Why is “Lifestyle Business” a Dirty Word?


Recently, more than one person has referred to our agency as a “lifestyle business.” For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it’s a veiled dig.

Ask.com defines a “lifestyle business” as one that is set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income, and no more. Referring to a business by this name is a roundabout way of saying, “Your cutesy little business will never be big and you don’t take it seriously.” It’s a sly way to ding a business with priorities above growth and expansion.

Because of the condescending implications, my first instinct was to defend my business against the reference. After I did some research and looked at the descriptions objectively, I actually had to agree. Offleash fits the definition of a lifestyle business. So what?

I originally created my business because as a mom I wanted to spend more time with my children and without being chained to an employer. I did it so that I could work fewer hours, vacation on my own terms, and still pay the bills. But I also did it so that I could create jobs and provide employees with full careers complete with healthy salaries, health care, retirement funds, and the ability to pay for their children’s’ educations.

Building a business that is run primarily around its people and its product, not just capital and growth, is something to be proud of, and it’s something I see more and more people catching onto these days.

For example, I recently read a blog post by a guy called David, appropriately dubbed, “The Lifestyle Business Bullshit.”In it, David effectively describes the many reasons the “lifestyle business” dig is out-of-date. He explains that the use of this term stems from an archetypical false dilemma.This false dilemma, he writes, is that “either you 1) Let your business devour your life and you’ll be incredibly successful, or 2) You balance your life with things other than work but are relegated to paying-the-rent success.”In my view, it has been a long time since there was a direct correlation between the number of hours someone works and the success they enjoy.As David’s blog notes, “When you’re building products or services, there’s a nonlinear connection between input and output. You can put in just a little and still get out a spectacular lot.”Offleash is a “lifestyle business” that cares deeply about employees, products and success of the business, and whose principals and employees simultaneously chose to live a full, enriching life outside of the office. And, I don’t think there’s any shame in that!

Joanna Kulesa is a principal of Offleash, based in San Mateo, CA. Offleash focuses on public relations, social media and digital marketing for enterprise software and consumer technology companies.