Well, I wanted some profile before Australia 2020…

[Update 10 March, 1030 AEDT: I've written a follow-up article which, while bound to piss off a few people, explains precisely why I'm so concerned about this issue.]

…but I don’t know whether this was exactly what I had in mind. Calling a high-profile Internet entrepreneur a prick, and then being referenced by some of the highest-traffic tech blogs on the planet.

Screenshot from Techmeme showing my article in the top story listings

OK, I participated in the discussion at TechCrunch and the 37signals blog Signal vs Noise, as I should. But then it was picked up by Mashable and then TechMeme (see screenshot). And now I’m seeing inbound from TechCrunch Japan and Colbert Low’s technology blog and who knows where else to come.

Jason Calacanis has edited his original post in face of the fallout:

Fire people who are not workaholics. don’t love their work… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it — go work at the post office or stabucks [sic] if you’re not into it you want balance in your life. For realz.

He’s also posted an explanatory piece. My take on that: lots of good words, but in my experience the words that people blurt out first are closest to what they really believe.

If an employer can’t tell the difference between passion and being a workaholic, or if he blurts out critical policies without thinking about the language he’s using and how people might respond, then he’s a dangerous employer. Working the way Calicanis suggests has serious long-term health impacts, and in some places is illegal.

Should I have called Calacanis a “prick”?

I don’t see why not. I’d certainly call him that to his face, if we were discussing this issue. It’s my honest opinion. Sure, I know nothing about him except his writing today and the way he’s responding to the criticism. But hey, I figure both he and I have been in the public media space for a long time and we’re both used to worse.

However he wants to smudge it over after the fact, what Calicanis said was that he’d only employ people who work in conditions which are dangerous to their health. I’m certainly glad he doesn’t have kids, ‘cos he’d probably have them in the coal mines by age 5.

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  1. Snif’s avatar

    Probably the only people who wouldn’t call him a prick are those with a similar mindset — who likely are pricks as well.

    Reply

  2. Kate L’s avatar

    I have worked for people like this and they are pricks. The only person with that sort of passion in any start up are those who are directly benefiting from it. I run what could be termed a start up (business) not .com and its true, working 18 hr days and 6 days a week is not in the long run the right way to go! Work smarter more efficiently and outsource things you are not good at… nothing is worth missing out on LIFE! you only get one!

    Reply

  3. Snarky Platypus’s avatar

    You should have dropped the C-bomb. Americans seem to get especially excited over the word.

    Calacanis deserves a nomination for “worst retcon ever”.

    Reply

  4. Jason’s avatar

    To be honest, the line “fire folks who aren’t workaholics” was sort of with a wink and grin… thus the use of “post office” and “for realz.” Of course, some folks meant that to mean “screw you family, back to work!” We’ve got many folks with families working at Mahalo, and I’ve had plenty at previous startups. What i find is people with kids tend to be the MUCH more efficient with their time than people without kids — on average. From what I’ve been told by folks with kids they just know that the clock is ticking and that they have to get stuff done before their kids need them again… so they hustle. In fact, the most prolific Guide at Mahalo has kids. He doesn’t waste time at the water cooler… he’s all business and I appreciate that.

    At the three companies I’ve run in my life (Silicon Alley Reporter, Weblogs, inc, and now Mahalo) I’ve had nearly zero voluntary turnover. Those were all very demanding work environments, but they were also filled with uber talented folks who went on to big things. Xeni from Boingboing and Rafat Ali from PaidContent worked at Silicon Alley Reporter, Peter Rojas (RCRDLBL), Judith Meskill, and Brian Alvey (CrowdFusion) were at Weblogs, Inc. The list goes on and on of people who worked with me who went on to do great things. I think this is because a) I’ve got an eye for talented, hard-working folks, and b) I’ve always created supportive and challenging environments where people can grow — a lot!

    Now… you’ve spent two posts on this and it’s time for you to get back to work. I expect you to put in 10 hours each day this weekend and I don’t want you to look up from that keyboard until you’re the top story on TechMeme again!

    Work!
    Work!
    Work!

    best j

    Reply

  5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Snarky Platypus: No need for me to drop the C-bomb. Duncan Riley has already done that in his elegantly-titled piece, Spending Time With Your Family Makes You a Slacker According to Scoble. Scoble Can Get Fucked.

    @Jason: Ah, Mr Calacanis, welcome. You must’ve had a busy 24 hours, eh? Pedalling backwards while ducking and weaving is such hard work!

    I’m particularly impressed with your work on the 37signals blog where you’ll say one thing, DHH will paraphrase it to counter-argue, and you’ll then respond by saying you actually meant something completely different.

    I’ll briefly respond to your comment paragraph by paragraph now, but a more reflective piece will emerge as the day wears on.

    1. As I said above, I reckon the words people blurt out are generally closer to their real thoughts, and you did say “fire the people who are not workaholics” and then stress that you weren’t joking. I’m with the Platypus on this one: revisionism.

      “People with kids tend to be the MUCH more efficient with their time,” probably because they have variety in their lives and a sense of perspective about what’s important in this world. Spending every waking hour chasing money isn’t it.

