Are Silicon Valley techies lazy? Prominent Bay Area VC goes to China, suggests answer is yes

While Silicon Valley techies have become “unhinged” over issues such as work/life balance, paternity leave and the politics of speakers invited to companies, their Chinese counterparts are working 14-hour days and making firms in their country easier to do business with than companies in California.

That’s the conclusion of Michael Moritz, a managing partner at prominent Menlo Park venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.

In an op-ed apparently written from China and published in the Financial Times on Jan. 17 — and illustrated with a photo showing tech workers in Beijing slamming down noodles during a “midnight work break” — Moritz opened fire on the Valley’s tech culture.

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The industry is rife with “soul-sapping discussions” that seem like “unwarranted distractions,” the Wales-born, Oxford-educated, knighted-by-the-Queen billionaire wrote.

“In recent months, there have been complaints about the political sensibilities of speakers invited to address a corporate audience; debates over the appropriate length of paternity leave or work-life balances; and grumbling about the need for a space for musical jam sessions,” according to Sir Mike.

“These seem like the concerns of a society that is becoming unhinged. These topics are absent in China’s technology companies, where the pace of work is furious.”

At Chinese tech firms, managers arrive at 8 a.m. and often don’t depart till 10 p.m., Moritz wrote (paywall).

“Most of them will do this six days a week — and there are plenty of examples of people who do this for seven,” he wrote.

Engineers, well, they come in later, around 10 a.m. — but they stay till midnight, according to Moritz.

“If a Chinese company schedules tasks for the weekend, nobody complains about missing a Little League game or skipping a basketball outing with friends.”

It’s not just the work ethic in China that makes the tech business different there than here, Moritz suggested. Chinese tech workers have more time, because they’re not so concerned about exercise, he wrote.

“Some of it is also due to the disregard paid to physical fitness — a pursuit that can chew up eight to 10 hours a week in Silicon Valley,” he wrote.

Moritz was willing to admit that some companies in the Golden State start off with Chinese-style toil: “In California, this sort of pace might be common for the first couple of years of a company, but then it will slow.”

To be sure, some of the “chatter” in California’s tech industry concerning “the inequity of life” has validity — “especially for women,” Moritz acknowledged.

Moritz also took aim at purported over-spending and a lack of thrift at California tech companies. In China, he wrote, a “deep-rooted sense of frugality” prevails.

“You don’t see $700 office chairs or large flat panel computer screens at most of the leading technology companies. Instead, the furniture tends to be spartan and everyone works on laptops,” he wrote.

“It is also striking to the western eye how frequently a tea bag is reused or how, in winter, employees dress in coats and scarves at their desks to ward off the bone-chilling temperature.”

All in all, Moritz concluded, “in many respects, doing business in China is easier than doing business in California.”


Photo: Men walk past the corporate logo at the headquarters compound of Alibaba Group in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province in 2012. (AP)


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  • Ali Shirazi

    I’m not impressed by Mr. Mortiz’s assessment here, at all! Chinese society is way behind the curve still! There new found riches is only a few decades old! Check with them in 50 to 80 years from now and they will be where Western societies are today, because we have already gone through our industrial revolution!

  • Ryan Clarke

    I’m guessing the venture capitalists in China work a lot harder than the ones we have here on Sand HIll Road. Actually I don’t have to guess, I’m sure of it; because these guys really don’t work hard. I’ve raised several rounds with different companies and would know.

    Reality is that Moritz is actually making a reasonable point even though he’s inarticulate and not using the best examples. I worked for a company where hundreds of man hours were spent debating whether the company should stock Hint water; yes, a particular brand of bottled water that tastes the exact same as the rest. There is a frivolousness that’s seeped into Silicon Valley and yes there’s so much money that we’re not always using it wisely. But the examples he uses of people not being able to see their children on the weekend and “complaining” about work-life balance just makes him look selfish and uncaring. Sequoia is far from its peak; maybe if they just worked a little harder like their Chinese counterparts ….. 🙂

  • Channagiri Jagadish

    I sincerely hope the Venture Capitalist work the same hours as expected of engineers. I do not see many VCs qualified enough to make investment decisions. I sincerely hope many of these guys have atleast coded, product managed, and released a product at least once in their life time. It is easy to talk about technology trends, marketing, etc without ever having ever implemented worthwhile in their entire life. Talk is cheap!

  • Thelip95032

    If Moritz thinks things are so much better in China he should move there and experience trying to be a VC. He can shoot his mouth off again when I start seeing “designed in China” and manufactured in the USA. Wonder how many successful startups ( on the level of Google, Apple,Microsoft,etc) he has funded in China.

    “….where the pace of work is furious.” Yes in the US engineers value family over work.
    The only unhinged behavior I see in Silicon Valley these days is not coming from engineers and he just confirms that.