Running/Working in a Startup

Jason Calacanis wrote a really good post called How to save money running a startup (17 really good tips). And, while I don't agree with him on all of his tips -- like "Buy Macintosh computers" or "[ask for 10-30% off] from each of your vendors every 6-9 months" -- it's a really good list.

His basic point is: Don't focus on "stuff" that is needlessly expensive or will take you away from the work you've set out to do. For example, "Outsource accounting and HR", "Use Google hosted email", and "Buy cheap tables and expensive chairs". Focus instead on people since your money is better spent on them. That is, let your people work when they want to, where they want to, in the way they want to and throw in some perks that make the work environment really cool. For example, get them all second monitors and get "an expensive, automatic espresso machine".

Working in a Startup

As you'll read in Calacanis' post, there were some complaints about tip #11 which said "Fire people who are not workaholics...".  This happened mainly because he didn't clearly explain what he was trying to say and so people naturally assumed that he meant the worst. What he meant, of course, was that you should fire (or, better yet, not hire) people who are not passionate about their work and are not willing to work hard because, really, you can't run a proper startup with people who are there work in a nice, cushy job. 'Cushy job' and 'startup' simply do not go together.

I say that from experience because I've worked in startups for most of my life and have found that (a) as a startup-oriented employee you don't get true job satisfaction and (b) as a startup owner/manager you can't run a startup properly until and unless everyone there is passionate about the work that they're doing. And if you're not willing or are not wanting to work odd hours or weekends, or do all sort of tasks that were never part of your  original job description, then maybe the startup life isn't for you.

To give you an example, my job as General Manager (Islamabad) and SAT/GRE/GMAT teacher at The Princeton Review, Pakistan was really hard. I did GM work during normal working hours and my teaching work after 3pm for the SAT courses, 6pm for the GRE/GMAT courses, and on weekends for all of the courses. And if it hadn't been for semi-flexible working hours, almost complete freedom in how I ran the place, a office-purchased laptop, and so on -- basically, a 2004 Pakistani version of the perks that Calacanis talks about in his post --  working there would have been a lot less rewarding. (Of course, it helps that I love teaching and it appears to be something that I am good at.)

Now, I don't know what kind of job I'm going to doing six months from now but what I do know is that, if I end up working for a startup, I had darn well better be willing to put in the 'hard yards' (as the say here) to my job done. And if I'm not willing to do that, then I shouldn't have applied for that job in the first place. And, in that respect, Calacanis hit the nail on the head: fire the people who aren't willing to do that. At the end of the day, it really is that simple.