Some AI Startups Are Bringing Hustle Culture Back to Silicon Valley


The hustle culture that was prominent among early Silicon Valley Startups has dwindled in recent years, giving way to more work-life balance and trends like soft entrepreneurship and quiet quitting. However, the quick advancements of AI has created an ultra-competitive field that has some startups veering back into the hustle-harder mentality.

One example of this re-emerging trend is a recent X post from Jeffrey Wang, co-founder of AI startup Exa Labs. The post, which inquired about purchasing nap pods for his company’s San Francisco office, went viral, with many founders and professionals expressing interest in napping at work. Others joined the conversation to discuss the issues with employers expecting their teams to work such long shifts that may necessitate sleeping at work.

Wang pushed back on that idea in a recent conversation with TechCrunch. In his view, the nap pods would simply be made available to employees who want to optimize sleep since it’s not always possible to do so at home. In addition, he stated that employees are “well paid” and have equity in the company. So, the idea of hustling harder for the business can lead directly to more personal earnings.

He told TechCrunch, “Maybe at some startups, it’s okay for the company to not be your main priority in life, but like, definitely not at a high-growth one.”

This mentality isn’t for everyone and certainly won’t work for every business. Especially in today’s work environment, where employees value flexibility and work-life balance, expectations of hustling all day and potentially even sleeping at work won’t appeal to many new hires.

But there are certain competitive fields where team members may be willing to put in longer hours and make more sacrifices to help their businesses grow. AI is an emerging field with tons of potential. So startups that can innovate quickly are more likely to edge out their competition and eventually create successful offerings, at which point their teams may be able to slow down or spread out the workload a bit. Employers who are upfront about expectations and provide fair compensation may benefit from this mentality, though history shows that this trend may be short-lived.

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.