Tracey Pettengill

“I constantly live with butterflies in my stomach. It’s such an exciting and stressful time that I wake up with that feeling and reach for some Pepto-Bismol.”

Age: 29
Position: Cofounder and CEO
Hometown: Glastonbury, Connecticut
Education: BA in engineering and economics, Dartmouth College; MBA, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Years in Silicon Valley: nearly 4
Commute to Work: about 15 minutes
Work Week: 85 hours
Hours of Sleep a Night: about 5
Email Received Each Day: 100
Star Tac Phone Minutes Per Month: 5,000
Lifesaver: “I live and die by my Palm Pilot.”
Dry Cleaning: “Half of my wardrobe is at home. The other half is at the dry cleaners. Once a month I switch them.”


When asked, “Where does work end and life begin?” Tracey Pettengill responds with casual frankness: “Work doesn’t end.” The work-life inquiry doesn’t phase this Silicon Valley veteran, or trigger an apologetic sigh and explanation. Why build an artificial divide between the two worlds? Why feign concern over work-life imbalance when you love what you’re doing in and away from the office? Pettengill’s job is her passion is her life.

Pettengill is cofounder and CEO of, a San-Francisco-based for-profit startup that channels charitable giving on the Web. Initiated in 1998 as an extracurricular project at Stanford Graduate School of Business, the company provides nonprofits a sophisticated Net presence, and empowers them to be more efficient, more focused on their social mission, and less distracted by fundraising efforts. In addition to donating more than 50 percent of the founder’s equity, gives 100 percent of online donations to nonprofits and sells B2B tools to promote simplified workplace giving. On a mission for social justice, Pettengill says she owns up to her work-life marriage because her job is a fairy tale reward for years of hard work and focus.

“Just think about this Chinese proverb: If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Pettengill says. “Everyone should aspire to that ideal. Some people work to live and some people live to work. I side on the latter.”


On a typical day, Pettengill arrives in the office by 7 a.m. — early enough to squeeze in some quiet time before the day’s madness begins. 8 a.m. marks a KTITL (Keep Tracey in the Loop) meeting with team; 10 a.m. a VC meeting in Menlo Park; 11 a.m. a business development meeting. You get the point. After the day’s first phone call, Pettengill’s time longer belongs to her. And she doesn’t regain control until 8 or 9 p.m. — that is, in the absence of recruiting interviews at night. Crash time? 1 a.m.

In the following Fast Company interview, Pettengill dishes her perspective on Silicon Valley life and acceleration in the fastest of fast lanes:

How do you keep pace with work and life in Silicon Valley?


Consider the slower pace of many nonprofits. It just isn’t challenging enough. The for-profit world forces to be aggressive, quick, and nimble. We have to keep up with change that moves at an unbelievably fast pace — even for the for-profit world. That pace makes the organization stronger in the traditionally slow-moving, highly inefficient world of nonprofits.

What’s your pocket-guide tip on sanity management?

I’m not a good person to ask, but I will say this: There’s a sense that every minute I don’t work ultimately slows down the company. If I’m not working, I feel like I’m wasting valuable minutes that competitors could be using to get ahead. I must remind myself to slow down and think. I make conscious decisions to take breaks because I feel that extra time will make me more effective at my job. The best thing you can do for the company is stay excited, focused, and engaged. If you’re up until 3 a.m. too many nights in a row, you can’t make wise decisions.


Time is money, so what’s your technique for maximizing the day?

Smart delegation. I trust everyone in the company. If we have an important project, I find the right team member to take charge, and then I don’t worry about it. I see many CEOs who work until 3 a.m. every night. Quite honestly, I’m happy to work that late if it’s necessary. But is it? If you believe in the power of your team members, they’ll do a better job than you can. Sure, you could get the work done, but you run the costly risk of burning out in the process.

Your job demands tough decision-making on a weekly basis. How do you stay focused and resilient on days that you need to bounce back fast for a make-or-break decision?


You have to be comfortable making major decisions on limited information. You have to get used to the idea that some days you’ll make good decisions, and other days you won’t. You also have to take aggressive action and trust yourself enough to stand by your decisions. A year ago, I couldn’t handle the constant decision-making I do today. But you train yourself to think fast if you want to survive.

In this time of unprecedented wealth and accelerated living, how can people stay committed to social responsibility?

People can start by creating really strong community programs within their companies. About once a month, 4Charity employees volunteer in the community for a day. That effort obviously inspires the team because of the company’s mission, but I think inspiration like that is good for any company. In general, a company’s employee moral and retention numbers increase when its employees feel socially responsible and connected to the community. Even small companies moving unbelievably fast should make some time to be active community participants. At the end of the day, the company benefits from boosted morale and a motivated work force, which in turn helps recruit and retain more talent.


What’s the climate like for philanthropy in Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley gets a lot of heat. Critics say this town has little room for charity because of its get-rich-quick culture. I completely disagree. People in Silicon Valley are more philanthropic than most. They’re thoughtful folks who have zero time to spare. They might have a lot of money and stock ownership in companies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t spend any time thinking about charity.

What items would you include in a Silicon Valley time capsule?


Our Fußball table. It’s a stupid game that everybody loves to play because it relieves stress. I’d also include a bottle of Scotch and my Star Tac, the only cell phone that can withstand a six-mile run.

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