Corbett Barr

Lifestyle Business Weekly

“Lifestyle” and “Business” Are Not Mutually Exclusive Terms

The View from Samovar Tea, Yerba Buena in San FranciscoSome readers misunderstood my recent post comparing startups to lifestyle businesses.

I had a feeling that might happen.

It’s too bad that people still assume that an entrepreneur focused on building a great lifestyle can’t also build a great business.

Common wisdom is that the only way to build a really profitable and important business is by working like an indentured servant to your business.

And yet I meet new people every week who prove that “lifestyle” and “business” aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

Last week I had lunch with two entrepreneurs, each with well respected, very profitable and growing businesses.

Noah Kagan runs App Sumo, which provides “daily deals for web geeks” and has bootstrapped his business to impressive milestones in just over a year without giving up control or lifestyle freedom. App Sumo is growing at a ridiculous rate that would make any entrepreneur jealous, lifestyle-focused or not.

Chuck Longanecker bootstrapped Digital Telepathy, one of the most respected design firms in the business, with an impressive client list including Tim Ferriss, Joie de Vivre and Crazy Egg. They’ve also built two very popular applications in Hello Bar and SlideDeck. Chuck’s Twitter handle is @BareFootCEO if that gives you an indication of his business philosophy.

Shouldn’t every business be a “lifestyle business?”

Actually, there’s a different category of entrepreneur altogether. There are those people who start a business 100% for the challenge of it, and the competition. Building a great lifestyle isn’t part of the equation because total business domination takes precedence, no matter what.

If business domination on a Microsoft, Apple or Facebook scale is your goal, you might really need to forgo the lifestyle now, and perhaps until you retire.

But I don’t think that’s what most people are after, and that’s why this insistence that a great lifestyle and great business can’t be built at the same time is so ridiculous.

There’s no reason why you can’t do both, and building a really fantastic lifestyle business is only getting easier and easier with modern communications, social media and crowdsourcing.

This coming weekend I’ll be joining over 500 creative and adventurous people in Portland at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. There isn’t one particular focus for the conference (besides general awesomeness), but the one thing attendees are most likely to have in common is the desire to build a successful lifestyle business.

The 20+ fabulous speakers (including Leo Babauta, Jonathan Fields, Danielle LaPorte and others) are almost all examples of how building a lifestyle business doesn’t mean you have to compromise on impact, dedication or even revenue.

So don’t make your decision about how to run your business based on whether you want to build a great business OR live a great lifestyle. Building a great business doesn’t mean you have to compromise on everything else in your life.

I’m beginning to think the confusion lies in the term “lifestyle business” itself. Negative connotations are hard to overcome.

Maybe it’s time for a new term altogether.

Any suggestions? What do you call someone who wants both a great lifestyle and a great business?

Corbett Barr

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  1. I’ve had an interesting time explaining WDS to friends and family over these last few weeks. You’re right in that while there’s no particular focus, most of the attendees are there to share a similar passion–a fulfilling and seamless integration between work and life.

    Look forward to seeing you there!


    • Corbett

      Absolutely, this weekend will be a blast (and I’m so interested to hear what everyone is up to).

  2. Hi Corbett,
    I agree with you that the insistence that a great lifestyle and great business can’t be built at the same time is absurd.
    The most successful people that I know aren’t busy all the time and aren’t glue to their phones either. On the contrary, they have huge financial achievements but also free time and interesting hobbies.
    Their passions aren’t killing their business, they make them grow.
    Have a nice day!

    • Corbett

      Great point about other passions actually fueling the business. It’s hard to be creative when your life is single purposed. I love the inspiration that comes along with traveling and trying new things.

      • So I’ve got a question about this, what happens when the business is your hobby?

        Loads of us reading this are probably starting something on the side outside their day job. As it’s a side gig for me right now I want to make sure that it’s something I love doing, so naturally, because I love making websites and helping people I do freelancing on the side.

