Reflections from a startup founder about WORK

This blog post addresses a fairly different aspect of Scoutbase, rather than the usual safety-science, HSEQ, or tech perspectives. It addresses the peculiar thing it is to start and work in a business based on a dream and talks about creating change and improvement. Because that is what we at Scoutbase go to work every day to achieve; delivery of a tool that helps organizations improve the conditions for their people’s work lives.

The 80-hour workweek
People tend to associate starting a business with endless working hours and a hardliner mentality where everything and everyone else comes second to the business, including family, kids, and friends.

This is often substantiated and sustained by accounts from exactly these types of hardliner startup founders, who share their stories of their apparent success stemming from massive hours of work. And because we often recognize their success we tend to believe in their hardliner workaholic recipe.

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There is another side of what it means to be a successful startup founder, I believe. While long hours can be necessary once in a while, or perhaps even quite often, I think that it is a misconception that this hardliner mentality should be the core fabric of a startup.

First of all, it is now also a quite common viewpoint that time is generally a pretty poor measure for quality. A viewpoint that we at Scoutbase fully support: From a cognitive capacity point of view an 80 hour work week makes no sense (of course people have different capacity, but glorifying startup founders as superhumans with superhuman capability seems to me, a fallacy).

I believe that people should work when they are able to perform and rest when they are not, instead of chasing a set number of hours or some mythical ideal sustained by accounts from hotshot entrepreneurs. This is where I believe quality will originate from.

Imagination and dreams
To let you in on what fabric I think is much more essential, than the capacity to put in a lot of hours, I want to share with you why I think this book, among others like it, is a most important thing for a startup founder.

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While it may be useful to plough through literature about business administration, business models, leadership and how to be successful, these elements themselves are rarely why one go out and start a business.

All these things are indeed helpful and necessary to know about on the journey from idea to business, but they all represent the establishment; what is already there. A startup founder is first and foremost a dreamer and a rebel (or I believe that she should be), on a mission to change something that is not right at the moment, whatever her field of concern.

She is rebelling against the established, fueled by imagination, faith, and love for a better future. The poorest man or woman is one who has lost the childhood gift of imagination and belief, and the poorest of all worlds is that with no dreamers left, as it will become static and eventually erode. The great complexity scholar Paul Cilliers wrote:

“It is important that we start imagining better futures, and for that, we need better imaginations. Reading books, listening to music, appreciating art and film is not a form of entertainment to be indulged in after we have done our serious work. These creative activities stimulate the imagination and thereby transform the frameworks we apply when apprehending the world. If we do not foster the creative arts, we will end up in the well-managed dystopia of the brave new world.”

Of course, making a good business requires something on top of dreams and visions, it also takes buy-in from the surroundings. In 1001 nights the narrator, the woman Scheherazade, tells imaginative and wonderful stories to King Schahriah every night. The passion in the stories (and giving birth to a couple of kids of the kings along the way) ends up saving her life, which was otherwise doomed by execution.

There are many fascinating and inspiring points to draw from these adventures, but my point here is that the stories she told were compelling enough for the king to buy-in. According to the book the two most important things, that will bring a good life is love and storytelling.

So rather than focusing on stirring up 80 hours a week and neglecting everything around the business (driven by a belief that this is the only way to succeed), the startup founder should grow her dreams and visions and radiate her passion and love to the degree where the world around her simply cannot help noticing. This will make her story so compelling that it simply can’t be ignored, just like Scheherazade captured king Schahriah by her stories and her love.

Am I writing these reflections on a backdrop of a huge commercial success? No, not at all (we are not quite there yet with Scoutbase). Does that leave me with no authority in these topics? Well, bare with me here. I am not giving advice, I am merely offering my reflections, because I firmly believe that we construct the world around us, together, on the basis of the stories we tell each other. Therefore we need to be mindful about what stories we work up (and make sure they encompass a lot of love).

I have now found myself in the position as an early-stage startup founder and feel compelled to contribute to creating nuanced stories about this (hyped) role. One that demonstrates another aspect of the 80 hours work week as the foundation in a startup.

Success, in my mind, is the privilege of being able to work on what you know in your heart is right, every day. The monetary value or commercial results that may or may not stem from this one day is secondary (and probably often largely out of our personal control-spheres anyway).

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Work differently
At Scoutbase our vision is to contribute to creating better places to work within the organizations that choose to engage with the tool we have built. But this vision has from the beginning applied to ourselves as well. In the founding team, we have all in our past lives experienced how some workplaces may get it all wrong, simply because of meaningless boundaries or rules, etc. that could not be rooted in sensible arguments (it has just always been like this, etc.). This, in turn, has killed motivation and the joy of otherwise really great jobs.

Starting a business is the opportunity to do things differently from the very beginning, and create the foundation for making it work as we believe it should. We created Scoutbase, not just to develop a cool product that could make a difference for a lot of people, but also to develop the best place in the world to work for ourselves and for our employees! A place where the people can be, yeah… PEOPLE. A place where you can be proud of what you do and be motivated personally and professionally because you are important yourself and you work to achieve something important too.

But also a place where boundaries are created by the dreams and imagination of all the people working there, together. All because we believe that good lives make us all be the best version of ourselves at work and at home. This is good for business, good for our lives, and good for the world as a whole.

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In conclusion
I believe that the smart startup founder (or any other leader for that matter) aims to set up an organization that does not trap people in endless work hours, rules, etc.

A lot of people will be a lot smarter than the founder(s) in a startup, in a myriad of aspects needed to create success, and if you are lucky enough to bring some of these smart people on board, they will have as much of a stake in helping the founder along the way to fulfil her dream.

Converting the dream she conceived into a successful business may, thus, not be her own achievement at the end of the day. How could she, then, ever put meaningful boundaries around this journey? Yet, her role remains very important: She demonstrates to the people that surround her that she takes her own dream dead serious, by using it as a guiding star in directing the business. She inspires her people to dream about the best possible lives for themselves. She shows the outside world that we can all contribute to creating change and make things better — By reaching for our own dreams and fantasies about how the world, or corners of it, can be improved by those who aspire for this. That gives her a mission. It creates purpose and generates universal synergies that enable us, together, to move mountains

I wish you all a very happy (work) life.

Mads Ragnvald Nielsen, CEO & Co-founder at, [email protected] | Monthly newsletter | TwitterLinkedIn

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Reflections from a startup founder about WORK was originally published in Scoutbase — Realtime Leading Safety Indicators on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.