Actual 40 Hour Weeks in a Startup

Do you think its possible to start a new company, be profitable, and only work 40 hour weeks?
Kenn Kelly
Kenn Kelly
July 22, 2013
February 15, 2024
Actual 40 Hour Weeks in a Startup

We believe it’s possible and so we’re going to try it out, maybe it will be brilliant maybe it will be a huge mistake… between this and Leap Week I’m guessing we’ll find out soon enough. I’m not even sure where the standard of 40 hour weeks came from and there is nothing special about 40 hours that made us choose that as our measuring rod other than it’s a standard that is already in place. After working an average of 60 hours a week over the last 7 years I began to question if this really was the right thing to do. With Shaul and Andrew at my side we have decided to basically challenge everything we do and ask questions like “why do we do x?” since founding the company.

That question poked its head into our working hours and we decided that we were tired of running the rat race of more production meant more hours. The one lever we could always pull to accomplish our business demands was more hours, but that comes with other costs. So, we drew a line in the sand – 40 hours a week, no more no less. We have only been doing this for a month, but so far it looks like this will produce rich fruit in the organization. One surprising thing that has already happened in this short amount of time is that not having the lever of more hours to pull has automatically put an incredible demand on productivity, efficiency, and prioritization… lets call those the three knives of delivering value. When you only have 40 hours to work those three knives become extremely sharp.

One caveat, our 40 hours are true heads down time, everyone has a timer on their computer as if they were working a consulting job on billable hours. So if you take a social timeout, lunch sat wrong and you need a long bathroom break, you get interrupted, et cetera, your timer stops. So while you may have been at your desk for 10 hours that day and only worked 8 hours, you only track 8. This concept of ‘internal billable hours’ also continually refines the three knives.

Having the 40 hour boundary is like a coarse sharpening stone on a knife, and tracking internal billable hours is like a fine whetstone that creates the finishing touches on the knife’s edge.

So how do we enforce it other than being transparent and honest? We put a price on stepping outside that boundary. If you work less OR more than 40 hours in a week, that same amount by which you went over or under is deducted from your paid vacation time. Another caveat, we operate on a two week rolling cycle so if you are over or under in your first week you have a second week to balance yourself out for a total of 80 hours in two weeks.

So back to the first question, is it possible?

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