Entrepreneur Time – like working in The Matrix without the cool coats

Taking time off from working in a startup

What? You're saying it couldn't happen?

Lately I’ve been taking a bit of a breather from consulting for entrepreneurs. It’s been nice. Very little stress. Dreams filled with rainbows and puppy dogs. Each morning birds chirped as they helped me dress.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that Disney. But it was nice.

Until last week.

Last week I helped an entrepreneur launching a new product. His product is already in the market, but not much of the foundational, strategic marketing work has been done. They didn’t yet have a clear understanding of the product category or consumer.

This is not the surprising part. Right or wrong, startups frequently launch the product first, then back their way into the product strategy.

(That thud you just heard was every corporate marketing person reading this falling off their chair.)

What was surprising was how quickly I’d forgotten about the entrepreneur time vortex.

It’s a real thing, I swear. Entrepreneurs all know it. Anyone who’s worked in a startup understands it. And if you’re thinking about working for an entrepreneur you’re going to have to learn about it.

Startups run on Standard Entrepreneur Time

Let's meet when the third big hand reaches twenty-two.

Don’t confuse Standard Entrepreneur Time (SET) with a conventional time zone. You can’t set your watch by Standard Entrepreneur Time. If you work for an entrepreneur, you set your life by Standard Entrepreneur Time.

Think of it kinda like The Matrix. Once you enter, you’re in a whole new dimension where the concept of time is relative.

Relative to whatever project you’re working on.

Want an example?

One morning you’ll be kicking yourself because you’re starving and forgot to stop for an egg mc-whatever on the way to work, then miraculously you don’t even think about food again until you’re walking back out the door. At which time you realize that the sun set hours ago, and the Mc-Drive thrus are all locked up for the night.

That’s Standard Entrepreneur Time. It can make you hungry.

Pull that Rabbit From Here

Uh, you want me to do what with this rabbit?

Standard Entrepreneur Time also warps the perception of things. As in, how much time it takes to get things done.

That’s the SET warp I entered last week with my entrepreneur client.

After finishing our project, my entrepreneur asked if I would consider consulting one day a week. With pen in hand I asked him to describe the types of projects he needed help with during these eight hours.

I would like you to develop the brand strategy and positioning. Figure out what product line extensions we need and develop those. We need our label redesigned, which will require a consumer communication strategy. Oh, and we need a website and…

I had stopped writing. We were in Standard Entrepreneur Time.

His list would take one day a week from now until next Easter. And I can assure you, that was not his deadline.

That’s Standard Entrepreneur Time. It can make you crazy.

Get N’Sync

Yes, I cudda used a pic of Sean Parker. But wouldn't you rather see JT?

There are even variations of Standard Entrepreneur Time that differ by entrepreneur, much like Eastern Standard Time and whatever they call that time they use in Colorado.

Entrepreneur-a-go-go Sean Parker (you know, JT in Social Network) has claimed one of those time zones. Silicon Valley insiders use S.ean P.arker T.ime when setting meetings with the busy entrepreneur.

But the chronically time-challenged Parker is not being disrespectful when he show up three hours late for meetings. And he’s not being obtuse when he says things like “I actually couldn’t honestly tell you whether we’ve been here for two hours or 20 minutes.” As he did in a recent Forbes interview.

Parker’s internal clock is simply a little off because he is a busy entrepreneur living in Standard Entrepreneur Time. In that Forbes interview we learn that it is not uncommon for Parker to go to bed at 7 a.m. and start his day again at 11. That’s 11 a.m. Four hours later.

That’s Standard Entrepreneur Time. It can make you tired.

Let’s Get it Started

So how do you deal with Standard Entrepreneur Time if you work for a startup? The best answer to any question is always the most obvious one. And this is no different.

The most obvious answer to how to deal with SET was obviously given to us in the 80’s, by rapper MC Hammer.

Hammer, who famously created his own time, wisely told us to “either work hard or you might as well quit.”

Yup, that’s the answer. Nope, didn’t make that up; them’s the lyrics to Hammer Time. This semi-successful rapper knows what he’s talking about. Hammer Time is right in the middle of Sean Parker Time and Standard Entrepreneur Time.

Check it out for yourself above. Then, “break it down.”

Then, get back to work. If you’re living in Standare Entrepreneur Time,  I can guarantee that you don’t have time to just sit there.

Do you have any examples of the time suck vortex that is Standard Entrepreneur Time?


  • Corinne Edwards

    Reply Reply September 27, 2011

    Dear Kathy –

    Are you really willing to admist you cannot do six months work in eight hours?

    I don’t believe it.

    (Yes, sometimes you can do more by supporting a friend’s excellent post by spreading it around. 229 hits on SU. I am delighted)

    Keep it going.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply September 28, 2011

      Funny you say that because each time I read it, I question it myself. Of course, yes, I can have it done by Tuesday!

