in Canada, Investors

Work-Life Separation and Institutional Funding

I met with a friend this week who has a job. He’s working on a side project with a friend. They both hope to leave their jobs in the near future to work on this new side project full time.

Both partners in this side project have kids, young families. One of the questions he asked me was around fund raising. Specifically the concern that raising funds from institutional investors or angels may put them in a position where they’re being forced to work more than the 60 to 70 hours they’re currently working. Ultimately the concern being that they’ve seen people lives ripped apart by this.

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My response was reasonably simple. Product based businesses can, and likely will, consume you and everything in your life. Services based businesses are a lot of work, products are all consuming. If your personal relationships and your support systems aren’t strong, they will get ripped apart. You can’t blame that on investors or entreprenership.

Now for the good news. If your project does not consume you then you have the wrong project. Drop it and move onto the next one or go ask for your job back. Investors won’t force you to work long hours. If they need to, wrong project, drop it, move on.

I’ve said this before, I don’t believe in the myth of work-life separation. In fact, anyone who brings it up with me, I immediately know they have a job they don’t like. Work-life separation was born of the industrial revolution. You need it to shield that crappy job from your life. Now, full disclosure, I’m drafting this post at 4:21am while you’re cozy in bed. People often use that measure “are you excited to get out of bed and get to work in the morning?”. I use the measure, if you’re sleeping well every night then you may have a job.

My work is my life. My life is my work. I bring all of me to both. Work makes my family stronger, it makes my relationships with my kids stronger, they all feed off each other. The last time I had a corporate gig, my family suffered. That’s just me, I’m not suggesting it’s you.

If you have a great work-life separation today, I’m not advocating you change anything. If, however, you want to work for yourself someday then it’s time to start tearing down that divider. Start by bringing more of you into your work and more of your work home. Don’t worry about losing it or maintaining that barrier, start destroying it. It’s the only chance you have of success out there.


  1. I agree with you; If you want to be an entrepreneur, and if you want to be successful, you will have to learn to mix the two, no questions. Don’t hope for a 9-5 work, it will never happen; although the same can happen if you are ambitious in your job/career
    But sleeping well (regular + enough hours), is better for you, its healthier. Stress kills and you will benefit greatly if you “stop working/thinking” and relax before you go to sleep. Your kids will notice when you are not “fully with them”, when you are with them (checking twitter, writing a blog post, talking to partners, planning your next move) they will notice it and despise it.
    For one person, work-life separation is total separation from business at 5, for others it means giving undivided attention to kids while with them and working some more after they go to sleep. Most entrepreneurs  strive for the later. Is that wrong? That is a clear work-life separation.
    One alternative is the always-stressed-always-working-will-burn-out-soon entrepreneur. I don’t care what your support network is like, 60 hour weeks will kill you, will kill your relationships, and I dare say, that your support networks will be strong only because they already accepted not having a relationship with you.
    I think, if you want to work for yourself, you should take a good look at what your work-life balance is like now, brainstorm what you are willing to change, what you are willing to accept, you and your family, and set  goals for yourself – WRITE THEM DOWN. Figure out what do you want out of your career and family.
    If you do not, you will find yourself in a few years not knowing what you are doing and for what. Frustrated confused and pissed off at everyone. A very common scenario.
    Re-examine your situation and goals every 6 months, change accordingly. Always know where you are going, know your checks and bounds.
    So while I agree with you that you have to push your boundaries when going to work for your self, I fear simply suggesting  “Don’t worry about losing it or maintaining that barrier, start destroying it” can lead first time entrepreneurs into deep waters.
    damn, that was a long-winded comment, sorry! :)

  2. I think we’re on the same page. I am fully present with my family. Example, I got rid of my smart phone almost a year ago. When I’m doing well, I also don’t check email, twitter etc all weekend. So by no means am I suggesting you work 70 hours a week, ignore your family, be on email all the time. Quite the opposite. Being fully present with my family contributes to my work. I didn’t really get into the how parts of this, just that integrating them together and bringing the real you to both is important. I don’t believe in a work-you and a home-you.

    This thread reminded me of this post, ie immerse yourself fully in what you’re doing including work, being with family etc.

  3. Right, well I still cannot get rid of my smart phone, but I refuse to connect my email to it :)
    but yea, I think we agree.

  4. Interesting post.
    One thing I will point out is that in my experience nobody (at a small company, at a large company, as a founder or as an employee) works 9 to 5 beyond folks working in really junior positions (the “crappy job” that you describe above). The successful folks I have worked with at larger companies aren’t going home at 5 – they’re working late into the night and across weekends just like their successful peers at startups (heck, even IBM talks about “work-life integration” instead of “work-life balance” now). In my experience there are no magical senior, challenging, well-paying jobs out there where you show up for 8 hours and then disappear. Being successful requires a lot of hard work no matter what you do or where you work. 
    At the same time, I hate the myth that number of hours worked is the ONLY requirement for success. I’ve seen folks bust their tails on stuff that didn’t matter, stuff that was poorly planned, stuff that didn’t need to be done while others accomplished more in a shorter period of time. I’ve also worked at companies where folks would hang around surfing the web and chatting in the halls and then loudly brag that they were “working 12 hour days.” 
    Managing your work and your time (including how much you sleep and do non-work related things) is something that every senior person has to sort out and manage and there isn’t one right answer (just work all day, everyday and everything will be great!) for everyone. 

  5. Hey April,

    The inspiration for this post was an early stage project considering outside investment. I didn’t mean to infer this only applies to startups or that only startup folks need to work hard. I suppose you could rewrite it with the “should I go after this promotion or accept this new job” or will it destroy my family and relationships context.

    As well, believe me I’m with you on the hours worked bent which was why I referenced this post in the comments below (

  6. Yeah I get it. But the original question your pals asked was telling. Why do they think the number of hours has to be more than 70 to satisfy an investor? It implies that they believe the number of hours a week they work is really, really important and they think they aren’t working as many hours as they think they should. And I think they are likely wrong on both counts. :)

  7. yep, agreed. I took it as asking can a family survive this? Part of what I was trying to say is that I don’t work 70+ office hours in the traditional sense. I do, however, recognize that spending real time with family, playing hockey, having pints with friends all contributes to my projects in tangible ways. So I do work long days but to the average person it doesn’t look like I’m working all that much. I don’t pretend to work.

    Clearly I also don’t write all that well as I’m now clarifying and rewriting this article here in the comments.

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