. It’s unsustainable and unhealthy.
Being wholly consumed by your company hurts not only you and the people around you, but even the company itself.
When you don’t take a step back, you get caught in the startup echo chamber. Your brain needs a break. Sleep is the most regular forced break your brain gets, but you need it more frequently than that. You need waking hours and days to let your mind organize all the thoughts and process them.
When you’re working 10-15 hour days, 6-7 days a week with no breaks and nothing else to focus on, you lose the forest for the trees. You become incapable of addressing problems efficiently because you never take a step back to get fresh perspective.
Your company will operate less and less efficiently because you’ll make more and more bad decisions.
So what do you do about that? How do you have a healthy balance of working hard on your company, giving it the attention it, your team and your customers deserve and making efficient, wise decisions while also not running yourself in to the ground?
I’d like to introduce you to a little thing called a “hobby”.
I know. It’s offensive I’d even suggest that. But you need it.
Hobbies are an amazing way to give your brain that crucial break it needs to organize all the bits, not so that you’re distracted from your business but so you can actually be better at your job.
I’d also argue it will make you a better, well-rounded human being. When you’re done with that business or have moved on to other things, what’s left is that you’ll still be an interesting person and not just the shell of your former business.
Your team and your customers
The biggest concerns I hear from people who ask about this (and yes, I’ve had dozens upon dozens of messages from people expressing concern that I have hobbies), are around our team and our customers.
One of the biggest potential issues is that your team thinks you aren’t committed to the business. That you’re distracted. But ultimately this is a culture issue.
At Baremetrics, we highly encourage hobbies and side projects. It’s part of the fabric of our company. Heck, it’s one of the first questions I ask during the interview process when hiring. “What hobbies do you have outside of work?” Because the last thing I want is you designing or coding all day and night and then getting burned out and rage-quitting.
Many of the 1-on-1’s I have with our team actually involve me giving feedback on side projects/hobbies.
I want the folks on our team to not just love the work they do but to love life…and their life needs to consist of a lot more than just working at Baremetrics.
If I encouraged my team to have hobbies while I ran myself in to the ground, that’d be quite hypocritical of me.
In addition, the fact is, our hobbies many times do circle back and benefit the company as well!
Tyler, our Frontend Engineer, has a whole host of side projects from a pixel glyph trading game, to a Dropbox-based blogging platform, to a tiny web traffic analytics app. He’s also a mentor on Thinkful. Building all of these things and teaching others absolutely makes him a better frontend engineer.
And Fried, one of our Backend Engineers, loves machine learning and AI. So much so, that in his spare time he’s completed both Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence degrees! And you better believe we’re making use of the things he’s learned from that. 🙂
I joked earlier about it being offensive that I’d suggest having interests outside of work, but for better or worse, to some people it really is.
Now, I get it. When something isn’t working right for a customer, especially paying customers, they expect for things to be fixed as soon as possible. Totally understandable.
The issue here is that there will always be issues for someone. That’s the nature of software. You’ll never be 100% bug-free. So if you say “all hands on deck!” every time there’s a bug, you’ll literally be all hands on deck all of the time. Which, as we’ve already covered, isn’t healthy for anyone.
As you’re likely painfully aware, you can’t please everyone. Don’t let customers guilt you in to having an unhealthy balance in life.
Need some ideas for hobbies? Here are some of the things folks on our team do for hobbies.
- Making home decor
- Machine Learning
- Artificial Intelligence
- Making games
- Furniture restoration
- Jewelry making
What about you? What are some of the hobbies you have or that you’d like to get in to?