Kabam CEO Kevin Chou: This is when it’s OK to be a workaholic

December 16, 2014, 8:48 PM UTC

The 40 under 40 Insider network is an online community where some of the most thoughtful and influential people in business under 40 contribute answers to timely questions about career and leadership. Today’s answer to the question how do you avoid becoming a workaholic? is written by Kevin Chou, co-founder and CEO of Kabam.

My alarm goes off. It’s pitch black, and I look over at my phone; it’s 6:00 a.m. I feel unfamiliar sheets pinning me to the bed, and realize I’m away on business. Still.

What city am I in? Yesterday it was Hong Kong. So this must be… Hangzhou?

I bring up my calendar. A meeting with a new investment partner at 8:00 a.m., followed by a TV interview, then a meeting with a potential publishing partner and lastly, another interview before a flight to Beijing.

That was early 2014, and I was three months into a near-constant four-month fundraising trip through Asia. I. was. exhausted.

Throughout all the ups and downs over the past eight years of building Kabam, that trip was the closest I had ever come to being completely burned out. But I powered through, because as CEO and co-founder, I am responsible for the livelihoods of hundreds of employees and the care of millions of customers around the globe.

And that got me thinking. What’s the best way to stave off employee burnout? One word: ownership.

People take better care of something they own. Homeowners tend to maintain their properties better than renters, drivers typically don’t care much about rental cars, and entrepreneurs give their lives over to the companies they build.

That’s why, in my opinion, the term “workaholic” is subjective. When you’re working for something you’re personally invested in, all the hours and extra effort don’t seem like a burden. And the best way to make employees feel like owners is through liquidity, where the time and effort of all employees is financially rewarded.

Kabam recently completed its second secondary offering in the past 16 months. This allowed all employees to sell some of their Kabam shares that have vested without the need for the company to go public or be acquired. This instills ownership by literally giving employees control over a stake in the company. A stock option moves from an abstract notion to something with an actual dollar value. Additionally, management and employees are not caught on a treadmill of having to hit quarterly numbers to appease the public markets and instead focus on core innovation.

By rewarding employees for the time they have invested, and giving them the freedom to think long-term, everyone can feel like a real owner of Kabam; allowing them to take better care of the company and themselves. That’s something that comforts me, no matter where in the world I am.

Read all answers to the 40 under 40 Insider question: How do you avoid becoming a workaholic?

Tristan Walker: Why I decided to ‘unplug’ from email by Tristan Walker, founder and CEO of Walker & Company Brands.

How to avoid becoming a workaholic by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

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