To What End, this Sacrifice? The Difference Between Male and Female Bootstrappers

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I've been feeling very sorry for myself, all of the sacrifices I've made since bootstrapping a business--I don't go to the salon as often, I've put off my computer upgrade. And the other day, when I saw a gorgeous pair of boots that practically had my name on them I just walked right by, resigned to wearing an old pair. It's a blessing actually--all the time that I spend working; it's time that I don't spend spending.

But put down your violins, please. At least when you hear about this new generation of crazies--young entrepreneurs who take sacrifice to a whole new level. While my shoes aren't new; I do wash daily.

I missed Jessica Guynn's July 30 article in The San Francisco Chronicle--perhaps because that was the day after BlogHer, when my brain officially went on vacation--"Live-In Startups Combine Frat-House Culture with Venture Capital". The story features several startups--one which was a BlogHer sponsor--that are dealing with the belt-tightening typical of self-funding businesses by living commune-style.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Lisa and Elisa, but hell if I'm going to LIVE with them, and my guess is that the feeling is mutual. But for the folks at Meetro, a start-up whose six founders all live and work together in a three-bedroom startup in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, shacking up is a business strategy.

It's the quintessential post-adolescent male fantasy of the business world: a grungy remix of the "Revenge of the Nerds" frat house with bunk beds and Snoopy sheets, a refrigerator packed with soda and beer, and a garage that doubles as the company break room, where employees can channel surf from the couch or take a dip in the inflatable swimming pool. There is no firewall between life and work for these young entrepreneurs, who live together while they build a social networking site that connects people in geographic proximity. Scruffy and stubbled, wearing shorts and sandals, the Meetro mavericks have given up sleep, salaries and personal space for the challenge of building a product they hope millions of people will one day use.

Of course, one could argue, these guys are young'uns, without much else going on. I had my bedroom-sharing days back in New York City, living on a publishing assistant's salary and considering spending more than $10 at a restaurant extravagant. I got through it by telling myself, do this now so that when you have a family you don't have to. The light at the end of the tunnel was a promotion, then a life. Applying the attitude to entrepreneurs the attitude is, live like a pauper, but once you either a) have a kid or b) turn 30, seek funding.

The founders of HubPages in Berkeley break this "convention". All of them are engaged to be married and/or parents, and they temporarily left their families to build a company in the Berkeley flatlands, where they could find a cheap office.

"The decision to work and live together was driven by our desire to accomplish as much as possible in a short period of time while at the same time save money," (Co-Founder Paul) Edmonson said.

Wearing headphones to mute the cacophony of saws and sanders and with a HEPA air filter to battle billowing clouds of dust, the three set up shop in the garage and bunked in the house in sleeping bags and on inflatable or old mattresses (with no box springs), living out of suitcases and cardboard boxes. For a while, their only office decoration was a clothesline strung across the garage.

There were no blinds on the windows, so they woke with the morning sun. With few distractions (they had no television, and not even a couch because the cat peed on it and they had to haul it to the dump), they put in 16-hour shifts fueled by eight pots of coffee. They ventured into the world to forage for takeout and not much else. Some days were strictly shower-optional.

In this case the sacrifice paid off: they churned out enough product to obtain $2 million in funding.

I have to agree with Guynn's assertion that this form of entreprenerial sacrifice is a "male" fantasy--a boot camp of sorts, a jaunt in the business wilderness with nothing but a hunting knife. The same primal desire that is driving my fiance to have his bachelor party in the woods eating wild boar while I opt for cheddar fondue. Though plenty of women have sought Start-up success, I wonder whether we'd do it in such a, well, uncivillized manner. Granted, $2 million is plenty civillized, but are we satisfied with the quick and dirty way of building value?

I'll speak for myself: Not particularly. While I love the thought of my company earning a lot of money, I prefer more organic growth. In the Start-Up world that's often a subjective distinction. For some, "organic" means making a case for value based on a number of factors that haven't yet come to fruition. To me, organic refers to the natural gravitation a business makes over the course of several cycles or seasons. I want more than a seed, I want to put an apple on the table and say, "I grew that."

And there may be intrinsic differences between male and female entrepreneurs. According to a study conducted six years ago by Cheskin Research and Santa Clara University's Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, there are several differences they noted in male and female fundraising styles:

Men and Women differ significantly in their networking skills. Men spend more time networking in order to further their business goals than do women. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that women are less social. In fact women value their ability to develop relationships. It may be that men integrate business into their social lives more than women do.

For more discussion on this difference, see this post.

Women and men share the same motivations driving them in their entrepreneurial and business pursuits. However, contrary to the common belief that financial gain is the primary motivator for entrepreneurs in today’s emerging markets, more interpersonal values take precedence. For example, most valued is cultivating relationships with clients, followed closely by taking on challenges in order to learn, and next by mentoring others. One of the least important motivators is making money.

Don't get us wrong: Women like money; I want shoes. But not at the expense of cutting myself off from the rest of the world. Guynn's article refers to the nonexistent social lives of her young, male subjects. For many women, this is too much of a sacrifice. We may not go out for drinks quite as often with our peeps, but we have to maintain connection somehow.

Traditional gender differences still exist. Successful women consider themselves nurturing, compassionate, sensitive and polite, though neither gender considers these traits essential for success in business. Men tend to consider themselves team players more than do women. Sports as a business metaphor has widely different interpretations; and while many women played team sports in school, they did not necessarily see this as an experience which was key in the development of their business skills.

I believe that men consider extreme circumstances such as commune start-up building to be a bonding experience. However, putting Lisa, Elisa, and I in a single apartment for six months with only one bathroom and Top Ramen would result in one or all of us being committed to an institution.

Successful women and men agree on and embody a majority of attributes associated with entrepreneurs. These include persistence, a positive attitude, creativity, and vision. However women value courage, independence, strength, and fearlessness more highly than men do. These value differences are likely a reflection of the attitudes women have had to maximize in order to succeed in the business world.

We also value hygeine more, apparently.

A later study conducted by Santa Clara University's Global Women's Leadership Center showed that while male entrepreneurs raised more money than female entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses created more value over time.

In other words, we're not built to flip.

I'll just have to wait for the shoes.

Jory Des Jardins also blogs at Pause.

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