Thursday, June 20, 2013


There's a pithy NY Times round-up of the free food and services NYC tech start-ups lavish on their employees. (SPOILER - they sound awesome):
"Within my first week of working at a start-up, I acquired a gut. The reason was obvious: there was free food everywhere, it was delicious and I was nervous . . .on Monday, warm cookies from the Upper West Side bakery Levain appeared in the kitchen. Buttercream cupcakes followed; apparently it was somebody’s birthday. (It is always somebody’s birthday.) At noon, employees gathered for a catered lunch of barbecue. Two hours later, a Pinkberry station rolled into the office with the full battery of toppings."
The author raises the stakes in each paragraph, moving from free food to beer, coffee, yogurts, fancy juices, then up to concert tickets, in-office manicures, nap times, and - I am not making this up - a room full of puppies.


Back in my day (in *cough* late '90s small biotech), I distinctly recall watching the first Keurigs pump out decadent self-serve coffee pods, and thinking how lucky we were to have such a great gizmo. Later, I toured a boom-times GSK, noting agog the subsidized food, dry cleaning, in-house gym, etc.

My favorite quote from the article comes courtesy of tech titan Nolan Bushnell, Atari founder (emphasis mine):
"Mr. Bushnell of Atari, a veteran of the start-up world, was asked where he draws the line between 'productive perk' and 'wanton decadence.' His answer: Well, he doesn’t.
'I’ve often felt that it is somehow wrong to have an engineer spend any time at all scrubbing his own toilet,' he said. 'It sounds elitist, but these people are highly important to the economy and to the company. Offering maid service to them as a perk makes total sense.'"
Amazing. Would that all start-ups felt the same way.*

*By my count, I've scrubbed my toilet at least 40 times since starting at my current job. Par for the course. I've heard of start-ups with trash and mop duty, too. 

1 comment:

  1. It may sound amazing, but the power of free often causes these employees to do crazy things. When I lived in Silicon Valley, I lived with a couple of Google employees. Google doesn't "require" you to work weekends, but they both did, as did nearly everyone on their team. This was primarily because they would all go into the office to use the free laundry, and then run into a coworker and never leave for the day. And I'm meaning long work days, leaving to use the free laundry at 9 am and not coming home until 11 pm.

    This is actually epitomized by what the article describes as "unlimited vacation". This is actually one of the oldest management tricks in the book. Employees take less vacation when you tell them it is unlimited. This technique is frequently used at companies with a lot of young people, who don't know better, and the peer pressure often results in them only taking one week off a year. Those that take more, often feel guilty and will sit in hotels in remote locations working on the site, nominally taking a vacation, but really just grinding away at their job.

    In essence, those tech startups are like a resort version of grad school. Rather than a scary advisor pressuring you to work long hours, it is the fancy perks that psychologically manipulate young, just out of college workers to spend long hours at the job and give up their weekends.