VCs are knowledge workers — we convince our LPs that we know something worthwhile to justify our fees and carry we charge. There are two problems: The inherent intangibility of knowledge work; and the fact that liquidity events might take between five to nine years. You don’t know if you were right until half a decade later, and you don’t know if you were right more than once until a decade later.
These two factors can create a professional insecurity — “Am I good enough? Is it justified to charge you the management fee and carried interest?”. That insecurity drives chronic overwork: You are starting to do anything that would prove to your customers, to your boss, or to yourself that you are worth it, or at least better than your colleagues, or better than another hire. That feeling will even be amplified if your culture is so competitive that colleagues turn into competitors. Some VC firms go to great length and even cherish that culture and are driven by an almost paranoid mania about how to stay relevant.
I’ve usually seen that pattern in management consulting firms, law firms, and in the financial sector, often amplified by their common up-or-out career policy. More recently, I’ve also seen it in my startups. “Startups are a 24/7 job, that’s just how it is.” or “But my work is my hobby, I’m not really working.” or “my company is my family, we all hang out together all the time.” are some of the excuses I often hear — They are overworking by choice!
There is one alarming answer that popped up more often recently: “But everyone is doing it.”
No, they’re not. As leaders, CEOs, board members, and mentors, we have to take ownership and responsibility. Our employees will not and can not talk openly about their insecurity. As a leader, you are creating that culture. How did you become a leader? What culture nurtured your talents to become that leader? Which processes, practices, or norms do you continue to drive and implement? What is healthy and what is not?
I enjoy working exceptionally long hours when I need or want to. But I also enjoy woodworking, downhill skateboarding, hiking, camping, and generally spending lots of time with my wife and kids — all of which keeps me sane and stops my usual drift. I am trying very hard to work long hours only for specified time periods and to achieve specific goals.
I need my “20%-time” to stay creative. Everyone does.