Matt Haughey on the joys of Internet "lifestyle business" vs the grind of fast startups

Metafilter founder Matt Haughey gave an inspiring talk at Webstock about being a 40-year-old Web geek who came of age in the Bay Area in the 1990s dotcom boom. Matt talks about finding work-life balance, and how hard that is to do if you follow the grow-big-fast model of Internet startups. He describes another way: growing slowly, working sane hours, self-funding, and producing "lifestyle" businesses that employ the founders and a few others in a relatively stable way that makes everyone happy and sustains them financially. My Webstock Talk


  1. Loving these messages. Many thank Matt + Cory. I’m a 43 year-old artist, social entrepreneur, still married somehow to fab geek, mother of 1 kid, 1 dog and am a 4 x start-up veteran…. practicing Buddish type.

    My vote is now for web enabled, ‘real life’ / flesh space / visceral experiences, sustainably dev’d.

    Proudly spreading the love with (but please don’t blog or send viral yet as we don’t want to grow too fast! ;-)

    All feedback welcome.

  2. This is what I’ve always felt I wanted out of my own business (if I ever started one) – enough for me and my family and my employees to live out comfortable lives while doing our work. The problem with commerce today is that investors expect not only growth, but that the rate of growth increase as well. If you grew 5% last year but only 3% this year that’s considered a failure even though you made a profit and that profit was bigger than last year. It’s a disease. Glad this fellow is addressing it.

  3. This is the classic Route 128 vs Silicon Valley difference.

    The Boston area is full of high tech startups, but they tend to stay relatively small, largely because of their founders’ desire for a better life style. In some sense, these firms are almost invisible, since they rarely have corporate campuses or buy time on television, but in the aggregate they comprise the substantial local tech industry and they’re supported and replenished by having Harvard, MIT and probably a hundred other schools in the area.

    Silicon Valley was always about getting big quick. Some of it was because of an emphasis on hardware which requires some kind of production facility and greatly benefits from scaling up. The upside was a shot at the big bucks, the presence of an active venture capital community and a go along, get along attitude since one never knew where one would be on the next startup totem pole. The downside was an incredible work schedule and having to live in Silicon Valley, for a long time a rather extended slurb.

    It is interesting to see a new attitude emerging on the west coast.

    How much it has to do with the moving of physical production to China and the development of utility server farms? If you want to build something, you outsource it and take advantage of Communist production capabilities. If you want to offer a computational or communications service, you rent a chunk of “raw materials” from a really big outfit and you can scale up or down nimbly. The up side is that it is much easier to carve out a niche in a good number of tech areas. The down side is that this works for the relatively bright and well educated sorts who found these companies, but doesn’t lead to a lot of job creation.

    1. Maybe it is beyond time that one start to contemplate a world where most of the population is not “employed” in the current sense.

    2. The down side is that this works for the relatively bright and well educated sorts who found these companies, but doesn’t lead to a lot of job creation.

      I think this it the issue… this type of employment and lifestyle are fantastic, but unattainable for most – even with the right talents. You have a better chance at success with the quick-money startup model IMO.

      Matt Haughey got his experience in the 90’s in Silicon Valley, and probably made a lot of money (maybe not millions, but plenty I’m sure, I have no idea). So it’s no surprise that he is able to shift his focus and invest the money he already has into a different sort of business lifestyle.

      But as you say, this means that there aren’t as many jobs for people just starting out who don’t have the experience or the capital to pull this off. Which means in the future, there are less people who can sustain themselves with this type of lifestyle.

      Unless there’s a massive political and social shift in the next few years which makes things easier for everyone!

      1. Ha! I made no money working for early startups in the 2000s, I come from a non-profit background, so all my investment was sweat equity in MetaFilter, which is why it took six years to really make a profit, because I had nothing and started from nothing.

        I do struggle with the idea that I only have five employees instead of many, but that’s the nature of web businesses, most everything else is automated.

  4. Hear hear! Enough with the false lottery hope that comes with the million dollar idea mentality. I’d rather have a few $20,000 ideas that let me vacation with my family instead.

  5. I think the Internet lifestyle business is not much different from the shareware software lifestyle business of yesteryear. Perhaps if there is any difference, it’s that distribution of your product or service is now easier. You don’t have to work with shareware resellers and can just “put it up on the Internet”.

  6. This was inspiring, thank you. If anyone reading this has already escaped the 9-5 by, at first, self-funding a business that grew into itself… how much did you live on and for how long? I know this data will mean different things depending on the person but I’m curious, since I’m planning on doing this myself and am still saving money for it. I just want to get a sense of it…

  7. This is great stuff.  Thanks for sharing this Matt and Cory.

    Today’s American dream is no longer to reach the corner office of a big company. 

    It’s a home office that allows a flexible, independent, and creative career built around one’s own interests.  (And it’s not confined to the USA either!)

    Sounds a lot like a lifestyle business entrepreneur’s book I just wrote called Click Millionaires.

  8. Stop using $$$ as the absolute, end all be all, measure of success and see how everything changes. 


Comments are closed.