Sometimes when you’re in the early stages of a giant project, you’re got to burn it – working long, hard hours, with little time for anything in-between. If you let up for weeks, even days, a competitor you didn’t even know you had may sneak up behind you and eat your lunch. That’s why Bill Gates pushed himself so hard in his twenties and early thirties at Microsoft, becoming one of tech’s most famous workaholics.
“I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one,” the tech billionaire has said.
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Push, push, push
Last Saturday, at an event hosted for founders by venture firm Village Global, Eventbrite co-founder and CEO Julia Hartz asked Gates if his “no vacation, no weekends” policy had changed since the early days of Microsoft. She also asked if the concept of work-life balance was even possible for early-stage founders.
Sort of, Gates said. How frantically you push yourself to work depends on where you are in life and what you want to accomplish.
“For my particular makeup, it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations,” Gates said.
But there’s a method to the madness, he said, much of what had to do with the urgency of the “winner-take-all” market of the tech industry.
“I don’t recommend” his method, he continued. “I don’t think most people would enjoy it.”
But he found it necessary, at least initially. “It is nice, if during those first several years if you have a team that’s chosen to be pretty maniacal about the company… I have a fairly hard-core view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those early years.”
Much of this is specific to his business. “In the software world – particularly for platforms – these are winner-take-all markets.”
Once some major gains were made, Gates said, he relaxed a little.
“Once I got into my thirties… by then some kind of natural behavior kicked in and I loved weekends, and my girlfriend liked vacations, and that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now, I take lots of vacations. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self.”
And now he even has time for hobbies. When asked about his famous book lists [36:34], Gates laughed at the time he now gave himself to read. “The nice thing now that I’m not so extreme – in my twenties I didn’t get to read much at all.”