Beware of Lifestyle Immigrants

One of the unique perils of being involved with early-stage companies in San Diego and Vancouver, BC, is that we have to beware of lifestyle immigrants. While it’s nice to see that people want to move to either place for lifestyle reasons, it’s a shitty reason to take a job.

Why? Look at it this way. No sane adult moves to the Bay Area for lifestyle; they move there because they think they can make money. So, while I think it’s nice people like to ski, hike, bike, climb, surf, and golf, I don’t care. I want people who are greedy , competive bastards who would move to Fargo in January to make money, and who don’t know any other way to work than hard. The rest of it is a distraction.

So, ask when interviewing. You’d be amazed at how many people will tell you — upfront — that they’re moving for lifestyle reasons. While they may be the ones wanting to run, you should run away.


  1. “I want people who are greedy, competive bastards who would move to Fargo in January to make money”
    i used to admire this line of reasoning but now i just pity you.

  2. Why? Venture funds aren’t in business to fund people’s recreational pursuits; they’re in business to take their investors’ money and return larger amounts of money.
    For what it’s worth, I have no problem with people having lots of recreational interests. Matter of fact, most of the CEOs/founders/entrepreneurs I like best are hypercompetive participants in everything from mountain biking to endurance racing.
    But that’s not the same thing as saying that a job candidate should answer the question “Why do you want to work here?” with, “Because I really want to come to Vancouver/San Diego/etc.” As an investor who wants to grow his investors’ money, it’s the wrong answer and the wrong priority.

  3. Paul
    You are wrong and hopefully will come to realize how wrong you are. As a CEO/founder/entrepreuner I would be truly dumb to ask a dumb question like “Why do you want to work here?”. Please go study Microsoft’s (and other top companies who were once startups) how they recruit/interview to get the candidates that they want.

  4. You’re missing the point that these people might mean that they are looking at this job COMPARED TO one in, say, Indianapolis (sorry Indianapolis) because of what they like about the area. Second, there’s nothing about liking the area where you work that means that someone isn’t going to be superproductive. You’re assuming that just because they have a life they inherently can’t be good for your company. One of the hard working people I work with just got back from B.C. where he did a triathlon. I hope you work at MS because you deserve them and they deserve you.

  5. Paul has a point here. Face it, the pace in a place like Vancouver is just different from the pace in the Bay Area (incidentally, I have worked in both). It is not a huge leap to assume that people who want to move to Vancouver from (say) the Bay Area for lifestyle are looking to get away from a hyper competitive pace to a slower one. Is that wrong? Nope. Are they lazy? Nope. Should you avoid hiring them? Not necessarily. Is it worth thinking about during the recruiting process? Absolutely, if you are trying to build a world class company that can compete on a global scale.

  6. Divesh — your last comments contradict each other. “Are they lazy?” — “Nope”. “Should you avoid hiring them?” — “Not necessarily” — but then, “Is it worth thinking about” — “absolutely…”. Bottom line is if this were an issue, you’d see a correlation between places that are no fun to live and successful companies. That’s not the case, and in fact the opposite is found.
    BTW, I would argue the differences between B.C. and Bay Area have much more to do with overall national work & life culture, B.C. being slightly closer culturally to Europe, and also due to the generally less competitive/hostile labor/management environment.

  7. Someone with sense – jj that is.
    I know engineers working for very successful companies who are hundreds of miles from HQ working from the middle of nowhere. I know a VP of Sales working for a very successful startup in the Bay Area who is located on the East Coast and many other examples.
    It is a seriously dumb question to ask.
    When VC-Blogging-Heads make these inane statements is when I want to see on their Home page their success rates – dynamically month by month. That would soon stop most of their babbling about stuff they don’t know.

  8. Not to pile on, but I have to agree that this was a thoughtless post. All that stuff about red meat-eating entrepreneurs sounds really impressive, but doesn’t add up to much. Fact is, there are plenty of places with good jobs. Why you’d knock a potential employee because they happen to like the place where your company is located is beyond me.
    Paul, you seem to be attacking the strawman interviewee who responds to the question “Why do you want this job?” with the answer “Because I want to be able to golf year-round.” I agree such a person would make a poor hire. I just doubt that many of these people are applying to early-stage start-ups.

  9. Paul does have a point. I was recently talking to a recruiter in the Bay Area and he said the reason they don’t like relocating people is that what they expect and what they find are usually so different that they end up leaving.
    I’ve lived in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles and know exactly what he’s talking about, especially if you have kids.

  10. paul, i will tell you why i made my initial comment, which was not so much directed at your critique of these ‘lifestyle immigrants’, but the gordon gecko-like diatribe that followed.
    yes VCs are trying to turn little piles of cash into big piles of cash. so is every private sector employee in the world. this doesn’t mean we stop being people. quality employees want to live in quality locations so we can live quality lives, because oddly enough, we don’t maniacally obsess over money alone.
    i think you know this. you know if marketed an abandoned trailer in death valley as the disturbance-free location for 20-hour-a-day workathons, you’d attract losers who would not produce anything compelling.

