9 min read

Where Does Working Hard End, and “Hustle Porn” Begin?

A Practical Guide to Founder Wellness In the Age of Hustle Porn


 

Step aside “food porn,” there is a new term in town — “Hustle Porn”

(Also, why does media insist on using this word so frequently?!)

“Hustle porn,” the new trend that entrepreneurs — especially in the tech industry — have a fetishization toward, is a red-hot topic in the startup world. Whether perceived good or bad, it’s the notion that unless you’re suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day (while also posting about it on Instagram with tags like #RiseAndGrind, or some other alternative), then you’re not working hard enough. This obsession with overworking is considered a badge of honor to some in today’s startup culture.

Some entrepreneurs think that “hustle porn” stems from pop culture and TV shows, where startup founders and employees are glorified for working 24/7, eating Doritos, and drinking Red Bull as they work to create the next big app or develop a game-changing compression algorithm, because that’s the “only way” you’ll win.

Notorious tech entrepreneurs have caught on to this unusual paragon and are now speaking against it. The consensus? Just like everything in life, moderation is key.

But where do you draw the line? Where does the idea of working hard end, and “hustle porn” begin? In the end, is “hustle porn” good or bad?

To find out, we interviewed other entrepreneurs here in Boston to hear their takes on if “hustle porn” is something we should combat or simply accept as part of our entrepreneurial spirit.


Hustle porn can be a beautiful thing.

Are you on your way to a multi-million dollar buyout? Awesome. Are you looking to make a real impact in the world and help those that are suffering? Keep going. When the heart is in the right place, “hustle porn” can get me fired up to work harder to make a genuine impact.

But let’s be honest. In most cases, hustle porn is damaging. It’s too often about cars, bling, and status. Are you driving yourself up a wall in pursuit of vain metrics like followers or comments? If so, I’d suggest sorting out your priorities.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re under intense pressure to make dramatic progress in a short period of time. Or else, the fear that your company won’t survive starts to sink in. There are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done, so of course, there’s a trend towards working as close to 24/7 as humanly possible.

I get where it comes from. It often takes a tremendous amount of discipline, long hours, and brute force to get a start-up going. When we were taking off at Paint Nite, we were in the office constantly — it was our whole world for years. And it was the change we were making that kept us going — millions of friends were connecting face to face, and thousands of artists were making a living doing what they loved.

But as I’ve moved along in my career, I’ve seen the importance of keeping yourself healthy along the way. You have a lot of people depending on you, from investors to employees to the community that you’re serving.

For me, my weekly routine is seven hours of sleep, high-intensity workouts, and finding at least one night to laugh with friends and family. It’s simple but essential for me to come up with better ideas, lead better, and most importantly, feel better.

At Pepperlane, we focus on helping moms start businesses — and moms are the ultimate hustlers, working about 98 hours a week on average. To make matters worse, society, social media, and families can put a lot of pressure on mothers to work like they’re not a mother, and mother like they’re not a worker. I’ve heard so many stories about how prevalent mom guilt is, and how we need to reshape what it means to be “professional” to make space for those balancing families. Our CEO Sharon Kan talks about the importance of “putting on your own oxygen mask first,” before helping those around you. We encourage our community to brag about how they’re taking time for self-care rather than how many hours they worked.

This is essential for promoting personal well-being for my team. We focus on creating a culture that is all about working to support each other. That means having each other’s back when we take time off, not letting our teammate down on a deadline, and thinking hard about who we put in front of the company, as that’s a signal of who has embodied the behaviors we value. It’s one thing to promote balance, but you also have to model it within your leadership in order for the team to embrace it.

Outside of that, just set aside time to go tech-free, unplug for a bit, and practice self-care. Get a sweat in, eat healthy food, and be quiet. I’m a big advocate for the Kripalu Retreat — a no-tech weekend centered around all of those ideas. It truly is the ultimate recharge.

