A headshot of Rand Fishkin standing in a darkened room.
Rand Fishkin. Image: SparkToro

SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin: Why all work, no chill makes for a dull life

15 Jun 2022

Entrepreneur Rand Fishkin discusses stepping away from ‘hustle culture’ and embracing his self-created philosophy of ‘chill work’.

Rand Fishkin is not your typical CEO. As chief exec and co-founder of US-based audience research software start-up SparkToro, he enjoys a healthy work-life balance some founders can only dream of.

He plays video games, spends time with his family and takes pizza-making classes in Napoli with his wife. But it wasn’t always this way.

During his time at software company Moz, he was in charge of a team of 200 people and putting in 50-hour weeks. His title at the company, which he founded and ran, was ‘Wizard of Moz’. While it might have sounded fun, Fishkin was burning himself out.

These days, Fishkin has become a self-described ‘chill work’ convert. Chill work is a philosophy he came up with himself after too many years working in “traditional corporate culture”.

At Future Human 2022, he told the audience all about the concept and how it works for him and his colleagues at SparkToro.

The start-up has three staff members: Fishkin, his co-founder Casey Henry and VP of marketing Amanda Natividad.

All team members work independently, only meeting if they need to. Fishkin is a hands-off CEO and anything the small team can’t do in-house gets outsourced to other small and medium enterprises.

“I think that our most important job is to make great decisions, not anything else,” Fishkin said. “To make great decisions, you need a few things right. You need to feel psychologically safe and well-rested and happy; you need to feel that your work matters.

“Life is about more than just work and if you have the luxury to trade stress and unhappiness for more time and more satisfaction, you should do that – even if the pay is less.”

With just a small team working with very minimal management overhead, Fishkin explained that SparkToro’s structure means all three employees have similar working conditions and pay rates. Everyone is an independent worker and everyone strives to do what’s best for the company.

He said that the way of working works well for the company’s bottom line as well as its staff. SparkToro is growing rapidly, but its success has nothing to do with the “hustle culture” that has become prominent in business and tech.

“I think in hustle culture, the idea is you hire people who you believe will go above and beyond, right. They’ll go all out in hours, all out in time, all out in effort, and that’s not what we care about at SparkToro,” he said.

“Mostly, we care about hey, are you doing a good job and getting results. When you do it, how you do it, what projects you choose to do, that’s up to you. If goals are not met in our environment, we consider changing.

“I think in hustle culture the response usually to unmet goals is we need to work harder. Harder and more.”

SparkToro is keeping its team small and manageable for now, but Fishkin hopes to spread the word about chill work. The way he sees it, if the workers are happy, everyone else will be happy too.

For more information about chill work, see Fishkin’s blog.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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