European startups need to work as hard as Valley ones – or forget it

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This is our third guest post written by a London-based VC. To allow them to speak plainly without jeopardising their fund or their career in the small village that is the London VC scene, I’m allowing them to post anonymously. FYI, LondonVC is a genuine VC and TechCrunch Europe has met them face to face.

One of the biggest challenges for any investor (regardless of the stage/type of investment they target) and founders alike is hiring great talent. In early stage investing the team may be the single criteria upon which an investment decision is based (considering how many times when that’s all there is to go by) and even in later/growth stages, while the founding team has been historically crucial, bringing someone new in to help “get the company to the next level” can be the difference between investing or not.

Something I’ve realised and have to admit is that while obviously the absolute pool of talent is smaller here in the UK/Europe than it is in the U.S. (and that cannot be disputed nor is it anything more than a function of population) another factor. It is one which I keep hoping will chang, because if it doesn’t it threatens to make a small pool even smaller. And that is a cultural and behavioural issue: work ethic.

As anyone who’s ever been there or visited will attest, in Silicon Valley everyone is working *all of the time*.

And while this might seem unhealthy, not scalable, obsessive, manic or simply ridiculous, from an ecoystem perspective it’s basically unbeatable. If you want to build companes and ride the wave of innovation, it’s a 24/7 preoccupation — not just a lifestyle business. By contrast, I am in London-based startups’ offices all the time and I am gobsmacked when they are nearly empty by 6:30 PM.

Where is the sense of urgency? Where is the need for speed? Where is the competitive and insanely obsessive drive to “kick ass” and kill the competition, status quo or the incumbent corporates?

I understand the need for work-life balance and keeping things in perspective but from an investor point of view, I’m happier and have more confidence in future success if I see entrepreneurs working their asses off.

And don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t have to be “in the office”, but I used the office hours as one measurement. I’m simply talking about working at all — and just being online, responsive and present (twitter, IM, email, updates on websites, releases, pushes etc).

This is just my [likely unpopular] view, but in silicon valley the thinking is usually along the lines of “why can’t we get that done now” or “let me just finish this off now, while I can, before I go,” etc.

You have to remember that the culture there is “launch and iterate”. By contrast, European startups (not the good ones I might add) too often depend on an old fashioned version/release model. That’s nice for a good lifestyle – but it doesn’t create fast moving companies. And fast moving companies require people to nurture them 24/7.

By contrast what I observe here is more along the lines of “it can wait” or “what’s the problem if we take care of that tomorrow” or “no harm done, no big deal, the world won’t end” and “yes it’s in the queue”. I’m afraid to say this is a huge difference in attitude.

And it’s not about when or at what hours people are in their offices (or even working out of office). In Silicon Valley, even when folks aren’t strictly working or at work, they are still working. Even when they’re out clubbing, partying, eating dinner or just hanging out … They are working because everyone they’re hanging out with is in the industry and related to their work.

Your best friends are co-founders, competitors, business development partners, your lawyers or your event co-sponsors. You date, hook up with or marry your co-workers, your business development managers, your PR reps. It’s all incestuous and a very small-world and quite possibly incredibly unhealthy (although it’s clearly worked for many otherwise the valley would have collapsed by now in an earthquake of divource and law-suits).

But from an investment and knowledge-enhancing-viral-feeding point of view it’s hugely valuable. It’s like one massive petri dish. An uber-mega-corporation of startups where people might circulate between Google, Yahoo! Apple and other companies in between startups. But it keeps everyone going, thinking and buzzing about their work all the bloody time.

Instead, not only do we have different petri dishes for London startups, northern [UK] startups, Irish startups, German startups, eastern european startups etc, but we also have petri dishes for bootstrapped startups, startups funded by “the big VCs”, startups in mobile, startups in media, startups who are using agencies (btw, no startups use agencies in the valley), and companies who say they are startups but where no one’s really working very hard.

This also manifests itself in basic attitudes and assumptions regarding holidays and time off.

In the US the legal holiday entitlement is 10 holiday/vacation days per year, but to be honest, no one really knows for sure because no one checks. No one tracks it — and no one really ever takes any — unless they’re getting married or it’s a really, really, really big deal.

In silicon valley if people started tracking vacation days, they’d also have to track “comp time” (meaning what days off they’d be entitled to because they worked “overtime” or above-and-beyond the reasonable requirement) and in that case, everyone would have more days off than they’d know what to do with! In most cases, people take 1 week holiday a year or maybe 2 if you count end of the year holidays before or around the New Year.