    2. Self-promotion. Skipping over…
    3. Ah, I can sense the irony this time. ;) That said, it’s interesting that in this comment as well as elsewhere you emphasise “getting pageviews” as a goal. And some commenters elsewhere speculate that this controversy was all manufactured specifically to generate pageviews. I’ll come back to that later.

    More generally, this issue has certainly become polarised and very personal, hasn’t it! Another TechCrunch writer has bought into it. Even your own employees are writing self-justifications, pieces which only link to one side of the discussion, and even quote a dead president in a way which implies that a web start-up is a “worthy cause” — which it isn’t, it’s just about getting rich.

    More soon…

    Reply

  6. Zern’s avatar

    Love it love it love it.
    Power to transparency.
    Say what is in your heart.

    The attempt to “retro-manage” the message is typical.

    I would have more respect if he stuck to his truth. And not try and pretend otherwise.

    Reply

  7. Snarky Platypus’s avatar

    At the three companies I’ve run in my life (Silicon Alley Reporter, Weblogs, inc, and now Mahalo) I’ve had nearly zero voluntary turnover.

    Two words:

    STOCKHOLM SYNDROME

    Reply

  8. Alex Willemyns’s avatar

    I’m definitley more sympathetic to the Signals vs. Noise side of this argument, but I disagree with something you said, Stil:

    Even quote a dead president in a way which implies that a web start-up is a “worthy cause” — which it isn’t, it’s just about getting rich.

    Making money is no less a worthy cause then anything else — it implies the creation of a good or service that many people want (enough to part with their money.)

    Microsoft was a ‘start-up’ of sorts, as was Google, Yahoo, heck CollegeHumor. All these companies were driven by the quest for money to give me something decent. Apple, for instance, does nothing more than try to attract my money — but that means innovation from then, and good products for me.

    An entrepreneur’s quest to get rich improves everyone else’s livelihoods — he or she cannot get rich unless they have something decent to give to society (i.e something that attracts high demand) .

    Making money is the worthiest cause. It shouldn’t be frowned upon as ‘not worthy’ (even if you consider charity a virtue, you can’t give unless you have.)

    (To keep on topic: in the position of employer — entrepreneur — I’d be most inclined to employ staff on four day work weeks. After thinking about it, I’m surprised it’s not an already well spread idea.)

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  9. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Zern:I appreciate the reinforcing comments, both here and on your own blog. You will have to eventually find your own topics to write about. ;)

    @Snarky Platypus: As I mentioned on the phone yesterday, I’m glad you mentioned Stockholm Syndrome, because I couldn’t quite work out where it fitted (fat?) into the narrative of my follow-up piece.

    @Alex Willemyns: OK, you’re right. “Getting rich” is “worthy” in the sense of being “something of worth”, and the rest of your logic is impeccable too (damn you).

    To clarify how that relates to my passion here, I feel that the Calicanis logic is that if we choose “making money” as our goal, then (1) the short-term start-up model is the best and only way to do it, and (2) all other goals must be subverted to this.

    I don’t think the 4-day working week is widespread simply because a majority of business managers (at least according to the last Australian survey I saw) still don’t trust their employees to work unless they’re there to watch them work.

    The NSW Police do some sort of rotating 12-hour day system, then. a 3-day break, but I couldn’t be bothered looking up the details just now.

    Reply

  10. rick tait’s avatar

    Have you people actually WORKED in a startup before?

    Don’t you understand that the nature of a startup is that more work is REQUIRED than a ‘regular job’ at a ‘regular company’?

    This is because the business model, or the core product audience, or the corporate competencies or services have yet to be established, and thus a lot of work must be done before the startup is “there”.

    It’s a gamble. Because the company “wasn’t there before”, one works extremely hard building these missing pieces with the [potential] payoff being equity or just being one of the /early/ employees.

    This is not how “regular” companies work.

    If you want to have a nice relaxing regular day at work, stop whining about startups and go and work for Morgan Stanley or G.E.

    Calacanis and people like him are not trying to run a company like Jack Welch does/did. Maybe Mahalo and/or other ‘startups’ may at one time in the future become more like regular corporate entities, but for the duration of the “startup phase” things must be run differently. There will always be plenty of people who will bust their arses in startup mode, but it strikes me that the people who are complaining about Calacanis’ recent comments want to have all the benefits of working at a startup, but without the 12+ hour days.

    Yeeaaah, I want to drive a Bugatti Veryon without paying for it too.

    Come on now folks. There are all sorts of companies and all sorts of people. Find something that works for you and don’t bitch about something that falls out of your own comfort zone but falls entirely within lots of other peoples.

    Reply

  11. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @rick tate: Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed comment, but you’ve missed the message of the original post.

    As it happens, I have worked in a start-up. Several, in fact. As has Duncan Riley, the TechCrunch journalist who was lumped with me on this issue. We agree that to start a successful new business you need to work hard — no-one’s denying that.

    What we object to is (1) the false dichotomy which implies there’s only workaholics or slackers, nothing in between, and (2) Jason Calicanis’ tone which implies that staff are expendable worker droids who should be discarded if they don’t over-work to the point of damaging their health.

    I’ve also written a follow-up article where I argue that, yes, the Internet start-up culture is a choice — a choice that’s evil, perverted and a danger to human society. I’m sure you’ll hate it.

    Reply

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