The 30 hour workweek: how I run a company where we try to work LESS, live more



A while ago, I started a web agency where our aim is to work less live more. I work maybe thirty hours a week. Never on Sundays. I hardly ever work in the evenings, and I try to get an afternoon per week off to do other stuff. The same goes for my partners in Contingent. We call it ‘simple entrepreneurship’ – as in: entrepreneurship that practices temperance.

If we have a deadline, of course we finish our work. But our point when starting Contingent that we didn’t want to put ourselves into a position where we would be forced to work hard. We can get away with that because we live simple.

It’s the same for my partners at Contingent – they also understand the value of spending less.

We organised our company and our work this way because we think that two things kill startups: the culture of working yourself to death, and the culture of burning money fast. I don’t know if it’s Danish culture or just startup culture, but I see a lot of startups that just pop open bottles of champagne whenever they can. They buy expensive furniture, that you can often buy second hand after 6 months, when they bust.

When we started Contingent, we thought there should be a better way. We reasoned that the entrepreneurs’ greatest enemy is monthly expenses, so successful entrepreneur aims to limit all recurring fees to an absolute minimum. By limiting our expenses, we can limit the time we need to work for clients, and instead can work on our own products.

Why did I do this?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

It’s essential to for me to establish the point that there is nothing novel about my idea. In the ancient world Plato described four cardinal virtues, temperance being one of them. Years have passed since, though much has changed, temperance remains an essential trait for anyone who wants to change anything significant in this world.

I also did not make a deliberate decision from one day to another to live simply, it has been a series of small decisions, which in hind-sight have contributed greatly to my financial freedom.

Financial freedom in my opinion is not about a huge stash of cash, financial freedom is when you can manage well with a relatively small stash of cash. When you really can stop worrying about your account balance, you have come quite far. It’s difficult – very difficult! I like guitars. I like to travel. It’s not that I’m a monk, or anything. But I do think it’s worth every effort.

How does “work less live more” work exactly?

Basically you start by identifying all your recurring expenses. After that, you run through every item, and think if it is possible for you to eliminate or reduce the expense. Some expenses can be moved from your personal economy to your company, such as Internet-bills, work related transportation expenses, phone bills, etc. You need to investigate the legality of your company covering such expenses in your country of operation, but it is worth the effort.

My recurring monthly expenses are around €480 in total (half of which are directed to charities), worth noting, I live in the center of Copenhagen, one of the world’s most expensive cities.

That’s my advice to entrepreneurs: live simply, and keep away from money-drainers such as cars, houses, boats, unless you absolutely need them! None of us at Contingent are making a company to work our asses off. We all love to work, we love to build awesome solutions and products, but we understand that there is more to life than work, cash, and blind materialism, we are not making a company for work, we are making a company that works for us.

Does “work less live more” not go against the idea of a company that needs growth to survive?

Growth is still very possible, I would actually argue that securing growth in a company is much simpler if you take less out for your personal economy. We can leave a lot of money in the company that we can invest in our own products. It will take us longer to develop the products then startups with VC funding, but on the other hand, if our products fail, our company won’t fail with it. We always have our brand as an agency to fall back on. Also, because we earned every euro of that money ourselves, we know the value of it, and won’t blow it on needless things.

We just spent a significant amount of time finding an office space, we ended up with a good solution, that does not tie us to hard, and does not empty our pockets. We saw several office spaces before deciding, the lower recurring expense was the strongest sale.

Is temperance hard?

It is certainly not easy, sometimes I find myself thinking about moving to some larger accommodation. But then I convince myself that I really don’t need more space. Space begets more stuff, and more stuff costs money.

If for some reason we need more for our personal economy, we can always talk about it, but because we need to talk with each other, only the most important things are brought up for discussion. We all enjoy life, and some life activities cost money, we are not practicing asceticism, but temperance, there is a world of difference.

How does your peer group react?

At Contingent we all strive to practice the virtue of temperance, both with our personal economy, and with our companies economy. And although it is a hard practice, it is worth every effort, we find our selves worrying less about money, and more about what we love to do, which is building awesome software for our clients and our company, while still having time for friends and family.

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Photo: Dolce Far Niente, Rosergoula, Flickr

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About the author

Aron Allen

Aron Allen is a founder of Contingent, a Danish web agency where he is the creative lead. Contingent believes in a particular form of bootstrapping that they call 'simple entrepreneurship'. It involves reducing expenses and working less hours, in order to keep your mind and time free to pursue projects that you like to do. You can follow Aron on Twitter.

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