By contrast here in the UK I’m well aware that the legal requirement is 20 days (4 weeks’ worth!) and *everyone* is keeping track — and actually taking them! In silicon valley this would be viewed as absurd and taking 4 weeks off every year would brand someone as a slacker full stop. Even subjective labels aside, think about the fact that the legal requirement establishes twice as much free time here per annum.

I am bracing myself for your comments, but trust me — If you’re annoyed because you’re working like a dog on the next great global success then I want to hear from you, meet you and invest. On the other hand, if you’re ticked off and you’re not working your ass off, well there you go — and enjoy your annual leave.

  • philip Letts

    Having been one of the few Brits to have built a number of successful tech/Web startups and lead 2 large US Web businesses I hear what you are saying.

    The Silicon Valley ecosystem is unique and cannot be replicated – I should know I ran one of their pinups! The UK and Europe need to find a way to take the keys to Silicon Valley success and embed it into Euro startups while optimizing Euro differences – more global minded, diverse and distributed.

    I hope so anyway as I chose to develop my latest venture, blur Group, in London not the Valley. And there were good reasons why. We run at US pace but with Euro players – its a nice combination done right. Let’s see if the VC’s can keep up!

    • Rob


      You were fired from beenz.

      Silicon valley didn’t want you Back.


      • Phil

        Actually you were the one fired. I was headhunted to go run Tradaq – the billion dollar Silicon Valley pinup after taking Beenz thru its glory days.

        U got the wrong guy/facts Dude!

      • Steve

        Lets put a line under this once and for all. Philip did an amazing job bulding Beenz into a formidable machine with a market value in the hundreds of millions. After he left there were tons of sour grapes one complaint stands out in light of this article was that he worked the team too hard making them go on working off-sites, always pushing them to better results etc. Well he went off to his Silicon Valley trophy and you europeans got to do what you wanted at Beenz. Nice easy 9-6 hours. No more of those lifestyle interrupting off-sites. You changed the strategy – fired half the team . Bravo. End result you all ended up getting fired or the board let your contracts run out and the company ended up being sold. Well done Dude. Its been nine years – get a life.

      • mo

        and there was me thinking it was that embarrassing incident at customs…

  • Wayne

    I dunno about everyone else but since the start of our company 14 months ago I’ve been doing between 60 and 70 hrs a week. 4 days off.

    8 hours seems waay to short to get anything done when there’s only a few of us.

    (not looking for investment at the mo..)

    • RandomLogic

      Europe vs. United States comparisons don’t work well.

      1. Europe is highly divided: by countries, by cultures.

      2. Most of those countries have completely different dominant languages.

      3. The United States is rooted in a culture of individuals starting with nothing and rising to the top. It’s a climb of our socioeconomic ladder through sheer motivation. You know: “land of opportunity” and “rags to riches.” The so-called “American Dream” once brought many a twinkle to many an eye — or the dream of that notion thereof, I should say. While not true for many people and often broken at times, that spirit still runs deep.

      4. United States laws are more conducive to business. Cutthroat competition is encouraged. Our capitalism, markets, and profits surge through our veins, spilling red. (irony intended)

      5. United States mentality often sees the world as its oyster.


      US citizens feel they have more to gain by starting a business.

      They can appeal to a much larger market right out of the gate. So it’s immediate access to a single nation that (mostly) speaks the same first language. Size, nationalistic inclinations which are obvious and natural, combined a culture of capitalism makes for entrepreneurs who feel (and are) more ’empowered. That motivates people to “work.” And, again, when one’s mentality is seeing one’s country as dominant, over the world, it’s also easier to envision becoming a global success. That kind of dream tends to motivate US startups to the point where it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a sense of urgency and ubrideled potential.


      Then there are other reasons like the fact the US provides less for its citizens. With abysmal minimum wage standards and the lack of social health insurance, many people are driven mad to feel like the only way they can feel secure is to make a lot of money… because in many respects that’s true. And many people feel the only way to self-worth and ‘being someone’ is to become rich. It compels people to only care about work. It’s a sickness. It’s a sickeness that has causes and cures. In other words, there too are many reasons why the US needs to become more like some European countries, lest it crumble in a cesspool of inhumanity and greed.

      • T.Bernhard

        Bingo! You nailed it.

      • Smartupz Editor

        I think that London based VC can see only half of the EU while ignoring it’s Eastern part where real power and motivation sits.

