The software and Internet startup companies I've worked for required 60, 80, or more hours a week of their employees (not just founders), for extended periods of time, up to a year. Are there examples of companies out there that made it through the first year or two without such hefty time demands? If so, why? If not, why not?
Rather than "it depends", I'd like specific examples of successful startups and typical first-year developer work schedules for various types of employees (developers, designers, marketing etc).
I believe the 'official' 37signals story is that when they were just a web design company they started building basecamp in their spare time, which wasn't very much and forced an efficient development process. However I believe they already had a popular blog which wouldn't hurt the process.
As a quick guess they may have done it with 20-40h of total development and design every week, and the marketing was likely done on less than that at first. Support would grow with the customer base.
This would of course work best if it's a second business line. If you have people who are dedicated to the startup full-time then you could work efficiently, but not if it's a challenging technical product (such as Facebook in recent years or MongoDB) or something very time-sensitive (the larger the perceived profit, the more competition you have).
The key is to leverage strengths - 37signals appears to have had good design and technical talent so they could pretty easily implement a simple product without struggling a lot, and they had a marketing channel ready to use. If you have a team with a similar ability to build and sell something that has value without putting in a lot of effort then you may be able to do the same.
the main reason why startups are stressed for time is investors. usually they want to either be profitable or sell their share and to do that slowly just doesn't cut it for them. another reason is that the competitors abound and first mover advantage is precious.
however, there is no reason not to build the company with normal workweek, especially if competitors are not fierce or the customer pool is large and/or steady for you AND the investors are willing to support the long term strategy.
Are there examples of companies out there that made it through theTypical is working crazy, long hours and ending up with nothing.
first year or two without such hefty time demands?
If you are dreaming though, dream of Plenty of Fish. The founder created a dating website and puts in, according to him, an hour a week and makes a million a year.
http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090101/and-the-money-comes-rolling-in.html I'm a dreamer myself.