  11. HAHA…. ROFL. “An abandoned trailer in Death Valley as a disturbance-free location for 20-hour-a-day workathons.” Yeah, that’s what I’ve been missing in my startups. Best laugh I had all day. Thanks whoopee :)

  12. Wow, this post really caused some heated responses!
    Maybe I’m just a “meat eater”, but I don’t understand the concept of hiring someone who would move primarily to play golf or surf all year(unless it’s a surf shop). Would I write them off because of it? No, but I’d dive deeper in the
    In my experience what entrepreneurial people enjoy , and why they would take a job, is to build exciting things and play with exciting technology.
    Some people love good weather and playing golf. Great startup people love building things and probably dream of the same things in their spare time. (Companies, products, code, whatever)
    If your team is big on golf and surfing, you picked grade B startup people. Sorry.

  13. I thought that the original post was a VC’s perspective on which entrepreneurs to fund. I didn’t think that it was intended as general advice on hiring.

  14. Paul, Todd etc – not true. There are plenty of great companies that promote both hard work and play, including outdoor activities. And plenty of companies that are starting to see the benefit of work-life balance. I manage a start-up, and I try to get everyone home at a decent time, not to make them work on week-ends, and to support them in having a good life out of the office. And, yes, we are successfull. And you know the turnover rate in the last year? 0

  15. the trick is that there are two categories of people: the ones that will manage the business and the ones that will get hired to work for the business. Paul, I believe, referred to the first ones: you need a hungry owner, ready to put in the sweat. This way he’ll be able to motivate the rest of the company. How you attract talent for staffing purposes makes for a different category.

  16. Does anyone know what “working hard” means anyway? When I was in my twenties and thirties I used to think it meant a lot of dedicated hours. As I have gained experience at startups and large corporations I no longer see any correlation at all between the performance of individuals and the time spent dedicated to the companies pursuits. At best you can expect to get maybe 6 productive hours out of someone whether CEO or lne manager; the rest is all inefficient filler.

  17. I think that Paul’s point is an excellent and important one, if you are hiring for a start-up.
    Working for a start-up is not a 40 hour/week, weekends off job. It’s often double that amount of time, seven days per week, working exhaustively to build the company into a white-hot IPO or M&A property.
    If I were hiring for a start-up, and the applicant told me that they were applying because they want to live in and enjoy the lifestyle of wherever they would be located, I ask a followup question: Do you understand what working for a startup entails?
    Unless you’re answering phones at the front desk, working at a start-up often means little life and no lifestyle enjoyment. I would not hire the most qualified applicant on the planet if I were concerned that he would quit after not having seen daylight in his blessed new location for six months.

  18. my guess is that pat dunn would never move anywhere for lifestyle.
    so watch your back

  19. Well… I´m seeing more and more start-ups that actually reject those “red meat” greedy types, in favour of people they would actually like to spend a lot of time with in the office. And more absolutely talented employees choosing a company not only for paycheck and IPO prospect, but also for the willingness to accomodate their lifestyle. Several of my friends are now looking at career moves based on this, and they are between the industry stars.

  20. As someone who has quite happily and successfully made the transition from a start-up environment to a “life-style” job I’d have to say that, in most cases, Paul’s comments are quite valid … but only for some start-ups.
    In my current role salaries and benefits are substantially (50-75%) below market. We are, however, able to attract and retain an deep pool of experienced and high-quality talent by appealing to people looking to maintain a sane lifestyle in a cut-throat business. Talent that, demonstrably, allows us to perform at a level exceeding that of our competitors.
    Sometimes working stupid hours is as important as working smart; Sometimes it’s all about working smart. As with so many things, it’s a matter of finding the right fit for a given situation.

  21. Constance – i think you are perpetuating a myth that the public has of startups that does not exist in reality, having done many myself including one that is, lets just say, a very busy website. while there were fits and bursts of intense activity, i do not recall being asked to relocate to the office. i do not recall gordon gecko types breathing venom down my neck. i do recall being asked to be flexible and work hard.
    no one can work 14 hour days very long. if they do, you need to start making the distinction between “working” and “being at the office”. and to be perfectly honest, if your idea is truly game-changing, the death-march phase will likely be short. if you are in death march phase for two or more years, hint hint.

  22. Actually, I’m repeating the sentiments of friends in high tech who have done the start-up thing before and so eliminated start-ups from consideration during recent career moves.

  23. Isn’t all this Web 2.0 stuff supposed to make location irrelevant anyway? It’s all about anytime/anyone/anywhere communication, right?!

  24. I don’t get it. As a lifelong Californian, I didn’t think there was anyplace else. I’ve heard and seen pictures, but I’m not convinced they exist.
    The other interesting take is that all these so called pseudo alpha types are applying for jobs in areas with great lifestyles. The classic chicken or egg.

  25. Yes! “Greedy, competitive bastards” is exactly what this world is lacking!
    I’m not a venture capitalist. I just happen to like eating babies.

  26. Isn’t it clear why Silicon Valley isn’t in Fargo? Lifestyle…

  27. Paul you nailed it again, that is right on. I agree.

  28. his floyditude says:

    i avoid people with this kind of neanderthal mentality at all costs
    in my private life
    in my work
    life is too short for this kind of bs

  29. i think that immigrant should get treated the same way that Americans are treated just because we dont have any papers and we arent legal dosent mean we can get taking advantage of we come here to work not to have war with people we need help of but hey!!!!!!!!!!! we mexicans can do better and we cant let Americans let us down we can doit LETS GO MEXICO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  30. i think that immigrants should be treated the same as all the people because we are the same just because we are not the same color come on