      Thanks so much for the Stumble! It was on quite a roll yesterday!!!


  • Kamil Ali

    Reply Reply September 28, 2011

    “They didn’t yet have a clear understanding of the product category or consumer.”

    This thing is the most irritating yet we have to deal with. He’s your client.
    Most of the time client, yet entrepreneurs, can’t get what it takes to do their stuff. They just spit it out!

    Sometimes, they have no idea what their product could do to the competitor. (I doubt that kind of entrepreneurs)

    Sometimes,they are waiting for the day to make things perfect. Alas, that day never comes.

    And sometime entrepreneurs have so much time that some one else can run away with their products.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply September 28, 2011

      Oh, I wouldn’t go that far Kamil. I tell ya, most of the entrepreneur’s I’ve worked for have an amazing gut instinct for what is right for the market. They typically just don’t have the resources to figure out the why. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career figuring out the why, and only a few times have I come up empty.

      Things in a startup are just different than the corporate world. Period. You run faster with ideas and to do that sometimes you cut corners. But eventually you go back and rebuild that corner. It’s just all done in a different order. S’all good.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kamil. Nice to see you back.

  • Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    Reply Reply September 28, 2011


    Many customers do not understand how long things take to complete on their behalf.

    I often get several emails from the same customer spread out throughout the day…asking me to change parts of their website.

    Each time I do a change…I have to log in, make the change, test it and log out. The change might only take a few minutes but ends up taking 15. Doing 4 small changes like that can end up taking an hour rather than a few minutes.

    Other clients, of course, ask me to do all the changes in one go and that speeds things up drastically.


  • Bryce Christiansen

    Reply Reply September 30, 2011

    Loved this. I don’t work for a startup, but I do work for a small business so much what you said still sat in my mind as, “Yeah that does happen!!”

    It’s very easy for time to go by and look back and try to remember everything that was accomplished. In the moment we are so caught up in our work, yet if someone were to ask you what you got done the last two weeks, you stare blankly and recall maybe 2 or 3 things.

    Very well written, every sentence made me want to read the next one.



    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply September 30, 2011

      Wow, thanks Bryce! I appreciate the compliment.

      Yeah, when you’re in the zone, whether in a startup or anywhere else, you can really lose time. You simply don’t notice it. Can happen when you’re distracted to. Have you ever driven someplace and realized that you don’t really remember the drive? You were so caught up in thought that you’re not even sure which route you took. No? Only me? Okay, well then, I drive a white car. You might want to watch out for it. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment,

  • Dominic Tarn

    Reply Reply October 5, 2011

    Starting to realise how the more I’m working on my own startup, and that of others – the much closer I’m getting to operating in SET! And why it might be confusing for my co-founder when he gets emails from my at 2-3 A.M.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply October 10, 2011

      Classic!! For the emails to your business partner, I think you should start them with “what? You sleeping?” he should be burning the midnight oil too, don’t you think!

      Nice to see you back Dominic!

  • Guilty Guilty Guilty as charged. I’m an entrepreneur first. it’s what I do. Start up companies after companies. and I blow forth products with a huge charge.. then have to settle into the mundane.. planning. marketing, the doing of it all.
    Give me a SET with a start up anyday! LETS GO MAN!
    BTW.Kathy – come be a guest on radio?

  • Astro Gremlin

    Reply Reply July 10, 2012

    I can and do work those hours, but the problem with clients in Standard Entrepreneur Time is that that there’s nothing standard about it. They expect that when they are “on” that you should be, too. Um, how about I call you at 8:00 a.m.? Not such a whirlwind now, eh? Working at all hours isn’t healthy and it’s especially not efficient. Do you do your best work at 3:00 in the morning the night before the deadline? Let’s go all grown-up and schedule our time.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply July 11, 2012

      Astro (can I call you Astro?)
      Love the phrase “let’s go all grown-up.” I may use it in my next meeting. I have a feeling it will be about as effective as working at 3 a.m. though. 🙂

  • Ross Withers

    Reply Reply February 4, 2013

    🙂 yes SET has been the cause of a number of blank looks given by service providers when I ask them for what seems like a perfectly resonable request.

    I mean common how hard can it be to rebrand an entire companies portfolio and do all the marketing for it to, with a pretty website? Ok how about 2 weeks is that enough? 🙂

    You have to be an optimist to start a business, comes with the territory.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply February 5, 2013

      You got that right Ross. I think successful entrepreneurs have 50 shades of rose colored glasses. It’s the only way to stay sane in the midst of all the uncertainty that comes with launching a business. Now if they could just start handing those glasses out to new employees…

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