Startup ≠ life

This week I had a friend in trouble.

Everything’s going to work out okay (thanks for asking). They’re going through some things, and I had the privilege of walking through some of the messiness with them, together.

And in doing so, I realized — or, I remembered — that a full and real life is so much more than the pixels we push and the trials we start.

Often, I am tempted to conflate startup life with life, period. Wrongly, I make no distinction when, truly, distinctions are everywhere. Just look at our team.

We have babies on the way.

We have weddings in the works.

People are moving.

Relationships are coming and going and changing and forming.

This is real stuff.

Startup life isn’t all of life. It’s just one aspect.

But oh how easy it is to get those confused.

Now, I should be clear: I absolutely love startups and tech and SaaS. I owe my career to them, and I am extremely grateful for the women and men who have the courage to start something (thank you, Joel). My Buffer job began in the thick of a startup. My next job will probably be in a startup. My first tattoo will be the Lean Startup graphic. I am Team Startup all the way.

At the same time, I know I can take things too far.

“Startup life” conjures images of all-nighters and pitch decks and bustle. There’s a ton of truth to this. If you want a startup to succeed, then you likely will accept the fact that your business baby will consume your life — will become your life — for many, many years to come. Startups measure themselves by weeks, sometimes days. They grow fast. They die fast. If you’re not wholly caught up in the whirlwind, then you risk falling behind. Early, early-stage startup life is not cake. It is pudding, sucked through a straw. It is work.

But what I love about Buffer is that we desire to challenge these norms.

First, we exist somewhere beyond a true “startup.” When I think of startups, I think of those early days when you optimize for very high growth in very short amounts of time. This is the rampup stage in order to tell if a business will be viable or not.

We’re viable. We made it. We will constantly be working to make it better and sustainable for the long haul. In many ways, this makes us more like a small business or a tech company, not a startup.

Second, we embrace wholeness. Yay! I love this about Buffer. We’re the type of place where someone can write a Thread like the one I’m writing. We can work on growth one minute and take a hike in the mountains the next minute. That’s a special and different thing that not everyone gets to experience.

I find myself coming back to this point of wholeness quite often.

“Startup life,” when taken a certain way, doesn’t leave a lot of room for wholeness. When we believe we’ve committed to “startup life,” we tend to …

  • Excuse our workaholic behaviors
  • Put in 60-hour weeks
  • Eschew boundaries
  • Say yes, always

But when we embrace the wholeness of ourselves and the fullness of life, then we tend to …

  • Spend lots of time with the ones we love
  • Find joy in all sorts of different things
  • Take care of ourselves
  • Volunteer or give back
  • Go outside

We gain perspective.