leadership

How much time do Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs spend on their business? Short answer: a lot

Myriam Robin /

Every year, SmartCompany invites applications to the Smart50, our list of the 50 fastest-growing small businesses in Australia.

Through this, we meet some very impressive entrepreneurs. Some of them end up on the Rich List within a few years.

But to get there, they work. Long, long hours.

More than half (52%) of our Smart50 for 2013 worked more than 56 hours a week. A full 10% worked more than 70. Three founders said they put more than 75 hours a week into their business.

Entrepreneurs answer to nobody. Unlike investment bankers and management consultants, who also have a reputation for working non-stop, there’s no senior partner cracking the whip.

The choice, instead, is made by the entrepreneurs themselves. The attitudes that cause this are well known. They come up again and again when our reporters speak to successful entrepreneurs.

iiNet chief Michael Malone, who founded and still leads one of Australia’s most successful telecommunications companies, recently spoke to us about the “fine line between focus and obsession”.

“In my case, I was fortunate that the focus of my obsession meant I didn’t have to draw that line,” he said.

“For many business leaders, it is very easy to just throw yourself into the business and for it to become all obsessive, and it was for me.

“But I’m doing something I love anyway, so it’s not a problem.”

It’s an attitude also shared by the next generation of entrepreneurs. Ruslan Kogan, founder and CEO of Kogan, told LeadingCompany last year that he hadn’t had a holiday in seven years.

He’s tried. He once secluded himself in a health spa in Queensland in a bid to get away from his work, but after a few hours found an out-of-sight nook to check his email and phone. “I can’t help myself,” he said, somewhat sheepishly.

In July, AngelCube founder and start-up mentor Andrew Birt tweeted about how he interpreted it when he sent an email and received an auto-responder saying someone was away.

“Hi, I’m not particularly good at my job, or engaged in it whatsoever but in a week I’ll be back pretending to be,” he wrote.

When someone told him this was a fairly harsh interpretation, he responded that while he’s “all about work-life balance”, replying to email while on holiday shouldn’t be a chore if you love what you do.

This attitude is shared by Kogan, who said he’s never worked a day in his life.

Even though most entrepreneurs work 10-hour days, they don’t all do this.

Five of the founders on this year’s Smart50 worked less than 40 hours a week. They’ve managed to run successful businesses despite setting limits on their work time.

The founders of Plan B, who won the Smart50 with a staggering 746% growth over three years, said they work less than 40 hours a week on the business.

When SmartCompany quizzed them onstage about the secret, it was ousourcing. An ability to delegate was mentioned by many other Smart50 entrants as a way to keep their workloads down.

For Aged Foot Care’s Damien James, for example, delegation was part of the strategy.

“Right now, we’re focused on building a great mangement team to delegate more control so I can free up my time to focus on our next big move,” he wrote.

It’s an interesting point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with working long hours, provided it’s what you want to do and you’re lucky enough to have few other requirements on your time. But if you’re not doing it strategically, you’ll be so run-down with the day-to-day you can never think about the big picture.

Read next: Five ways to work on, not in, your business

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Myriam Robin

Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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