Get a life: 10 TechFlash Cup founders on balancing work and home

By: Sarah Aitchison and Rachel Lerman

It's a Saturday and Gathered Table founder Mary Egan hops on the elevator in the Smith Tower and heads up to her office on the 23rd floor.

She said the elevator operators often ask her why she's at work on a Saturday, but she doesn't necessarily think of it as work.

In startup culture there is no work versus life balance, she said, because as an entrepreneur they are the same thing.

"That's why people start companies they are passionate about," she said.

The average American works 47 hours per week, according to a Gallup Poll. But more than 39 percent of full-time workers log more hours than that.

Entrepreneurs fall into the latter category.Forbes reports that to be a successful startup founder, a 70-hour workweek may be more realistic.

But is it really necessary to commit way more than half of waking hours – assuming an entrepreneur sleeps a regular 8-hours each night – to a startup.

Janelle Maiocco of Farmstr said finding balance between work and life is generally easier as a company grows.

It's hard in the seed stage while searching for funding, a team and trying to prove the company, she said.

"Work life [balance] is a priority for us as a company, but near term we know that this is our one big shot and I would rather be on the phone with a farmer staying up until midnight emailing food bloggers and growing my team in every way I can," she said.

She added that it's easier now that her children are grown.

Davide Vigano of Sensoria agreed – balance is almost impossible at the beginning, but it gets better.

"[Entrepreneurs] are sick in the head to some level," said Gilad Berenstein of Utrip about founder's obsessing over work, "including me."

Berenstein said there is no such thing as finding work and life balance in the startup world.

Dave Remer of iWitness agreed that it is never possible. He makes time for his kids and grandkids, but things like skiing or sitting around fall to the wayside.

"It's not possible and it's not a priority," he said. "My work is my life so there is nothing to balance."

Having a co-founder can help with the balance. Mariah Gentry and Kyle Bartlow, founders of JoeyBra, cover for each other when one needs to take a break. But in general, they are always on the clock, checking email and working nights.

"It's not someone else's problem," Gentry said. "It's always your responsibility."

This is Gentry and Bartlow's first company together. Sometimes finding that balance just takes practice.

Tim Nguyen of Filelize said he's finally found his balance after starting companies for 18 years. The balance is different everyone, he said. And it helps that founders often get to set their own hours.

He makes it home for dinner with his kids every night, then works again after they go to bed.

Shirish Nadkarni, co-founder of Zoomingo, said its all about choosing family. Nadkarni has also founded companies in the past and said that although entrepreneurs might not get weekends off, it's important to spend crucial hours with family.

"I've always found that you can find enough time in the day if you make it a priority," he said.

PebbleBee founders, Nick Pearson-Franks and Daniel Daoura agree that it's all about the effort. The duo said they want to develop a business culture that is family oriented.

They bring their kids to work and sometimes used them to test their wearable tracking sensor. For instance, when they were developing PebbleBee they would give it to one of the kids and send them running 200 feet away to see if the PebbleBee would track location correctly.

 Sometimes, finding a balance between work and life comes easier than expected.

James Walter, CEO of Finagraph, said he finds a work-life balance. Sometimes he fears he isn't working enough, but he's happy with the results — both in the company's performance and his team's efforts.

"Generally we all work eight or nine hours a day," he said. "I'm a big believer in that balance, and I support that." 

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