How to Guess Startup Success Without Knowing What They Do

August 9, 2016 - 2 minutes read

Yahoo’s $4.8 billion sale to Verizon in recent months has drawn the eyes of the tech community. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is bearing the brunt of that attention, but you’d never know it from a recent Bloomberg Businessweek interview. In conversation, Mayer seemed confident and relaxed about the huge changes to the company, and the conversation focussed on questions of balancing shareholder needs, business mission, and personal life.

Most divisive among topics covered — for iPhone app developers anyway — was this statement by Mayer, that she can literally predict success and failure based on willingness to work on weekends:

…if you go in [to my husband’s co-working space] on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what they do. Being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success, mostly because these companies just don’t happen. They happen because of really hard work.

Is this true, though? Responses to Mayer’s dismissal of work-life balance tend towards the negative. Basecamp’s Dan Kim wrote that “This idea that someone could ‘tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what they do’ is so comically arrogant, I honestly can’t tell if she was being serious.”

Mayer is well known for balancing epic workloads with other responsibilities like motherhood, drawing some negative press from women in the San Francisco iPhone app development community over her decision to forego maternity leave — which some app developers saw as setting a precedent for what true commitment to a company looks like.

Mayer, for her part, draws a less extreme line. The CEO has always insisted that app developers and techies have different levels of need with maternity leave, and that she simply made the choice that made the most sense for her goals.

Whether or not you work on the weekends, tech startups generally seem to require more hours than traditional businesses, leading to the culture of work-live studios and campus-style corporate headquarters. Is this healthy? For many, it seems to be worth the sacrifice.

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