        Cultural difference of countries like Poland vs France or Germany is huge in terms of motivation to really kick ass and get back for all the years of communism.

        One additional advantage of Eastern European based startups – it’s still less capital that you need to start the business.

      • Tucker

        Its precisely this attitude–that other people are entitled to the fruits of your labor (as in nationalized healthcare) and that enjoying the fruits of your labor is wrong and greedy, and seeing work and productivity as your foremost goal as inhumane,–that prevents Europe from rising up. Your best sector is finance, for good reason–its international. You’re right, the markets are opening, but there are still huge culture differences in the EU. Your state doles out a near-majority (if not majority) of your income to subsidize people who don’t work, or are too lazy to be independent. However, that culture is shrinking in Britain, at least. Compare Britain now to Britain pre-Thatcher. You guys are catching up. And we’re headed in the wrong direction.

  • Steve G

    “obviously the absolute pool of talent is smaller here in the UK/Europe than it is in the U.S. (and that cannot be disputed nor is it anything more than a function of population)”

    if it’s a function of population it can be disputed fairly easily by comparing the population of Europe with that of the US and noticing which is larger. US population is rougly the same as that of Germany, France, Italy, UK and Spain combined.

    • European VCs Need to Stop Being Pussies

      Get off your high horse.

      What pussy VC is so afraid that he hides behind an anonymous coward byline.

      Perhaps if European VCs weren’t such pussies, and actually started putting some real money on the table, and not try to skim everything off with liquidation preferences and create an environment for the average employees to get rich like in the Valley, then maybe the average employee would actually start working like the Chinese.

      European VCs are pussies, and just like a pussy, they want to blame the companies. No self respecting Valley VC would hide behind an anonymous post.

      European VC need to start growing some balls as Valley ones or forget it.

      • michel mitchel

        +1. So true…

      • Astor Place

        I don’t see you adding your name either to your comment.

    • Tinus

      This guys story was just filled with false facts and things that aren’t true.

      The EU has a larger pop than the US.
      there is no legal requirement of vacation days in the US.

      Maybe that UK nanny state that takes care you when you refuse to do anything is causing everyone to feel there is no need to work hard to succeed.

      Yeah socialism.

  • non-euro guy

    I think it is the case not only for the UK but continental Europe as well.
    I worked in the UK and in mainland Europe after working in the US.

    Main difference is the social rights and the perception of work and related compensation is the mean for affording a lifestyle. Whilst elsewhere in the emerging world and in the US , working is the compulsory activity to get somewhere in life.

    Once here was one French guy told me, “we are working 35 hours a week whilst Americans and Chinese are sleeping that time and for rest working”. It is obvious that who will win in the long run.

    • slaves

      So you think that working your ass off is ‘winning’?

      If all you do is work, when exactly are you going to enjoy the fruits of said investment?

      That is exactly the wrong mentality to have. Some of my friends decidedly worked nine-to-five. The company they founded had an exit in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.

      You have to decide if you work for a living of live for working, and who exactly is it that you are working for.

  • Sebastien Marion

    Well I don’t think I agree with this. We have been working day and night for the past year and half. I really don’t think it actually is possible to work any harder, given the only time we take off is for sleeping. I can’t remember the last time I took a “week-end” and when I take holiday to go see my family during summer, I go for 3 days. As for parties… well no time either, unless it’s a networking party.

    I don’t think that’s very healthy and I certainly don’t intend to do this for the rest of my life, but until we are successful, it will certainly remain like this.

  • luke

    As a midlands based entrepreneur it annoys me too when offices in our building are empty at 6/7 o’clock on week days and dead at weekends. I feel that many people in my area really don’t get ‘it’.
    I am throughly passionate about my businesses and the people I have working for me.
    One of my businesses is currently in the process of raising £300 000 and despite not being a world changing amount of finance we are all working our backsides off (despite reading this!). I very rarely go “out” unless there is a genuine networking angle that may well lead to the investment we need.
    I feel it is becoming too trendy to be an entrepreneur or start your own business and too many people are trying without fully commiting or understanding the sacrifices that will be needed.

  • Jeff

    Having grown up in ‘old’ media, which was deadline-focused, I’m still confused at the 9-5 mentality. I used to work through nights and weekends with colleagues regularly. And that was in well-established media businesses. Some designers and architects are made the same way.

    Everyone’s gone soft.

  • James Penman

    Hi LondonVC,

    Brace yourself for comments? It’s a simple truth that applies to any endeavour, not just a tech start-up. And, as an aside, surely you can spot a team of obsessives a mile off?

