What Do You Do When You’re Not Working?

Not too long ago, a CEO (of a company we are not invested in) said to me, “I knew Jim was the perfect guy to be my CFO when he told me he had absolutely no hobbies outside of work.”

I stewed on that comment for a while, before coming to two separate conclusions.  The first was that Jim is probably not going to be a successful member of the management team.  The second was that I probably would not want to invest in the CEO.

Building a team is so important for early stage companies. Success or failure often depends on how management interacts with one another, and how they lead the rest of the growing employee base. They must be able to communicate with their colleagues, and relate to them both professionally and personally. I have found it remarkably difficult to connect with someone who can only talk about work (or only wants to).

Most of the successful entrepreneurs that I have worked with have something, other than their the company,  that they are passionate about.  Whether it is something as intense as flying planes or racing cars (remarkably popular pastimes for risk tolerant  founders) or something as routine as collecting wine, early stage entrepreneurs almost always need outlets for their passion.  It is usually why they have started a company in the first place.

If people don’t have outlets for their passion, then they probably don’t need outlets.  If they don’t need outlets, then they probably aren’t wired for the start-up environment . If they are not wired for the start-up environment, then they will probably have trouble adapting to the culture and their colleagues. This is not to suggest that employees need to share the same passions — only that it helps to have some.

That is why, when I meet with prospective hires (either my own or within the portfolio), I always ask what the person does when they are not working. The question is usually met with a sigh of relief and a very relaxed answer.  More often than not, it is the most telling part of the conversation.


  1. Todd Vernon says:

    Great post Chris,

    I find a similar situation with engineers. The first thing companies look for are talented engineers with an impressive list of technologies. I like to find engineers that have a passion for design, art, music basically anything creative (left brain?).. Being a good engineer is both art and science. Seen it time and time again, the very best programmers I have worked with were always the most creative people with outlets in other activities.

    My $.02

  2. Mike Lewis says:

    Totally agree with this. At various points in my life, i have abandoned my side hobbies, and each time it came back to haunt me. I find that if i don’t have an outlet, then my highs and lows in my startup become too high and too low leading me to (at the least) burn out quickly. Great post.

  3. Lincoln says:

    I think this is the magic bullet i have been missing. Scott and I had talked about racing the Baja 1000 in the year 2000. When that didn’t happen everything went downhill.

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