Matt Haughey on Running a 'Lifestyle Business'

There's a great interview in Willamette Week about my friend Matt Haughey, who has turned MetaFilter into a successful small business that employs around 3-5 people and gets 25 million hits a month.

Haughey, who was one of the founders of Blogger, left Silicon Valley for McMinnville, Ore., several years ago. The interviewer does a nice job of picking up on the phrase "lifestyle business," which is used in the dot-com world to insult startups that make a sustainable amount of money for their staff but don't get deeply into debt trying to become the next Facebook. To those who believe he should've made MetaFilter into something huge, he says:

I'm OK with this lifestyle business. It's a put-down for a lot of people, especially in Silicon Valley. I think it's the best thing in the world. You don't have to kill yourself. I've been at startups where we worked 16 hours a day and didn't get anything out of it. It's stupid. Geeks who know how to program and make things should be able to make a small thing that runs forever and make $100,000 a year and live off that. I mean, what is wrong with that? It's an awesome goal.

I never got that message anywhere in the tech community. Like, what is wrong with making a decent living in doing something you love forever? And then people put that down as a "lifestyle business." Or ask, "How are you going to change the world or make the next Facebook?"

It's like nobody sings unless they want to be Britney Spears. That's stupid -- we should all sing in bars three nights a week if we like it and get paid as professional musicians.

I gravitate towards lifestyle businesses as well, despite well-intentioned friends and relatives who believe I really should be a dot-com billionaire by now. I recently spoke by phone to someone who was meeting prospective investors for a "$20 million idea" instead of continuing a dot-com business that made yearly profits in the mid six figures.

All I could think about during the call was how sweet it would be to run that existing business.


I'm with you there, brother.

Thanks for picking up on it. I hadn't heard the term until some Sand Hill Road VC guy called me several years ago and wanted to invest 5mil into MetaFilter, grow it by several orders of magnatude, then try to sell it for 30+ million.

I laughed, told him money doesn't make communities better but usually worse and that I was happy with the site as-is. That's when I heard him call MeFi "just a lifestyle business" and it pissed me off.

Later that year I was at a web conference where Paul Graham gave a keynote about how everyone should drop everything and move to the silicon valley because that's the only place that will give you VC and you need to go big or go home. An audience member asked in the Q&A what was wrong with having an app or site that made a few bucks and grew slowly and he said "if you only want to make a little money, stop programming and go run a shoe store" which totally pissed me off.

The VC guy must have calendar reminders because every summer I get an email asking if we can talk and I've ignored it every year since.

Yea, why aren't you a dot com millonaire by now?

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