  • Wil Harris

    Fascinating insight – if not surprising. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone who is putting in a lot of money to a company to say… “My cash is on the line here, I want you to work your balls off.”

    It’s the same thinking that says – “Entrepreneurs should never be allowed to take money off the table – it disincentivises them to get a return for my cash.” It’s about getting maximum value at any cost – and as the entity providing cash, that’s completely sensible!

    That said, entities like the Founders Fund have shown that there are valid counterpoints to these arguments (allowing founders to take money allows them to alleviate short term financial pain that aligns them with long-term return value, rather than short term exit / pain relief).

    I think the counterpoint to the holiday argument is – do you want someone working hard, smart – or both?

    Working hard is no problem, but to achieve value with that time you need to keep your brain fresh – and you’d struggle to find anyone even in the Valley that doesn’t believe in the positive power of brain downtime. If you want those working in startups to be at the very top of their game – and you do – decompression time is very important, if for no other reason than creativity (an essential part of the startup problem-solving psyche) needs space and time to rev up. Who hasn’t had the experience of solving a particularly tricky problem in their dreams? Same principle.

    On a separate note, I’d also argue that there’s a massive culture difference in the US vs UK in terms of employee benefits to facilitate the work culture – I am struggling to think of any UK internet companies / startups that provide food, healthcare, transport etc on the scale of Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. Working a 12 hour day in a sunny Silicon Valley office is not so bad when you have transport there and back, food all day and plenty of entertainment for breaks. Pull 12 hours in central London and you’ll likely have to make do with the Tube and Pret at most startups, I’d suggest.

    Your post seems to be to be at least as much about the general culture of internet-dom here in London as it is about individual habits of startup workers, and on that front I certainly agree with you – we need more interaction, more mixing, more opportunities to get together at dedicated spots to party and network.

    I say this, by the way, as someone who works 12 hours a day Monday-Friday with weekends as ‘Strategy Time’. I take a week in the summer to go somewhere and broaden my horizons, and a week at Christmas to see my family. I would hope my investors consider this fair value…

    • setmajer

      Work much past 6 or so and the dinner options reduce in central London reduce dramatically — many of the decent takeout places cater to the lunch crowd, so you’re left with dodgy kebab shops and fast foot. That’s no way to live. Better to head home where you can get a nice meal and work there if you must.

      • Alex

        Guys, he’s having ‘dinner’ every day, did you hear that? :)

        That’s exactly what the article is about. :)

      • What

        Are you saying that you allow yourself to eat sometimes?

        That’s nothing.

        *I* have been in Vietnam.

    • setmajer

      “obviously the absolute pool of talent is smaller here in the UK/Europe than it is in the U.S. (and that cannot be disputed nor is it anything more than a function of population)”

      U.S. population: ~300 million
      EU population: just under 500 million

      And if you can’t manage to hire from most of the EU for a UK (or wherever) based company, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve done it, and so have others I know.

      • StartupWizz

        There’s tons of talent in the EU, a straight headcount of the EU vs. USA doesn’t really apply though. Silicon Valley has a massive concentration of engineering talent and investment capital in one place.

  • David Langer

    You definitely have a point but are generalising too much. I agree that in general European companies (English, French, Germans…) don’t work as hard as their US counterparts. Most European companies “work to live” whereas most Silicon Valley companies “live to work”.

    However, there is a growing breed of young, hungry European startups coming out of Seedcamp and top UK universities (and other places I’m less familiar with) who have the ‘Silicon Valley’ mindset. Just look at Songkick, Playfire, Zemanta and some of the other young European startups who are seriously kicking ass.

    2 years and 8 days ago, I wrote a guest post on the Seedcamp blog entitled “Silicon Valley is just a State of Mind”: and I still stand by this.

    I believe the challenge for European investors is to figure out which European startups have the ‘Silicon Valley mindset’ and do work all the time, do have a sense of urgency, do have a need for speed and do have obsessive drive to “kick ass”…and which ones want to clock off at 6pm to go home to a bottle of red.

    • Jof Arnold

      As I say in my comments below, I think it’s just sour grapes that he hasn’t been invited to any of the parties ;)

    • John King

      Totally agree with David’s comments. If you don’t think a Silicon Valley mindset exists in London you’re looking in the wrong places – and quite possibly you’re funding the wrong companies…

  • Wil Harris

    Doesn’t appear to be a way to edit posts on here, but just to add – I think there is an equal danger to not working hard enough, which is startup presenteeism – the idea that just working hard in itself is either a ‘badge of honour’ for entrepreneurs or somehow a guaranteed route to success. You can’t just work hard – you have to work smart, too. One without the other is neither useful nor worthy of praise.

