Introducing the lifestyle entrepreneur

Yesterday was the last MobileMonday Amsterdam, an inspiring bi-monthly event with great speakers and inspiring visitors. I had a lengthy talk with Martijn Rijntjes about entrepreneurship and he introduced me to something I had never heard of: The Lifestyle Entrepreneur.

Startups are the things all the cool kids do, Martijn told me, but he never felt it was the right fit for him. Martijn likes to travel and see the world, not work his ass off, give up his social life, all in favor of his internet startup. He almost felt guilty he had not the same dreams and goals a lot of his friends have. Until he read an article by Corbett Barr about Startup vs Lifestyle Business.

A startup business has the primary responsibility to grow as big and successful as possible, whatever the impact on the lives of the entrepreneurs. Founders of a startup are competing for success, fame and glory, although some of them, including me, are also in it because they really like the process. After hitting the jackpot, a lot of them jump back into the startup life to repeat their success. Once your lucky twice your good, Sarah Lacy wrote and I believe in this statement. Running a startup is a lifestyle.

Martijn on the other hand is a lifestyle entrepreneur running a lifestyle business. The primary responsibility of a lifestyle business is to allow the entrepreneurs to live their lives the way they want it, not the other way around. They became entrepreneurs because it allows them a way of life, a way of freedom, normal employment can’t give them. They have other definitions for success.

A startup’s job is to grow big enough to provide a return to investors. A lifestyle business’s job is to provide a great quality of life to its owners.

Nobody can tell you what type of entrepreneur you are, you have to see it for yourself. There also is no good or right answer.

Corbett gives 37signals as the example of a lifestyle business. They probably could have been many times bigger, VC-funded, all over the news, but 37signals decided to stay relatively small and are in this for the long run, not for the quick money. They are building a sustainable business, not looking for an exit and are living the lives they want.

David Heinemeier Hansson already told it in the famous interview with Jason Calacanis. He rants about taking someone else’s money and just burn it on too many staff, too many computers and bad choices. “I’m doing 37signals for the next 20 years. I found what I want to do with my life.”. The gap between 2 million and 10 million in the bank, he continues, is so much smaller than the gap between $15,000 and 1 million dollar. The big jump already happened at that point. “How much better will my life be if I owned a private jet, versus having a job I really care about, a company I really care about? I’d much rather have that”, David says.

I do not exactly know what kind of entrepreneur I am. I’m not the guy chasing the quick money, but I am willing to sell for the right amount of money, as I proved in 2007, to start a new adventure. Although I’m in it for the long run, I am thinking what’s best for the company, not what’s best for me. I have had my omens of a beginning burnout and I think I have lost some friends along the way. But this is what makes me happy. And with happy I mean really, really happy. I think it is all worth it.

Martijn doesn’t on the other hand and I envy him for that. I think it’s beautiful how he can live his life with a certain freedom I can’t. After I sold Sugababes I took a sabbatical of a year and what did I do? I didn’t travel the world, emptied my bucket list. No, I started new services and helped people out for I-owe-you’s instead of money. And I loved it!

It is beautiful to see how Martijn and I probably envy each other for the life the other one is living. Both entrepreneurs for life, but with completely different goals.

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