Work Like a Startup

One of the exciting aspects of running a startup like FANTM is that the rules of traditional corporate life don't apply anymore. It's a double edge sword; on one hand it's genuinely difficult to be forced to define all of the project goals all the time, but we can also make unorthodox business choices because they'll make us happier. One example is the 40 hour work week that's gospel among so many employers. The most common question I get asked about FANTM from people outside of the startup sphere isn't about our technology, how business is going, or about what we've been working on. It's whether each of us work 40 hours each week and if we work a usual 9-5 day. It's so engrained in our culture that working any less is often viewed as "lazy", while we glorify those who spend 45+ hours working. However, there's nothing holy about 40 hours, and FANTM likes to stay a little more dynamic.

It's important and interesting to have a little context on where the work week of today came from. A more complete history of the 40 hour work week can be read in this excellent article in The Atlantic (along with a convincing argument for four day weeks), but the story is straightforward. The Industrial Revolution happens in the early 19th century, people force other people to work 10 hour days every day of the week, some people don't like that and advocate for working less. Those people eventually get their way and the eight hour, six day work week is born. Then, in the early 20th century, the Great Depression hits and there suddenly isn't enough work to go around so more jobs are created by shortening the work week. The change is so popular that this becomes the standard, and congress passes overtime laws to hammer the point home.

This isn't just a history of labor in America; this is about the life of a founder. No one tells a founder how much they have to work, so it's up to us to figure it out. There are two goals: 1. stay sane in a uniquely uncertain and chaotic environment and 2. build a profitable business. To accomplish the first goal it's helpful to establish a baseline, and we can look to research that says working at least eight hours a week has positive effects on mental health. FANTM has been careful about managing our cash burn rate, which prevents us from feeling the pressure of a heavy crunch. That doesn't mean that we don't work hard, but we can afford to avoid stressful weekends! To accomplish our second goal we need to work more than eight hours a week though, so it usually ends up being in the range of 30-40 hours. It's less focused on the number of hours and more about which goals need to be accomplished at a given time. Frankly, it's a schedule that I wish I could find more easily in software engineering outside of a startup; it's the freedom to make time for all the other things that come up in your life.

Working on your own terms is a great feature of running a startup. White collar workers everywhere have gotten a sample of what a flexible working environment looks like over the last year and half. And why shouldn't it be flexible permanently? Since the 40 hour work week was born we've seen numerous productivity multipliers (including one close to my heart known as "the computer"), but everyone is working as long or longer than ever. So if you've found that flexibility refreshing and you feel like someone isn't giving you your fair share, then try the entrepreneurial lifestyle! It's stressful, rarely lucrative, and you'll definitely be in over your head, but it gives you freedom that's hard to find anywhere else. 💪🤖

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