    • Jeff

      Couldn’t agree more. Maybe I’m getting old, but I never remember being asked to work extra hours… and smart/hard workers always got rewarded.

    • Neuro

      I suspect that alondonvc is actually an expat a UK VC would say leave or annual leave or a more blue collar VC like Alan sugar would say holiday.

      Having worked for a CTO who worked in the UK and moved to the Valley for a few years I took the opportunity when we where having a few drinks in the pub to ask about the differences and he said that the same amount of work got done but the difference in al entitlement made no difference as the US workers spent much more time goofing off round the water cooler and kept taking ad hoc long weekend breaks to go skiing. And 10 vs 20 days wont actually give you an extra 2 weeks worth of value and we don’t take off the day off for the queens birthday,

      And also there are a number of accepted Spanish practices endemic in US employment that if some one tried it here would get the sack I was actually shocked to see that people in the USA say stuff like well I haven’t been ill so I am owed x days sick leave.

      As will Harris says its working smarter and not just presentisim The most success full projects I ever worked on for BT was run on a strict 9-5 basis but we delivered in 28 days what another part of the business had quoted 2 years for. We had to do a strict 9-5 because of a recent “problem” meant that even with the backing of multiple board members BT security was being very anal about people working in that building.

      • afrenchamericanentrepreneur

        Neuro- definitely agree with your point about productivity being stronger in Europe. I’ve worked in startups in both France and the US and I was shocked at how much more efficient people were in France. So yes, they work less hours and take long lunches (as Arrington pointed out in a post during the LeWeb08 conference but when they’re working they tend to get shit done. I find the difference particularly noticeable among junior folks. Your average 23 year old, fresh out of college is much more mature, independent and reliable in France than in the US, at least that’s my experience with about 10 hires in each country.

  • A London Startup

    London VC, a hard working London startup here. You said you wanted to hear from such startups, so let’s talk:

  • Jof Arnold

    As proven by IBM and countless other people/organizations, working much more than 50 hours a week over a long time REDUCES productivity. This is especially true of engineers, whose work is intensely cerebral for the most part.

    For CEOs/management it’s a different story though – even if you aren’t physically doing something that adds directly to the company, you are thinking about it and talking it. Sad though it is, I’ve caught myself answering customer emails at 2am in the morning at a gig/club on a number of occasions and I’m definitely not the exception.

    I’ve not been to the valley, and I’m not all that experienced either, but another thing I’ll counter is that I can’t think of one successful London-based CEO who DOESN’T spend the evenings socializing, networking and generally obsessing about their business. This is especially true of the funded companies I know – you only need to check out Meetup or follow them on facebook or twitter to know that’s the case. I’d even add there’s a fair degree of incestuousness also…

    Maybe Mr LondonVC’s needs to go to a few more parties ;)

    • Marcus Hast

      That’s been my experience as well (as a software engineer).

      I know that if I work 10 hour days for a few days my intelligence drops by enough that I’m probably going backwards in productivity by the end. In some cases it may be needed, but usually it’s a net-waste.

      When I’m “out and about” talking and meeting people I can keep up a lot longer. But if I’m sitting in a room actually trying to solve technical problems I rarely get even 8 productive hours in a day.

      If you’re a VC and worried about productivity you should worry more about how people are working and not for how long they are working. There are many things in a developers life which can obliterate productivity much more than can be compensated by working late. Good versioning, issue tracking and information handling rank among the top things which can either hinder or enable your development IME.

  • skywalker

    Well, this is a quite interesting topic and point of view. I agree with some of your thoughts but definitely not with all of them.

    First, I wonder how you get to this statement:
    “…while obviously the absolute pool of talent is smaller here in the UK/Europe than it is in the U.S. (and that cannot be disputed nor is it anything…”
    especially “obviously” and “that cannot be disputed”. And why exactly is that? This almost sounds like anything useful can only come from the US.

    In general, I absolutely agree that you need to be on top of things and always ready if you want to seriously take on a startup. That also includes working a lot and working hard.

    Working hard is not the key, though. Rather working smart. And knowing what to work on.

    Working hard on the wrong things will get you in jeopardy just as quick as not working enough.

