The cold, dark, and long winters in Northern Europe are a blessing and a curse. Well, mostly a curse. But when it comes to productivity it's a great season for getting in the zone. Entrepreneurs up here have nothing better to do than hunker down and work, and the short kiss of sunlight on the horizon makes it easy to lose track of time and forget to leave the office.
Northern Europe is said to be notoriously unreligious but in the summer we become sun worshipers. The whole region takes weeks and weeks off of work and heads to their summer cabins. When I first moved to Finland it seemed like mass insanity that entire countries could just whittle down production and sales for a good month and a half. But that was before my first winter.
It's easily to understand why the region takes 3-6 weeks off in the summer, but an entrepreneur's life is not known for its weeks of relaxation on the beach. How do Northern European entrepreneurs balance building a company while still enjoying the best part of the year?
Last week we opened a questionnaire for entrepreneurs to to tell us about the impact of the summer holidays on their startups. We received 64 responses, with the responses skewing heavily from our Finnish readers. Forty-six responses came from Finland, six from Sweden, one from Norway, six from Denmark, two from Estonia, two from Lithuania, and one from Iceland. You probably shouldn't place too much weight on the statistical results, but it does at least provide some insight on the region.
How many weeks off are entrepreneurs taking off?
On average, Finnish entrepreneurs are heading out to the summer cabin for slightly more than two weeks of grilling sausages and sauna. Denmark and Sweden aren't too far behind, averaging a little more than a week and a half, while the rest of the region is locked around one week away from work.
While 26% of respondents said they would not be taking any time off this summer, the comments seemed to side in favor of the summer holidays, or with at least with some vacation time in general. A Finnish entrepreneur sums up this mindset by telling us, "It is just a fact; in order to survive the long a dark winter you have to charge your batteries during summer. I have worked in the Silicon Valley and I actually believe that productivity would rise there if people could relax their brain sometimes."
That being said, we also received a few hedged responses that were in favor of vacation time, but within a limit:
I don't believe in the mantra of not taking any time off. I've seen people walking 24/7 and becoming so exhausted and defocused that productivity gets seriously reduced. Taking a week or two off as a startup in the summer to build up that energy is not going to be a make or break thing for most (the winter is great for coding, after all).
Having said that, it always throws me completely when non-entrepreneurs are posting messages rejoicing at 4-6 weeks of holiday. I've never had that privilege and, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what I'd do with the time... Maybe code something for a startup? :-)
Danish entrepreneur Richard Blackham of Klusterr puts it this way, "If you're a startup, holidays don't matter. The life of an entrepreneur is a constantly evolving path of commitment and focus. No-one takes time off. They take it with them. Who on earth has time to be away from opportunity? Only public sector workers so far as I can see!"
Relaxing summer, or kick it into the high gear?
Next, we asked entrepreneurs how hard they will be working this summer. The whole region averaged out almost a notch higher than the halfway point, which we suspect is only a little bit lower than the winter months.
Again, these results should be taken with a grain of salt, but we're happy to make generalizations. Estonia wins the James Brown award for being the hardest working country in showbiz (or at least the Nordics and Baltics). But it appears that when the entrepreneurs aren't on vacation they're still going normal or full speed.
Just looking over the numbers we saw a much wider variance in Finland's responses, which is to be expected in larger sample sizes. Still, it suggests that entrepreneurs have very different mindsets with what they hope to accomplish over the summer holidays. Or perhaps some startups are at the point where they really need to pick up speed, while a few feel that they can take off work early for some terrace beers.
What happens to your startup when rest of the country is on holiday?
Of the 64 companies that responded, disruption in sales was the biggest impact of the summer holidays. Twelve companies also see development suffer during the summer months, likely as their employees take some time off.
Five companies found fundraising to be the most difficult. Finnish entrepreneur Kai Lemmetty gives this advice, "It is harder to raise (angel) funding during summer holidays. From Juhannus (midsummer) to early August. If you are getting started first half of the year make sure you are far enough by April/May to have enough time to raise funding before Juhannus."
Time to focus
With sales being impacted the most, most startups seem to take the summer months to focus on development (if your team is still around). An Estonian entrepreneur tells us:
Take a look at some numbers and you will see that Spring is best time to launch new versions, products etc. Thus Summer is THE time to focus on development.
The summer holidays seem to provide some unique opportunities for hiring. Antti Eronen of LiveMusicStage.com points out:
Hiring summer interns can be a great possibility for doing product development that has otherwise been postponed. But I must say that it's pretty much impossible to do sales (in Finland) for 1-1.5 months during the summer, so we focus on other countries then.
Across the region, 20% of respondents said that they will be hiring interns this summer.
On the same topic, an anonymous Danish entrepreneur also makes an interesting point that the summer holidays can also be seen as a positive way to recruit foreign talent:
"When discussing with potential hires (especially programing-talent) from around the world, two things are always given as the reason they choose to stay in Scandinavia: Security & 6 week vacation norm... very few seem to take that vacation in the summer, but that the leave can be expected is seen as bonus beyond pay and other benefits."
So, are the long summer holidays a good thing?
We found a 60/40 split that said yes, these long holidays are overall a good thing for startups.
I'll be the first to tell anyone that the arctic winter's darkness is soul crushing, but from a startup standpoint we probably get a lot more work done compared to if we all lived in a tropical paradise, for better or worse.
No one becomes an entrepreneur because they want to take it easy, but I think the region's entrepreneurs understand the work/vacation balance better than most other places. We only get two or three good months out of the year where you really want to be out of the office, and that scarcity is a good driving force for a healthy work and life balance.
Have any more thoughts about the summer holidays? Let us know in the comments.
Top image CC licensed by beavela on Flickr