I don’t know Seth Priebatsch but by all accounts he is an uber-talented entrepreneur who has successfully started multiple companies - and here’s the catch - he’s only 21 years old!
Yesterday I saw this article on CNN.com and it sparked a thought which I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while now. Namely, is it possible for really successful entrepreneurs to build great companies and also to have “normal” lives.
It’s fairly common knowledge that for most entrepreneurs, their companies are their babies. They spend (almost) every waking moment thinking about the next product feature or the next customer. Often, this can come at the expense of personal relationships, outside interests, or both.
For Seth Priebatsch, this lifestyle is pursued in the extreme, as noted in the article. Peter Bell, a venture capitalist with Highland Capital Partners who helped fund Priebatsch’s current company, SCVNGR, noted about Seth:
"Seth — basically — he works, he jogs, he eats and sleeps…He doesn’t do anything else."
"You could argue that’s not healthy. But you get older and your kids have soccer games and you work with charities and those things make you a whole person. But there’s something to be said for just putting the blinders on and being able to focus."
The article goes on to describe Priebatsch’s lifestyle
He lives in his office — keeping a sleeping bag under his couch and sometimes staying at his parents’ house, down the street, as a backup.
He works seven days a week. Runs every morning. He doesn’t have any friends outside work and sees friendship in a light that he admits can seem “caustic” from the outside. But to him it’s just utilitarian.
"It feels very ephemeral," he said of spending casual time with friends. "You go to see a movie with a friend and it’s awesome for like two hours, but then it’s over with — that’s it. Nothing has been produced from that.
In short, Priebatsch pays no attention to life outside of building his company, and his investor loves this about him. This sort of lifestyle seems to manifest itself in the best innovation centers - perhaps not to the extreme seen in Priebatsch’s case - but in a similar vein nonetheless. In today’s Twitter/foursquare world it’s easy to see that the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, New York and Boston tend to run together with each other. They work together, dine together, tweet together, etc. For most, it at least seems that their entrepreneurial venture drives every aspect of their lives.
In a place like Silicon Valley, this sort of lifestyle is not only expected, but because of the vast numbers of entrepreneurs, actually becomes normal. Now think of a region like RTP, which often touts quality of life as a major advantage. For entrepreneurs, is quality of life - and the ability to buy a house, have a family, and live a “normal” life - really an advantage? Certainly there are plenty of entrepreneurs in RTP who are pouring their lives into their ventures. But does the lack of critical mass of others doing the same somehow make it more difficult to build a truly great company? Is a region more likely to have more entrepreneurial success stories when there are less “normal life” distractions and more focus on simply building companies?
Managing work-life balance is a challenge for many. I’d be interested to hear from entrepreneurs from RTP and other areas on your thoughts on what it takes to build a company.