    I believe it is sometimes necessary and even required to take a step back and look at the whole picture. If you get lost in your own little world, you’re running danger of losing track. And therefore, I think it’s very valuable to relax your brain or feed it with something else sometimes in order to stay focused in the long run.

  • almost witty

    Just working your bottom off – long hours etc. – doesn’t guarantee success. Bankers are used to working very long hours, and look what happened to them.

    I’d hate the same kind of macho “Oooh! Look at me! I’m working a full day on a Sunday!” culture to become endemic to the point when people feel they have to be *seen* to work hard. Not necessarily to actually *work* hard.

    And this may be heresy, but there’s more to life than earning megaspoondoolicks. (and also more to life than playing 24-7 to be fair).

    • Freud

      agree that it’s not only how much you work, but how and what. But please, don’t take bankers as hard working people!! i work in a banking epicentre, 85% of my peers are bankers and NONE of them works hard. They’re 8-10 hours at work at most. And after that they’re off for family, sports, leisure, partying (i’m never off except for sleeping). They have a 2-day weekend, mine is 0-days. They go to the Maledives every quarter a year, I use my few days of “holidays” for visiting potential business partners. In fact, i see bankers as prototypes of “work easy-earn much” people. And that’s probably the reason why jobs in banking are still so popular. Hey, bankers even got pay raises and bonuses in 2008/2009!
      So please don’t compare honest, really hard working (and little earning) startup enterpreneurs like me with those lazy-a$$ bankers, unless you want to insult me.

      • Freud

        (written on a mobile, pardon my bumpy phrasing and mistakes)

  • Bastian Lehmann

    I did spent a lot of time in the Valley this year and i have to agree. It’s not that we don’t have passionate founders here in London, but for some reason our friends in the Valley are (in general) better in transferring their DNA, vision and passion, to their employees and or co-workers. The commitment from non-founding team employees in the Valley is amazing.

    I met many startups and many of their team members in the Valley, and i was mostly impressed by the commitment and the passion from even the youngest and most junior team members. Everyone i met, felt that she or he is an important part of the team. Everyone sees the startup they work for as a huge opportunity and is willing to work hard for it.

    Many founders in the Valley also do everything to make their team feel special and good. They do understand that their team often consists of the best of the best and that many team members them could easily run their own startup.

    Maybe that is something we can learn from the Valley.

    • mitchus

      “our friends in the Valley are (in general) better in transferring their DNA […] to their employees and or co-workers”

      Do you mean by that that they are better at f*cking their colleagues? :D

  • London Developer

    I am a web developer working in London, for a startup. I work for a good salary, but not for equity. As much as I love my job (and I should add that I do – the vast majority of my spare time is spent on related activities that I enjoy and that make me better at it), I don’t understand where the incentives for me to work more than my required hours are. As far as i can see, in an employment contract, you have bought 40hrs/week of my time for a certain rate (salary), and anything above that is at my discretion, and mine alone. As much as I value and enjoy my work, I also value my spare-time projects, studies, my girlfriend, my hobbies, friends, and lots of other things, and to some extent, I work to support my life outside work (although I’m certainly priviledged to do so at a job i love). I have never had any trouble acquiring and maintaining gainful employment in this sector, so this attitude clearly is not a problem to any of my employers, past or present. Therefore, if you’d like me to work the kind of overtime you’re describing, how do you propose to incentivise me? In any cost-benefit analysis, pretty much any financial offer you could propose to work those sorts of hours would not be enough – how much would fitting compensation for loss of a significant other and many long-time friends be, exactly?

    In summary, I may love my work, but i definitely work to live. I have no problem getting more than enough acheived based on this, and anyone who expects me to work extra hours so they can see a return on their investment, while still paying me a fixed salary can look elsewhere.

    • Harjeet Taggar

      “I work for a good salary, but not for equity.”

      “I don’t understand where the incentives for me to work more than my required hours are.”

      they’re in the equity you’re not working for

      • Bob

        As a developer myself I can relate to what he is saying. I also try to work 40 hour weeks. I work for a small startup and have options, and a good salary. But fact is that for those options to pay off in a way that would be worth an additional 10-20 hours per week over several years would mean my company would need to sell out at least $100 million. Do the math, most developers (and managers) hired after the first $5 million is raised wont get more than 1/10 of 1 percent worth of equity. Divide that by 4-5 years before any “liquidity event” and those extra hours probably don’t pay off too well…

    • Peter

      “Therefore, if you’d like me to work the kind of overtime you’re describing, how do you propose to incentivise me?” => A chance to kick ass and change the world.