        If I were to turn this into a lifestyle business (to use the possibly over-used term), does this mean that I have to find a new hobby? I enjoy programming and I think it’s important to have fun doing what you do – would this mean it’s a bad choice for a lifestyle business?

        • Corbett

          Hey Josh, every situation is different. Some say that turning a hobby into a business can take some of the fun out of the hobby. I actually prefer to work on something I really love for a living, but the consequences of such should definitely be considered.

  3. It seems to me that in this business niche, it doesn’t matter what title you give it – eventually there will be negative connotations associated with it. The same thing has happened with “lifestyle design” and “location independent”.

    There are a lot of people out there that know they will never be able to have their own lifestyle business, solely due to their own making. So they will spread the negativity around any new word that we come up with to describe the type of business we operate.

    It doesn’t really matter it just seems to be a reality of being in this space.

    Looking forward to kicking it at WDS

    • I like the point you made Sean, it is really the hatters out there who make these terms “negative”.

      Most likely they are the same people who still work like indentured servants, and believe that is the only way to make it work.

      And nice clarity Corbett… Definitely a difference in someone who wants a giant empire, and someone who wants to fund the lifestyle they need.

      Surfs up,

      • I think Sean is right, there will also be other things pinned to a term.

        The term doesn’t matter (as Chris G said last week×5/hello-my-name-is/) – taking the action to make it happen does, as does being enlightened that working all hours doesn’t have to be the way.

        • Corbett

          Great link Chris, somehow I missed that one last week. Chris G. is right on in some ways, although labels are useful in describing concepts that require a lot of explaining. Maybe “label” isn’t the right term. Then again, maybe we don’t need a label for this at all?

    • Corbett

      That’s one gloomy way to look at it Sean, but you might just be right. I’m not sure that I care what the naysayers say because they’ll always be there. I’m more concerned I suppose with helping would-be entrepreneurs realize there is a different path.

  4. Great post. This is something I’ve had to deal with on many occasions.

    Most recent of which- I gave an SEO workshop at a well known (so I’ll leave it nameless) startup incubator in Palo Alto.

    Afterwards we all went out for drinks and nobody could understand why VC funding and exit strategies weren’t conversations I’d really join in on. Instead I’d ask where they’ve traveled, or what their passions are. I mostly got blank stares.

    Between one of the awkward pauses where everyone checked their smartphones to look at powerpoint slides (not exaggerating), I brought up the term “Lifestyle Business.” You should have heard obnoxious laughter and snide remarks.

    Lifestyle businesses were “cute” to them. I mentioned my cute lil play business makes me a great living and in a few weeks I was leaving for almost 2 months on Maui. The ROI of that trip wasn’t convincing to them.

    Then I realized. These guys were in their 40’s, had hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, but would rather be at a bar at 11pm on a tuesday blabbing about vc funding (it was also clear they were regulars there) instead of being with their families, friends, etc.

    They even joked about how little they see their families. Because apparently it was more important to work 18 hours a day so their bank would go from 200 million to 225 before the end of the quater then be present with their wife and kids.

    Sometimes you have positive motivators, sometimes negative. That night was a big reminder of what I will never let my entrepreneurial drive turn into.

    Take Care,


    • Great post Corbett.

      I was going back and forth about a year or so ago about where I wanted to take one of my companies. I was stuck on a $100mm/yr within 5 years mark for some reason… mainly because I think it sounded cool.

      But, when I really looked at what it would mean to run a $100mm/yr company… it looked like this to me:
      – 40+ employees (likely upwards of 100+)
      – likely would eventually have had to take on investors… giving up autonomy and a degree of freedom
      – less flexibility to do what I wanted to.

      You look at people like Richard Branson who owns who knows how many companies… has reached insane success… and he *seems* to still be able to live the lifestyle he wants away from all of the hustle and bustle of work.

      So, yes… lifestyle and a large business I think can be had together… its just a matter of how that business is structured.

      I don’t work or live in San Fran… I’m up in Portland… so I’m not in the startup feverpitch all of the time… but to me, just talking w/ some friends who are running venture backed startups (or who sold their startup to google last year)… they definitely have a bit different mindset and end goal in mind.