One of the best ways to overcome hustle porn is to identify what really motivates you and the members of your team. Once you determine that, you’ll find that working for the right reasons is easier, more manageable, and affords you a healthier work-life balance.


Everyone is trying to prove that they can work harder than others. Do I believe in working hard? Yes. Is that table stakes? Yes. Do I believe in burning yourself out? No.

Like anything, there’s a fine line, and you have to keep tabs on where the line is for you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of impressing investors and stakeholders with immediate results, even if those results are not sustainable for the longevity of a company. But remember, it’s the short-sighted investors that want to see that someone is willing to work so hard that they grind themselves down.

Keep your expectations within reason. One piece of advice I find to be most helpful is to maintain an up-to-date to-do list for yourself at work. Every day, pick the top two or three things you need to do and truly commit to getting them done. As long as you’re doing the top two or three things each day, that’s enough.

It’s also up to you to instill this same mentality into your team. Avoid hiring people who aspire to be a “hustle porn” star, or believe in hustle above all else. That said, trust that your team is putting in the necessary amount of work to achieve the goals.

Find that balance and lead by example. Take the weekends off. Take care of yourself. Make time for your hobbies that you love. Politely chastise people when they’re answering emails while on vacation, or if they’re posting about their late-night office stays instead of their evening out with college friends.

If you’re struggling to find that balance in your own life, it will be hard to pass that onto your employees. My three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs who need that nudge are the following:

1| Get a meditation app or talk to a therapist. Make sense of your own thoughts and ensure your employees and customers have a clear-headed captain.

2| Find other founders to talk to. Learn what tactics they have for balancing work and life, and ask how they psychologically survived the situations you’re either going through or will go through at some point.

3| Take time to read books on managing your own psychology. Staying well-read is always a wise idea, but reading about this is a time investment in yourself.

One last tip: Instead of working yourself to the bone for that next big milestone that you may not be ready for, take the time to reflect on the progress you’ve made, especially year over year. It’s second nature for entrepreneurs to feel like everything is wrong or on fire all of the time, but looking back, you have often solved huge problems, even if you forget about them while working on the next thing.


To me, “hustle porn” is people trying to get validation by working long hours regardless of the quality of their work. I believe, focusing on advertising how many hours you worked over what you accomplished is misguided.

I think it’s important to realize that the number of hours you work is not an end in itself, nor is it as important as the output during those hours. When you work all the time, the quality of your work does tend to suffer.

In the entrepreneurial sense, there’s a spectrum when it comes to hours worked and output. While every founder and company is different, we all know that — more often than not — starting a company is not a 40 hour a week job that you can just turn off when you want to go home. You do have to put in a lot of hours. You will get stressed, you will become overworked — these are the simple truths of owning a business. There are always particular days or weeks where you don’t have time to address non-work related needs. So to be clear, I think there is indeed a seed of legitimacy in the idea behind “hustle porn.”

That said, building a company is a marathon, so you have to make sure you are working in a sustainable way, and not tiring yourself out in the first mile.

When you’re early on in building your company, it’s imperative to set up walls between working and not working. Admittedly, I’m not the best at this (and sometimes, especially at the start, it’s impossible), but I’ve found that having a routine before I start working helps me out. I’m in a better mental state if I’m regularly exercising and I always make times for friends and family.

I try to pass off the same ideas to our team. We never idealize long hours, and we don’t track or share how long people are working. Put simply, our priority is to make sure people love their jobs and want to stay at User Interviews because they believe in what we’re building. In my opinion, you can’t have that and have people buying into hustle porn.

In the end, it’s important to trust your team, focus on the output, and remember that you want to build a place people love to work. Set that up for your employees — and yourself — and you’re in the marathon for the long haul.


We hope you found these prospectives as helpful as we did! Have an opinion or a wellness-hack you want to share with our community? Tweet at us or shoot us a note at hello@underscore.vc! And don’t forget to stay in touch by subscribing to the monthly Core Community newsletter.