      • setmajer

        Because that’ll be what your kids remember, right? That you ‘kicked ass and changed the world’ while missing their first step, first word, sports games, recitals, etc.

        I’m sure your wife will be happy to never see you because you’re busy ‘kicking ass’ too.

      • richard

        People whining about work/life issues know not of what they speak. I have worked in Silicon Valley start-ups for 10 years, and now run one myself.

        We work our asses off and probably put in the sort of long hours being referred to. But I also have the flexibility to go to my daughter’s school to pick her up at 2pm every day; to pick up my son from special ed at 4:30 every day; to see them off in the mornings; to take them to events; to be the one who takes them to the doctor’s office; to volunteer for school trips. I have more time with my wife and children than I ever had free time working 9-5 for a big company in London – where I worked far fewer hours per week.

        Start-ups aren’t stupid. They provide an outstanding lifestyle choice that involves working hard all the time because you love what you do. Look at the Netflix HR policy slide deck that’s been floating around for months (Google it). They don’t care how much time you take off or when you take it, just get your job done. You don’t get that in Europe because the flip-side of companies giving people 9-5 existence is it wants to get every minute of that out of you – it’s a lose lose.

      • fedd

        > But I also have the flexibility to go to my daughter’s school to pick her up at 2pm every day…

        this is the point. if the investor judges people on leaving office at 5 or 6 o’clock, what would he say if he doesn’t find you at your working place at 2 every day?

        > People whining about work/life issues know not of what they speak.

        i think those that are whining just want to be assured by the london vc that they have such a flexibility that you had in silicon valley startups. and if they have, i think most of them will work their asses off.

    • AndreaF

      The point is you’re an employee and not an entrepreneur which is why you are content with your regular working hours and salary. I am not saying this in a negative way, just that is the way it is.
      If you were an entrepreneur you’d understand what London VC is talking about and, probably, if you were a developer in an environment were entrepreneurship is all, like the Valley, your approach would be different.

    • igniman

      Then by all means quit your work. I was also lucky to start working in the sector even when i was a student. It’s true that we don’t see great career opportunities and compromise with a daily job here. So i quit my work, started freelancing and working on my own projects, which was the best thing i ever did. I not only managed to make lots more money, i even had the time to do my master’s. And i don’t even work long hours every day. Sure, there are a few weekends where i may not sleep at all when I feel the ‘inspiration’ to work but then there are days that i have nothing to do, so i watch DVDs. I do miss the ‘office’ atmosphere, but at the current situation here, i feel it’s the best

  • Harjeet Taggar

    i moved my startup from London to SV in Jan 2007 partly due to this line of thinking. it is false, no-one *productively* works 24/7 and trying to do so is a mistake i don’t intend to repeat on my next startup.

    the vision of the workaholic entrepreneur is usually propagated by people with little actual operational experience of raw startups. the best writing i’ve read on the subject is from Naval Ravikant, founder of Epinions (sold to ebay) and early stage Twitter investor:

    and on the london vs SV work ethic. my peers in london work just as hard as my peers in SV.

  • James Crossland

    The kind of people who read, consider and respond to posts like this are also the kind of hard work people who are the exceptions which Mr/Ms LondonVC accepts do exist. Plenty of people do work hard (myself included), but there are also people who could work harder (myself included) – the two are not mutually exclusive groups.

  • Ano

    You seem to have time to write that ! Not me ! Perhaps it is because I do work in a startup !

    • eeeee_me!

      It’s simple! Every VC wants to pay less and receive more. LEECH!

  • Mohammad Al-Ubaydli

    When European investors spend as much money and as quickly on start-ups as their Silicon counterparts do, they get to ask to for more hours, as you are. Until then, pay-related performance operates as much as performance-related pay does.

    Also, at some point, European pundits ought to end their Silicon-Valley envy and just start doing something useful the European way. In the 1980s, American pundits were bewailing the Japanese “invasion” of their industries. The companies that returned America to greatness in the 1990s were not ones that made the USA Japanese, they were ones that did something useful, in their own American way.

    The UK, where I am based, has many advantages over the USA and we are busy making use of them rather than complaining about the disadvantages we have relative to the USA.

    • Mike Butcher

      Great comment.

    • Schmidt

      I must disagree, at least partially. It is very important to make clear what kind of environment is awaiting wanna-be entrepreneurs in Europe. Because the economic education is often zero (European school teachers are usually leftists who passionately hate capitalism), this blog entry is an important peace of information.

