Sunday, January 03, 2010

Chris Dixon's Startup Requirements: My Perspective

I like Chris Dixon. I've never met him, though I hope to, but his writing across Twitter, his Tumblr log and his blog are so evocative of his personality that I feel as though I know a few things about him already. Okay, enough of the fellow-startup-blogger-gushing.

Onto the posting.

Some of these are right on. Some of them aren't. Some of them are culturally relative. I wanted to pick out a few of them.

Stuff Chris Says You Need

Beer on Fridays
Come to London. We have good pubs. Everywhere. Beer everyday.

In fact, Thursday Is The New Friday here in London. So many people get out of town for the weekend we seldom go out together on Friday, because that's really intruding on Family/Friends/Personal Time (keep reading for that).

So in summary: Beer Good; Beer Not Only For Friday.

Proximity to Public Transportation
Again, come to London. Yep, our transport system largely sucks. But it sucks in the same way that the NHS "sucks", in that it transports more people more miles every day than virtually any other system in the world.

Nobody would even think to have a startup in London without being close to public transport, although Shoreditch is pretty much the worst Zone-1 location I could think of, and that's where most startups have located. C'est la vie.

Proximity to Park
This is where we kick ass over Manhattan. Y'all have like 2 parks. We have parks on virtually every other corner it seems. Almost no matter where you are, there's a park right around the corner. Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's small, but you can't really go a half mile radius without seeing a tree the way you can in Manhattan.
Mac laptops with second monitors
I like this idea, and when I saw the Cloudera offices in person, they had this policy. OpenGamma is at the "employees choose what they want" stage, so I'd say that from our perspective, if you're not doing a pure web startup, the better phrasing here is "whatever computers are necessary for developers to succeed." I prefer to let them decide that [1]. The key takeaway here to me is "don't have stupid Corporate policies regarding computers; focus on nonstop productivity."
Health care plans for everyone
OpenGamma is in London. We have the NHS. We love it. By virtue of merely residing in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we don't ever have prospects saying "I'd come to work for you, but I'm worried about health care and COBRA and blah blah blah." Every single startup in the US should be pushing for a single-payer system.

Stuff Chris Says You Don't Need

Fancy (Aeron) chairs
Okay, lemme get on my high-horse here. Ergonomics matters. A lot. If you lose 2 days per quarter due to someone having back or shoulder pain, you're net negative on the cost of the chairs.

Don't get me wrong, I completely understand where Chris is coming from where the Aeron is, in essence, the very symbol of DotCom excess. I get it. But saying "buy the cheapest chairs you can" is completely counterproductive. Aerons have actually come down in price (and you can get them second-hand and reconditioned for pretty competitive prices against second-tier new chairs), so you're looking at a price that if you search out a new chair significantly cheaper, you're basically buying something from Office Depot that's going to hurt everybody's backs.

Don't go crazy on the chair front, but don't just say "good chairs were a sign of DotCom excess and therefore you shouldn't have them at all." I actually bought an Aeron for home; I don't expect that my employees or I are going to work on something worse than I'd be willing to work on for my home-time hacking. Will OpenGamma get Aerons? Maybe. Will we get the cheapest chairs on the market to show how hard/31337 we are? No.

Vacation policy
I completely agree that you shouldn't track it, but at least here in the UK your employment contract will stipulate a minimum holiday policy. We don't currently track it; we trust people not to abuse it. At some point we'll grow to the point where that doesn't work anymore, as it will at every startup.

But don't excuse that with saying "our Vacation Policy is that nobody should take one." That's short-sighted and stupid. Startups are a marathon, not a sprint, and nobody can maintain a massive long-term effort without taking time off to rejuvinate. You pressure people to never take proper time off and you'll end up with zombies who aren't functioning at 100%. And I at least would much rather have people at 100% for 90% of the time [2] than tapering down to 70% for 95% of the time. Because I can do math [3].

Business cards
I thought this too. But OpenGamma sells into a vertical, and we know we're going to be an enterprise sale. Tried to postpone it as long as possible, but if you're not consumer and need an enterprise presence you actually have to do this and stationary and the rest of the things that make you seem more than a few guys and a serviced office. It sucks, but you have to suck it up.
Phone system
See "Business cards." Plus, I would never expect an employee to have their personal mobile number as their work number. See "Vacation policy" and switching off: you work 100% when you're at work; when you leave, it's family/personal time.

I'd be tempted to try an experiment where we all have company-provided mobile phones, but here in the UK thanks to Caller Party Pays you can tell instantly if you're calling a mobile phone just based on the number. It doesn't seem professional. So if I have to setup a whole call forwarding system, I may as well setup a VoIP system.

Central air conditioning
You ever tried to work in an office in London (or Manhattan for that matter) in August with a pretty high concentration of workstations and 30" monitors? Windows opening doesn't help when all air is stagnant, high humidity, and hot.
Update 5 minutes after posting. Chris was originally talking about the types of systems where the building controls your A/C and you don't have per-tenant control. Now I agree with him 100%. You need A/C. You also need 24/7 control over it to the point of individual zones in your offices.
Carpeting
OpenGamma's moving to a permanent office shortly. It has hardwood floors. We asked them to put in carpeting. Because we care about people having the ability to work quietly, and hardwood floors and open plan offices don't work well to minimize noise. Carpeting is great for sound reduction, which is critical to allow people to work effectively in an open-plan environment. That and monstrous headphones.

Conclusion

Chris, you rock for giving me a good excuse to blog about a whole bunch of small matters that I agree are important to startups (it's just that my list is somewhat different to yours).

Next time you're in London, let me buy you a non-Friday beer. Next time I'm in NYC, let me buy you a Friday beer.

Footnotes

[0]: Yep, I used the dl tag. Bringing it back old-skool, yo. werd
[1]: Interestingly, we offered all employees the choice. 2/3 of current OpenGamma employees are running Linux on the desktop for development, even when offered the choice of a Mac Laptop or Mac Pro. 1 runs a Mac Pro, 1 runs Windows 7. Of the 3 company owned laptops, 2 run OS X and one runs Linux.
[2]: Yep, we get 24 days plus public holidays here at OpenGamma. We're typical of London.
[3]: In that I can do simple sums. We have a quant team at OpenGamma because I can't even fathom the mathematics necessary to drive our system. Have I mentioned that I'm the only founder without a PhD? Yeah....
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