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Is ‘Lifestyle Business’ A Dirty Phrase?

Here in the technology industry, we're surrounded by entrepreneurs and employees who are chasing the dream -- launch a startup, grow it, and deliver a big ROI (return on investment) to those who have skin in the game: Investors, shareholder employees and founders. As a blogger, I love to document those entrepreneurial journeys. In stark contrast, sometimes we (as an industry) frown upon so-called "lifestyle businesses," which are set up and run by founders mainly to help sustain a particular level of income. Sometimes the line between lifestyle business and growth startup can blur. Such was the case when Amy Katz and I co-founded our previous business, Nine Lives Media Inc., in 2008. We set out to build and grow a few IT blogs. But a confluence of factors, lots of hard work and a lot of luck turned us into a growth startup that got acquired in 2011. We remained with the business under the new owners until 2014, then we both decided to take some time off. We resigned. We regrouped. And we considered our respective futures. Amy and I spoke quite a bit during our time off in mid-2014. We had a few ideas about what to launch next. But most of our weekly check-ins during that downtime were more about our respective families.

Should We Launch A 'Lifestyle' Business?

We both knew we couldn't sit on the sidelines forever. By around August 2014 we put the wheels in motion to launch After Nines Inc. -- a 'lifestyle' business that offered a range of consulting services to the IT industry. It was nice. It was profitable. But we had bigger ideas as well. By September 2015 we launched ChannelE2E -- to help guide MSPs, VARs and CSPs from Entrepreneur to Exit (E2E). The site has grown every month since launch. And frankly, it's the fastest growing destination we've ever built for the IT channel. But have we shifted from a 'lifestyle' business to a 'startup-growth' mindset? Yes an no. Yes, all of our business and website metrics are ahead of our previous businesses at this point in the journey. But no, we're not building a plan that somehow leads to an exit or a big windfall for us.

Lifestyle Business: It's Not a Dirty Phrase

Meanwhile, I still haven't answered the key question in our headline: Is 'lifestyle business' a dirty phrase? So here's the answer: I believe After Nines Inc. is a lifestyle business -- and I'll never apologize for that. At this point in our lives, Amy and I are willing to put in long hours but we also demand reasonable life balance. Especially as the college years approach for our respective families. 'Lifestyle business' isn't a dirty phrase. Instead, it can be the biggest career break you've ever experienced. Now here's the even bigger twist. I believe you can run a lifestyle business that outperforms established giants and well-funded startups. All it takes is passion and focus. And a commitment to deliver the goods every hour of every business day -- while rivals are busy retrenching, refocusing or reacting to the digital trends around us. That's how local MSPs outperform national service providers. And it's how upstart cloud solutions providers carve a niche for themselves at a time when Amazon and Microsoft Azure dominate the headlines. Perhaps Fizzle Co-founder and CEO Corbett Barr put it best:
"To me, a lifestyle business doesn’t equate to running a tiny business as an alternative to having a job. A lifestyle business doesn’t have to be small at all, either in revenue or employees. The main requirement of a lifestyle business is just that it allows the entrepreneur/owner to live how he or she wants to live now, while running the company."
Barr certainly doesn't knock the go-go startup and venture-backed crowds. Neither do I -- specially since I blog about them for a living, which is truly a privilege. But long live lifestyle businesses. And the life-work balance they can deliver...
Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.