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Seth Priebatsch: Get a Life – Matt Douglas

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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

Seth Priebatsch: Get a Life

Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a number of high-profile press articles about a fellow CEO in Boston named Seth Priebatsch. He’s the CEO of a VC-backed start-up named SCVNGR. In each of these articles, the reporter quotes Seth taking pride that he has no friends or social life outside of his work.

Consider these quotes from recent articles:

On having friends: “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.” (CNN.com)

On personal relationships: “I find business relationships are easier. You have to sign a piece of paper.” (NY Times)

On work/life balance: “I reserve the right to sleep right here on the couch. I don’t have a social life here in Boston. Everyone is dedicated to and working incredibly long hours. It’s almost as busy here on Saturday as it is on Tuesday.” (Mass High Tech)

Are you disturbed by these comments from a leader in our tech community? I am. I’m not impressed by the bravado, and I don’t think the work ethic is impressive. In fact, I think Seth is setting a poor example for the tech community. In my opinion, the greatest challenge of a start-up is to find work/life balance: he just hasn’t figured that out yet.

Some of Seth’s employees might buy into this manic behavior, but I’m guessing the majority of them wish that he would get a life. It’s one thing to ask people to work hard, but it’s another thing to set an example of having no social life and working every weekend. How can SCVNGR provide a healthy workplace environment if Seth sets an example by sleeping at the office? At Punchbowl, hard work ebbs and flows — we work towards very aggressive deadlines, while we maintain a healthy perspective. In fact, one of our best employees spends the majority of his weekends skiing. And everyday, I leave the office at 6pm to make sure I’m home to have dinner with my family and put my 1 year old daughter to bed.

I’m embarrassed that the press (and some VC’s) have glorified Seth’s behavior. I don’t believe that this is the right example to set for employees or for the tech community. Believe me, I’m all for working hard, but there is a time and a place to take care of your body and soul and to feed your mind with other things outside of work.  There are lots of young people in our community that are looking up to Boston start-up CEO’s. It’s our job to show them that you can have a successful start-up without having to sacrifice everything in your life. How many would-be CEO’s are we scaring off with the message that you have to work non-stop and give up your life in order to have a successful start-up?

Perhaps Seth is purposefully exaggerating to generate press for his company. In fact, in a recent Mass High Tech article, he claimed that “We interview 100 to 120 people for every person that we hire.” Either this is a mis-quote or just a bunch of bullshit. If they only spend 15 minutes per interview, with 100 people per position, that’s 25 hours just for the first round interviews. The company has roughly 60 employees at this point. I seriously doubt they’ve spent a total of 187.5 days interviewing 6000 people. So we can only hope that this example of Seth’s exaggeration has carried over into how he speaks about his work/life balance. Maybe he does relax with friends and enjoy life outside of work once in a while.

I hope this post generates a lot of conversation among Boston-area start-up CEO’s. I believe it’s our responsibility to demonstrate that a healthy work/life balance is achievable even as we build the next great companies in Boston.

Hey, Seth Priebatsch: get a life. Demonstrate that you can start a company and achieve work/life balance. That what it takes to be a great leader.

P.S. Seth: let me know when you’d like to catch a movie together. I’m buying.

©2023 Matt Douglas


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