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How many hours do you need to work on your startup to really be successful?

I recently started working on a tech startup in the online courses space. we're two co-founders, I'm responsible for all the non-engineering roles (business, marketing, biz-dev, ...). This is my full time commitment but, due to various reasons I can only work 4 days a week - two full days and two 6-hour days. This situation will not change in the foreseeable future. From your experience, how does this affect my chances of launching the company?Will I be able to get funding?Recruit top employees?

9 Replies

Jonathan Barronville
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Jonathan Barronville Entrepreneur
Software Engineer at npm, Inc.
It's less about the hours you put in and more about the work you put in.
Peter Johnston
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Peter Johnston Advisor
Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.
What is work? Work is a collection of activities you don't class as fun.

A startup should be fun. A passion. Something you have to do so much that it not only takes over your waking hours but wakes you up in the small hours with good ideas, things to try and new opportunities.

And a startup should distill years of experience into a few short weeks. The challenge should be getting all that in there.

Some of that experience is in how to apply the 80:20 rule - 80% of the impact is done by 20% of the activity. It is also in how to balance time and money - the more money you have, the less time you need to spend.

Marketing is very much like that. You can buy a tool like Hubspot which automates your social marketing, or you can do it yourself in ten times the time.
Or - for the same sort of money as Hubspot, you can hire an employee or a freelancer to do the ordinary tasks for you. You can put your effort into setting something up as a system, or you can recreate the wheel every time.

Don't equate time with work. Or commitment.
John Seiffer
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John Seiffer Advisor
Business Advisor to growing companies
Depends what you mean by startup. Many people use that term to mean companies that sell equity to investors.If you take money from investors in this format where they don't get a return till you have an exit, then they'll want you to work full time (plus) on that endeavor.

But the vast majority of company are not funded that way (regardless of what you read in the press).

Most are bootstrapped, meaning scrape together what you can and start getting revenue from customers as soon as possible. Companies like that can often be started "on the side" while working a day job, going to school etc. until the revenue is enough to cover you and let you quit the other activity. There are several significant differences in what you do to grow a bootstrapped company vs and invested company - beyond the scope of this post.

Some dismiss bootstrapped as "lifestyle" companies, but in fact there have been unicorns built this way. They tend to grow slower so probably won't survive where speed of market domination is crucial to survival, but that's the minority of companies. And when you bootstrap, you own most (if not all) of the company.
Peter Kemball
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Peter Kemball Entrepreneur
Member Issuers Committee at Equity Crowdfunding Alliance of Canada (ECFA)

It is commonplace to observe that founders never have enough time and go on to suggest how to set priorities, that is say no to activities that consume time but are less essential to the outcome sought. A better formulation is to view the issue as not one of physical presence but share of mind over a seven day week.

However the first step is to identify the tasks to be performed, break them done into steps, estimate the time required,reach agreement with your co-founder,andcompare your availability with the demand. Can you deliver directly or by delegating?

Krishna Akula
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Krishna Akula Advisor
Founder & CEO at LearnPedia
I only see 1 issue and it is manageable as long as you are committed to your startup, which has to be evident with your 'walk the talk'
The issue is: Is your Cofounder fine with your situation? If no, then you need to be honest and share your thoughts on why you can't give more time to the Business?
Recruiting shouldn't be an issue at all.
Investors are interested in
1. Acceptability, Replicabilty and Scalability of your idea
2. Size of the opportunity
3. The ability of the founders to drive the company and not on the amount of time they spend in office but they will be worried if you have other business interests that are occupying your mind space.
So don't worry and focus on building a great company. Best wishes!!
You Gavel
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You Gavel Entrepreneur
Online Property, Business and Car Auction
I agree with Jonathan. Is important as entrepreneurs to value time and get paid yourself for the hours. James Caan, described this in his book when watching his wife when decided to become a fashion designer. She was working long hours and in return for the hours she was paid ?0. Her husband, a successful multimillionaire advised her to buy the designs from Paris (as it was similar to her designs) and sell it less with more profit. Instead of drawing for so many hours, spend other time with tailors-seamstress, stylist, makeup artist etc, photographs, materials and other runnings/expenses is better to buy and resell with less expenses & time. Most of us we don't charge the hours we work and this is huge mistake. At the end is what you do when you work and what are the returns.
Grant Sernick
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Grant Sernick Entrepreneur
Co-Founder at LoyolyPRO
It sounds like you are in early days of the startup. Having just gone through a similar the process (and now likely closing up shop), I can perhaps offer a little bit of insight.

If, as if stands, there are two co-founders working on this, you are going to be tight on resources. I imagine your co-founder is doing all the development, and you are doing all the non-technical work. (This is similar to where I was.) The challenge is that there is a lot of stuff to do. And what is perhaps less evident, the amount of stuff to do only increases. This may be okay if you are able to procure funding, and then hire people, but it is challenging when you are unable to get funding (as I was), and it killed the project.

My challenge was that our team was not well established (it was really me with an offshore dev team)...my co-founder was not working on this full time, and although I did have a design team, they were also not sufficiently focused on our project. That left me with all the heavy lifting. I suppose you will be in a similar place.

For me, I had to get the company to revenue...which I did. The problem? The more clients I got, the more work it created. I was already pushed to my limit, and the work was getting heavier and heavier. There is a great philosophy in the startup world to 'do things that don't scale'...and I believe you need to do that. But here's the catch: that works when you have a team, money, and runway. It doesn't work when you don't have any (all?) of those things. To get money (Angel/VC) I would need to sell more. It would create more work. I would had less time to raise capital. The more I pushed, the more cash I would generate, the more work I had, the less time I had to raise capital.

I know it sounds ridiculous...if I was making revenue, why didn't I just keep on pushing? The answer is that there is a pretty large (and deep) chasm that needs to be crossed. You need to be able to continue growth, and raise money. I couldn't do both. I didn't have the time. So, although we did meet a level of success, we didn't have enough...and I didn't have the time to wait for more money to come around.

How does this relate back to your conundrum? Well, I would never say that you couldn't do what is required in 4 days of work. It is possible that you can. BUT, there are two types of companies out there: unicorns, and non-unicorns. If you are a unicorn, things seem to work from the start. Growth happens organically. Revenue comes in. You meet traction head on, and your user base seems to grow with little work. If you are a non-unicorn, it is a slog. You are constantly grinding to get that next client. Each client you get needs to be serviced. Since you are a SaaS company, the amount of money likely being paid to you isn't high...you need lots of clients. It is costly (from a time perspective), and as a result you need money to hire others to help with this long ramp. Getting money is a challenge, and you sometimes end up in the vicious cycle about needing more traction to get funding...

I wish you all the luck in the world. It is a long journey, but a valuable one. I don't regret the year and a half I spent on it, even though it didn't work out. I suspect you will benefit greatly from undertaking the journey.
Mike Ryan
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Mike Ryan Entrepreneur • Advisor
PeerWell
The 4 hour work day or 4 day work week for successful entrepreneurs may make a Best Selling book, but in my experience of starting, leading & advising 300+ startups and 60 boards (resulting in $12 billion in exits) its a mythical urban legend. I can appreciate your position not being able to commitment more time, energy and effort to your "startup" but it sounds likea "hobby" or "side job". Startups require founders 24/7 otherwise you are just dabbling with an idea or concept. Good luck!
Nataliya Starostina
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Product Marketing Manager consultant
24/7. it's your baby, your life, your passion. It's always on your mind :)
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