In this episode of Startup School Radio, co-hosts Aaron Harris and Kat Manalac sat down with David Rusenko.
Rusenko is the co-founder and CEO of Weebly, the immensely popular website building platform that launched out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2007 class.
One especially interesting topic that Rusenko discussed was how Weebly has approached work-life balance throughout its history: from the earliest days when the company was unsure of whether it would survive, up until its healthy and cash flow positive operations today. This portion begins at 36:26:
Aaron Harris : When you became cash flow positive, did it feel as if it was just sort of a natural progression of what you had done? Or did it still feel like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that happened.”
David Rusenko : I remember the feeling. We were really scared we were going to lose our motivation to work really hard. Because at that point in time, we had had an expiration date on the company for the past two-and-a-half years. I remember that was our fear at the time, was that we were going to get complacent.
Aaron Harris : The “expiration date” meaning where you’d run out of money.
David Rusenko : Exactly. But I think instead it was actually a moment in time where it sort of shifted our thinking to be long-term thinking. So it was almost like, “Strap in for the marathon, because we’re just getting started. This thing isn’t going away tomorrow.”
Aaron Harris : How do you manage that transition, going from this place of where you are basically just worried about surviving, to that longer-term strategic thing? You say your thinking started to get long-term. What does that practically mean as a company?
David Rusenko : A thing that was really important to us from day one was our schedule. You know, in the very earliest months, it’s so tempting just to dedicate 100% of your life to the startup, because you’re in this life or death struggle. And even from that point in time, it was always really important to us — we had this rule that Saturday was off. We were not allowed to work on Saturday. And again, it was just the three of us — it was not like we had a team — it was just the 3 of us putting in literally all of our time.
We’d work until we were tired, which was usually about 8 or 9 in the morning. And then we would sleep until we woke up. Right? And then we’d work until we were tired, sleep until we woke up. But the rule was, starting at about 10pm on Friday until about noon on Sunday, we were not allowed to work. We’d go take that time off.
Aaron Harris : You guys were keeping Sabbath.
David Rusenko : [Laughs] I never thought about it that way, but I suppose that’s absolutely true. But I think what’s important is, we just extended that a little bit once we were cash flow positive. We said, “OK. This is a marathon. We’ve just gone though a sprint phase, and now it’s a marathon.” We implicitly knew we were going to be in this for the next 6, 7, 8 years. It’s better to make sure you don’t burn out, to take your weekends, and work at a good pace, instead of at a super fast pace that can only last you for six months.
… It was important for us to take vacation. We took plenty of vacation. Even in the first few years, the founders would maybe take six to seven weeks a year of vacation. When we weren’t on vacation we would literally be working 24/7, except Saturday. But from our perspective that was really important, to say, “We’re going to actively run this thing so we don’t burn out, so that we’re in it for the long term.”
Kat Manalac : …How do you kind of instill that same sense of balance in your team?
David Rusenko : One thing that was just very important to us from early on was not to have this macho culture of long hours at the office, but instead to focus on work, output, and results. That’s something that still continues to this day. We wanted to really communicate that what mattered was just being really productive and getting a lot of work done. We’ve all had that feeling of sitting at work and just being like, “Oh I gotta be here until whenever it is — 5pm, 6pm, 8pm — I know I’m not going to be productive, but I’m expected to be here or my boss is going to come and tell me, ‘Where are you?'”
There’s no point for you to just be sitting in your seat just because. We wanted to create a culture where the most important thing was just being fantastically productive. And if you left at 3pm on a Thursday because you worked halfway through the night on Wednesday because you were in the zone, then that’s OK.