In the eight years since Brian Halligan and I started HubSpot, I can count our arguments on one hand, so I consider myself lucky. But the biggest fight we ever had wasn't about product market fit, financing, or a key hire: it was about hobbies. You see, in the early days of HubSpot, everything needed to be done yesterday, as is the hallmark of most early-stage startups. Brian would be out marketing and selling the business, and I'd be writing code with the help of a few remote developers.
One week, after a particularly grueling stretch, Brian noticed that I had published a blog post on OnStartups.com, my personal website dedicated to startup advice and commentary. He was incredulous: how could I possibly spend time on something non-HubSpot when there were so many urgent matters at hand? My response to him was simple: I asked what his hobbies were. Without blinking, he rattled off what remain his hobbies today: cheering on his beloved Red Sox, live music (in the spirit of his obsession with the Grateful Dead), and working out.
After Brian finished his response, I asked him what he thought my hobbies were. Turns out, that was a trick question, because I really didn't have any. In fact, one of the many odd things about me is that the things I love the most in life (outside of my family and friends of course) all involve startups, writing code, and building things. For me, writing blog posts and publishing content and code that helps companies grow is a hobby, and it's the only one I care deeply about enough to maintain with any sort of regularity. So while other entrepreneurs have great insight on hobbies, I have a different point of view to offer.
If you have hobbies you love, enjoy them at every possible turn. If you don't, give yourself permission to spend time every day doing what you love, whether or not those actions fall under the dictionary definition of "hobbies" or not. Here are some helpful tips to get you there:
Be Explicit About What You Do NOT Do: I am allergic to phone calls. I detest them with every ounce of my being. Now, rather than agreeing to schedule a call, and hating myself almost immediately thereafter, I just say no. I published a blog post a few years back on why I don't want to do phone calls and shared it with the world. That way, I avoid the awkwardness of the "it's not you, it's me--and phone calls" discussion and everyone is happier and more productive for it. Finding time for the things you love means being clear on what you don't have time for, and communicating that knowledge with the world is the easiest way to achieve that goal.
Ignore Conventional Wisdom: Conventional startup wisdom would say that me writing lines of code is a terrible use of time, and based purely on economics, convention would be right. But successful startups defy conventional wisdom all the time, and doing what you love as an entrepreneur is what will keep you in the game for the long haul. The CEO of Homejoy, Adora Cheung, recently said in an interview that she codes once every few weeks for a full day because it's what relaxes her, and I couldn't agree more: some people relax by skiing; others do it by coding. Buck conventional wisdom and make time for the tasks that make you happiest: your company and your sanity will be better off for it.
Make Fun a Priority: If you're doing it right, everyone in your organization should be having fun on a daily basis, so be honest with yourself about whether your organization is a fun place to be for the founders or a fun place to be for everyone who works there. Are you solving interesting problems? Do you like the people you're solving them with? Do you get to do something creative regularly? If the answer to these questions is no, the problem is your hobbies (or lack thereof). It's your workplace. Done well, fast-growing companies should be intense and grueling, but also decidedly fun, so recalibrate often.
Remember that founders are employees too. I know many, many startups that have really great cultures. The companies move mountains to increase employee morale. They offer trust. And autonomy. And transparency. And all the things that make the company a great place to work. But, as these same companies, the founders often hold themselves to an impossibly high--and wrong-minded startup. As a founder, do you believe that team members should be allowed to fail? To be able to candidly speak their mind? To be able to try new things that don't make sense? Chances are, you said yes. Now, the question is: Do you afford yourself some of those same benefits? Chances are, the answer is: "Well...sometimes...sort of." Remember, you have may have created and defined the culture--that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to benefit from it as well. You didn't just write the "constitution" for your startup, you're a citizen too.
I don't believe in the tradition notion of work and life, because it suggests that two are fundamentally at odds with one another. Instead, I believe in work plus life, and in creating workplaces (and lifestyles) that allow plenty of room for both. So while I can't give advice on skiing or surfing, I can give advice on startups: the most important things to do are the things that keep you in love with your vision, your team, and your plan to change the world. Hobbies, then, are welcome but not required.