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- Amazon's early employees worked around the clock, barely focusing on anything else besides their job, according to Brad Stone's "The Everything Store."
- Some employees even forgot about their cars.
- While that's typical of an early-stage startup, some CEOs want their staff to have a better balance between work and life.
The early days of Amazon were brutal.
As Brad Stone writes in his 2013 book, "The Everything Store," there was no explicit rule that you couldn't take a day off on the weekend, but the assumption was that you wouldn't.
This was in the mid-90s, after venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers invested $8 million in Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos realized his company had the potential to make it big. His new motto? "Get Big Fast."
Stone highlights multiple instances of employees being so laser-focused on their work that they neglected everything else in their lives. For example, 23-year-old Christopher Smith had recently begun working as a warehouse temp. According to Stone, Smith worked basically 24 hours a day, biking back and forth between home and work.
Over the course of eight months at Amazon (Smith would work there for 14 years), Smith completely forgot about his station wagon parked near his apartment. The car was eventually sold at auction, and Smith still owed $1800 on his car loan, which hurt his credit score — but he didn't really mind.
Smith told Stone that "life just stopped" when you were working at Amazon. "You were stuck in amber. But inside that amber was frenetic activity that no one else could see."
Something similar happened to the late Joy Covey, who was an Amazon executive until 2000. Stone writes that one day, Covey parked her car in the office garage and was distracted enough that she accidentally left it running, with the keys still inside, all day.
It seems that Bezos liked it that way: Stone writes that the best way for job candidates to eliminate themselves from the running in those days was to talk about wanting work/life balance.
Some CEOs today are pushing back against the idea that building a company has to be all-consuming
To be sure, 90s-era Amazon isn't the only example of an early-stage startup that prioritizes work over... everything else. The internal mantra at Uber, for example, used to be "work smarter, harder, and longer." (Now it's just "smarter" and "harder.")
Yet some tech execs are pushing back against the idea that building a company has to be an all-consuming endeavor, to the extent that you can't have a life outside of work. Take Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, which builds a web-based project management tool. Basecamp prides itself on giving employees freedom to work remotely and to take time off when they need it.
"We're opposed to the prevailing idea in our industry that you have to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to do a good job. We believe 40 is enough," Fried told The New York Times. During the summer, employees work four-day weeks.
Bezos recently addressed the topic of work/life balance, at an awards event hosted by Axel Springer and Business Insider US editor in chief Alyson Shontell.
"It actually is a circle. It's not a balance," Bezos said.
"If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy," said Bezos. "And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who's that person — who, as soon as they come into a meeting, they drain all the energy out of the room ... You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step."
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