      For many of those people… the startup is their identity… without it they’d lose a big hunk of who they feel they are (or who people perceive them to be). Its how they feel accomplishment… which is 100% cool and nothing against it.

      I also know entrepreneurs who hate to travel… so really, a “lifestyle” business can be different things for different people. For a lot of us… we love to travel… love the freedom our businesses give us… and don’t want to be tied down by investors needs.

      For others the lifestyle they love is being in the heat of a startup… of growing something big… having the recognition and “sexiness” that goes w/ it. Heck, I know some who literally don’t have any other hobbies other than hacking away at code or analyzing #’s… so they don’t really have any specific drive to work less… because thats all they know.

      Both are totally valid mindsets… and there’s definitely room for both which is the cool thing.

      Great post Corbett… and great insights Kevin.

      – Trevor

      • Corbett

        Thanks for the examples Trevor. I’m with you that all viewpoints are valid, but I think there’s an unnecessary “all or nothing” mentality amongst entrepreneurs. As Chris Guillebeau pointed out in the article Chris Stott linked to above, “why can’t you have your cake and eat it too? What else is cake for?”

        • I love it man :-) 100% agree w/ ya.

          For me, my businesses are fun… but they’re built around how I want them to contribute to my lifestyle (much like you I’m pretty sure).

          Great convo man.

          Now, lets all chow down on some cake! :-)

          – Trevor

    • Corbett

      I’ve been in on those conversations as well Kevin. Actually my first career (Fortune 500 consulting) was full of people who worked 70+ hours a week and couldn’t have cared less about friends or family. The money was great, but the culture was unhealthy and sad in many ways. Definitely a negative motivator for me.

  5. I don’t see anything wrong with the term ‘lifestyle business’. The only people who would look down on lifestyle businesses are the people who live to work rather than work to live.

    Having said that, it’s great to be able to take yourself out of a business E-Myth style. I think what business purists fear is ‘becoming the business’ (which really just makes you self-employed).

    • Corbett

      Hey Tara, wouldn’t the level of automation you’re referring to actually be better for a lifestyle entrepreneur?

  6. “Maybe it’s time for a new term altogether.

    Any suggestions? What do you call someone who wants both a great lifestyle and a great business?”

    Why not, instead, simply prove to the unbelievers and critics that the term has nothing negative about it! Eventually they will understand – hopefully.

    • Corbett

      And maybe they won’t understand, but that’s probably OK too :)

  7. Hey Corbett,

    Awesome post. I’m quoting from a comment here but whoever said this, “why can’t you have your cake and eat it too? What else is cake for?” is awesome.

    From the moment I got my first “real job”, I realized I couldn’t put up with this 9-5 bullshit like the other employees around me. I’ll give them credit for sticking around 25 years for all the benefits but that’s not enough for me.

    I don’t care about making millions; all I want is to work on my terms, do what I enjoy and to make a very comfortable living. One that funds my travels and allows me to spend time with my loved ones on MY terms.

    Besides, to put up with bureaucracy–just wasn’t for me.

    Call it lifestyle business, whatever you’d like. I don’t understand the purpose of earning millions and not spending time with your partner

  8. Great post. I think the whole concept of naysaying always comes down to those who won’t vs those who do. Like most things in life, it’s easier for people to critique than it is to innovate. I don’t personally like the term “lifestyle business”- it feels dilettantish (sp?) But I think the idea it considers is a really good one. I’d like to be fulfilled at work and in life, not using one as a substitute for the other.

    Heading to WDS as I type this, looking forward to the awesomeness that will be created there!

  9. Corbett – This is similar to the issue I take with the idea of the “4 Hour Work Week”. Personally, if I were only working four hours a week, I’d be bored as hell and unfulfilled. I love being in the business of building websites and helping people – what energizes me is being engaged in work I love, which winds up being fulfilling on both a personal and professional level.

    It’s not an either-or situation. It’s the meeting in the middle between the two that should be the real goal.

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