When Martin Renkis founded Cary, North Carolina-based learning software company Trainersoft.com Corp. eight years ago, he was the company. He did all the work alone, putting in 17-hour days amid the rented confines of his 6-foot-by-8-foot office space in a Nashville, Tennessee, office building. For Renkis, a typical day meant working from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., then trekking to a nearby pub for dinner before heading back to the office and working until 1 or 2 in the morning. He was in survival mode. "I was doing everything myself and kept thinking, 'What do I need to do to get some business today?' There were times that my phone and electricity were cut off because I couldn't pay the bills," he says.
Most entrepreneurs can relate to Renkis' story. After all, starting a company can easily consume every waking moment, especially in the early years when an entrepreneur is single-handedly keeping the company afloat. Eventually, every successful company reaches a point where it's time to hire some employees. Renkis hired his first employee, a sales assistant who "did a bit of everything," a year and a half after he started Trainersoft. But while Renkis continued on his typical schedule, he noticed that his employee was heading out the door by 6 p.m. to spend time with his kids. It didn't sit well with Renkis. "I'd still be working, and this guy would leave for the day," says Renkis, 38. "I'd be seething inside, thinking, 'Where is his commitment to my company?' It took me years to change my way of thinking."
It's easy for new entrepreneurs to expect the same level of dedication from employees that they expect from themselves. In fact, most entrepreneurs have a blind spot when it comes to setting reasonable expectations for workers, according to Andrew DuBrin, an industrial psychologist and professor of management at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. "Entrepreneurs are so wrapped up in building the company that they automatically assume employees have the same level of commitment," he says. "But you have to be realistic because the employee is not the owner. This forces you to set reasonable expectations." But in this "new economy," where people eat, sleep and breathe work, what is reasonable?
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.