      It is easy to say “stop moaning, do something about it”. I think everybody should know that there is a reason for it, and young entrepreneurs should head for a place on Earth where their efforts will be most likely successful. If it is SV, so be it. Please, never stop moaning, because there is usually a piece of important information in it.

  • james (mjelly)

    Anyone working in technology who does not take any holiday for years on end will come a cropper … either through RSI or exhaustion

  • Cristian Parrino

    The point is about creating an “ownership” culture across a startup’s team – something I’ve seldom seen in UK startups. The ownership argument includes the 24/7 worry-habit, but should not be limited to it. Also critical to success are a) recognizing that building value in the company directly translates into building value in your own wallet – which requires being able to set aside personal title/responsibility ambitions for a greater value; and b) treating the company’s money as if it were your own. This often fosters creativity, efficiency and focus.

    • Charlie Stross

      It’d be a good start if founders would, like, actually cut the developers in for an equity stake.

      There’s a cultural thing in the UK: artificers and engineers get no respect. I’ve been through a successful startup — programmer #1, hired two weeks before the company was registered, left after it went public on AIM via reverse takeover — and *all* the developers got sweet FA. (While the CTO trousered a million quid’s worth of preferred options.)

      If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. (As for me, I got the hell out and found myself a sensible job where I earn three times as much for a quarter the hours, and have a boss I always agree with — myself.)

      • twak

        Agreed, British VC’s don’t see the worth in involving employees in the company success. If all we’re going to get out of a takeover is 10K, we’re not going work the 30% extra needed to beat the (~American) competition.

        On the plus side we’re not scared of loosing our medical/homes if we get fired.

  • Sheila Scarborough

    After living in Europe (the Netherlands) and dissecting who was always working at our NATO headquarters and who always seemed to be “en vacance,” I found this an engrossing read.

    Americans make some terrible balance and lifestyle choices based on their work ethic, but they feel that that is what it takes to be successful. Not sure I always agree, but when I hear some complain about US-centric tech events and news coverage, I think, “Well, there’s good reason for that dominance.”

    As we say, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

  • Anonymous French Worker

    OK so I work for a French software editor. This is my 2nd year in the software industry since I’ve finished college. I’m not at all well paid, about 20 K€/year net, all the companies around where I live (7th biggest town of france) pay about the same. I don’t see why I’ll spend even an extra hour for people that pay me shit. They are exploiting me, work ethic is a myth to make us slave.

    By the way I’d be glad to work a lot if I felt like I would earn something by doing so. This is not the case here.

    • Schmidt

      Oh yes, that is what I forgot to write in my previous post. Start-ups have no real incentives for most of their staff in Europe. It is only a rational choice (read the word rational again and again until you get the right feeling what it means) to remain relaxed and be back home at 16:00. In fact, EU governments really hate start-ups because there is no lobby for entrepreneurship, but there are gigantic lobbies for traditional corporations. I suspect that there is a connection there.

    • Anonymus EU Worker

      How about because some get only 2000k EUR/month in other countries in EU?

      • Anonymus EU Worker

        I meant per year. I have a lot of friends that don’t earn more than that.

    • richard

      Fantastic point that the LondonVC doesn’t touch on… in Silicon Valley a good engineer is on a six figure salary – but then most roles are very well paid. I cannot think of many good startups post funding paying people $20-30k like the commenter.

      When budgeting a startup you budget in $10-15k per month per headcount. EU start-ups don’t pay anything close to that, in my experience (be glad to be shouted down on this and shown things have changed over the years). Clearly the VCs aren’t either giving them the money or guidance to incent their workforces right.

      Pay well. Provide good equity. Create a flexible rewarding work environment. Then hire the people who want to work in that situation so much that they’ll put in the kind of time and commitment you get in pretty much every startup in Silicon Valley.

      But if I hear one person trot out that stupid line: we work to live not live to work …gah! Do people realise how stupid that makes them sound. “Work to live” pretty much tends to mean you take no ownership for what you do, you sit as a passive cog in a machine you have little influence in, and then piss away your paycheck at the weekends. That makes you a zombie. That’s not living, that’s giving up and drowning the sorrows.

      Nobody lives to work – they live to live. Taking control of one’s working situation to provide you with the resources you need or want to live the lifestyle you choose is not living to work. It’s called being an adult.

      • Astor Place

        Hmmm… I’m lost here. LondonVC is referring to business startup and entrepreneurs – not to employees. As a business owner you get inspiration from growing revenues. So why should a small wage employee on fixed income respond to the thread?

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