The Most Sensible Debate on Hustle Culture and Work-Life Balance with Natalie Nagele and DHH

Episode #167

If you want to build a successful business, you have to be ready to work 24/7/365 to have a shot at success… or do you? Both Natalie Nagele and DHH bootstrapped their internet businesses to millions in revenue, yet they took different paths to get there, with DHH only putting in a small number of hours vs Natalie who ate, slept, and breathed her job as a founder in the early days. In this episode we discuss whether or not DHH's approach is truly repeatable for others trying to get their businesses off the ground, the limits to human productivity and happiness, and the role that society and hustle culture in shaping how we feel about our work as founders.

Show Notes

  • People-First Jobs – Natalie's new approach to finding jobs with healthy work environments

  • Wildbit – Natalie's bootstrapped software business

  • HEY – DHH's new approach to email

  • Basecamp – DHH's project management + internal communication tool

  • @natalienagele – follow Natalie on Twitter

  • @dhh – follow DHH on Twitter

  1. 5

    Top-notch guests!

    But I disagree with David:

    This is not 2003, competition nowadays is really hard, the times where a mediocre website can make your first sales are gone, people now expect a polished UI and a good set of features.

    I don't know where David lived in Spain for 10+ years but as a 40+yo Spaniard, I can tell you that our entrepreneurship culture is absolutely toxic, most people dream about being a public servant and if you own a business to their eyes you are exploiting workers and evading taxes.

    Maybe the US culture is not the best one but the Spanish neither the Danish one is perfect.

    1. 2

      Yep I completely agree as a Spaniard myself. I don't know about the rest of Spain but I do think that in Madrid and Barcelona things are slowly improving culture-wise specially around tech, but being an entrepreneur in Spain is still a masochists job, so much is against you.

      Having lived in the US now for about 3 years, I can say that entrepreneurship culture here is way better than in Spain. Things feel possible, you can freelance whenever you want without having to sign up to anything like the "Autónomo" program in Spain. The downside is healthcare, you better not get hurt on the way or it'll cost you.

  2. 3

    Very interesting podcast with very interesting aspects.

    I have worked with startups, that spend 60-80h every single week in the office but most of the day wasting time by not prioritising and lack of focus. The worst thing is the most of them have the same excuse: "We are agile and can't spent time for planning because we have so much to do - we must stay flexible".
    On the other side once a the milestones approach and they realise we must get things done or we lose customers, task and whole projects get finished in a fraction of time.

    So I understand both, Natalie and David and where they come from.

    Said that, since this was a conversation about NEW startup founders and not established companies, I think they both have missed the target.

    Based on the interview, Natalie as well as David reduced their work efforts in other jobs and invested their time into the "New Project" - with more or less time.

    However for most people (definitely myself and I assume also many others) have a 40h+ work week that pays the bills and do their best to get their side business up and running. This automatically results in a 60h+ work week.

    In my point of view both of them are right but only when it comes to a person/business that is exactly in the sam position as they and I would not apply (as David said) to "all entrepreneurs" out there.

  3. 3

    Great podcast, strong disagree with DHH.

    I think David has a very privileged experience, regardless of the number of cultures he's experienced. Basecamp made it and kudos to them, but people are not on the daily grind just to say it. Some might— but I suspect most folks who are working in overdrive are doing it because they're uncertain of their product's future. Speaking personally, I don't view my product as something that's disposable and easy to move on from. It's mine, and I would rather "die" with it figuratively, than to spare my mental space, and possibly give up knowing I did not try harder. And we don't do this to post it on twitter or wear it as a badge of honor. We don't want to do a podcast on the side, we don't want to write a book as a side-gig in case our businesses fail like you DHH. We just do it because we want to be where you are and build a product as successful as Basecamp.

    One last personal aside that really ticked me off: DHH goes on about his Stoic philosophy and says, for 2500+ years there is repeated evidence of people who die regretting a misspent life on.

    That just has nothing to do with anything regarding indie hackers. I would love to know all the unprivileged people in the world who somehow knew how to creatively time manage their work week, and before dying though, "I spent this life good". This take was just insulting and short sighted.

  4. 3

    I could clearly agree with Natalie when she was talking about starting out. I work part-time to be able to eat and pay my rent while working on my side-project. Based on David's view, you could never get a side-project working if you're working somewhere else. I'm fresh out of university, I don't have any other incomes or savings. I wonder what David thinks about that one?

    That being said, I don't usually work more than 40h/week, but I am a bit privileged to be able to work part-time for good money. I know others are not in this position, they like their side-projects and can't leave their job.

    Hustle is not wrong when you enjoy what you're doing. Reflect and see if you're being productive or not and if you're still enjoying the journey. Take 1 or 2 days off a week to refresh your mind, do what works for you.

  5. 3

    Maaan! So cool to have these people interviewed by IH and bringing them into the community. I ve been a huge fan of wildbit and basecamp for a long time now, thanks for that.

    @csallen I really want to buy some swag items from IH such as a nice stickers or tshirt or wall posters for my office, that express the values of indiehacing mentality. The reason I am still part of this community is that it’s formed as a tribe with values and dreams and not just as a business community. Are you considering creating any of these? If so, I am more than happy to help you if needed 😅

      1. 2

        Ah nice I 'll order one for sure :)

        When I was running my own design studio back in the days we had made these posters for the office https://www.instagram.com/p/BLqlYGPByFz/ - I strongly believe that for the indiehackers some kind of creative posters for our walls would be a great idea 😅

  6. 2

    Natalie was trying to touch on something regarding starting out and she almost got there. It felt like David kept shooting her down in a strict adherence to the 40hr work week. I get where both of them are coming from, but the reality for most indie hackers here is:

    You HAVE to work more than 40 hours per week if you have a full time job + side hustle. The math doesn't work any other way. This is basically what the whole site's audience is trying to do (at least the vast majority).

    It's also worth noting - and again Natalie was touching on this - that both of them started businesses out of consultancies, which is what enabled them to better adhere to a more typical 40-hour work week than the average indie hacker here with a full time job + side hustle. If you are in this position, then it's easy to take 10 hours per week away from work and put it towards a product. You can't do that when you are drawing a paycheck for full-time work on the other side of that equation though (say working for an agency like David's or Natalie's).

  7. 1

    30 min in.. This so far feels like a nerd rap battle. 3 to 1 so far.

    I need more of this in my life 😁

    Kudos on the pairing, @csallen et al.

    1. 2

      @ 53 min

      "The folks that listen to IndieHackers have full-time jobs..

      There's their 40 hours, .. and they're trying to do this thing on the side..

      +1 and + 3 for the amazing use of There/their/they're in a single sentence 😎

      1. 2

        Interesting you bring this up because I was just about to comment that this was never answered. Excellent debate besides that but I’d love to know what dhh believes is the optimal work hours for someone who’s already working 40 hours a week