#14: Nerf Guns, Free Food, Beer, and the Trappings of Startup Life

Jack_Name“Where the fuck do you think you guys are going?” Ryan Faust asked two of his engineers who were walking past him with backpacks on ready to leave for the day at 10:30 AM.

“There’s a 24-hour hackathon over at the Hub and we thought we’d go over and dominate,” replied one of the relaxed engineers.

Ryan looked at his team members for a moment processing the information. It had been a trying week for the co-founder and CEO of Merge. He has been without Alison Redgrave, his software co-founder, for over a week, he was tasked with hiring 15 new employees by his board of directors, and he was nursing a hangover virtually every morning.

“Alright, guys,” Ryan said after taking a deep breath. “Kick-ass over there. And don’t forget we’re having a Nerf gun showdown tomorrow afternoon. Without Alison and Heather the yellow team should be sitting ducks.”

With that, Ryan fist bumped the two engineers and walked back to the office kitchen to grab a beer. Ryan returned with two beers, handed me one, and plopped himself down in the pillow corner they had constructed last Thursday. Yes, is exactly as it sounds. A corner filled with pillows of all shapes and sizes to crash into and work, sleep, or drink the day away.

Since the outing to Toronto that resulted in Alison using a stun gun on someone, the mood in the office has been decidedly relaxed. The best way to describe what I was seeing out of the Merge team was one giant exhale of relief. It’s as if they’re all leaning back in their chairs toasting to one another that they still have a job.

The one thing I am not seeing, though, is work. So, that’s why I began my talk with Ryan in the pillow corner with a tough question, “What direction are you headed in?”

Ryan took a sip of his beer and thought for a few moments before responding.

“We’re going to release Merge to the world in the coming months through a pre-sale,” Ryan said while smiling.

“A pre-sale is a pretty strong statement to make,” I conceded. “Is a timeline of a few months a little too aggressive given Merge is a hardware and software company? I mean, I only see a handful of your team in the office working right now.”

“What you don’t see is that those two engineers who headed out of here are about to sit down and battle with 30 other engineers and designers who will be looking at creating apps for Merge or possibly joining our team soon,” Ryan said defiantly, with clear anger in his voice. His knuckles were turning white as he gripped the beer bottle in his hands.

“Take what I’m about to say with all the seriousness in the world,” Ryan continued after taking a long pull from his bottle of Block3 King Street Saison and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “We are in a war with other startups and tech companies in this city and especially in Toronto. Without free food, relaxed work environment, open beer fridge, and the occasional Nerf gun throw down, we lose them. We need the best and brightest to be part of this company and we need them now.”

“Are Alison and Jasper helping attract and hire new team members?” I asked, gently sipping at my beer. It was 10:30 AM and not exactly prime drinking time for me.

Again, Ryan took his time answering and instead stared into the opposite corner as he drank from his beer.

“Alison would help, but she would need to be in the fucking country to help. And, Jasper is not the best judge of talent outside of the hardware team,” Ryan confided. “Actually, Alison would be outstanding. She’s got a nice eye for those who could give a damn and produce for us…outside of that intern she hired a while back. That was a waste of time.”

Ryan continued to look past me into the void of the half empty office that was loud with music and half a dozen staff yelling at a couple developers playing foosball.

“Do you know when Alison will be back in the office?” I asked.

“No.”

“Do you know roughly when the pre-order campaign will start?”

“No.”

“Are you afraid of losing momentum, even with the influx of cash?”

“Yes.”

Momentum is almost more important to a startup than money. If a startup has traction both with the market and with a focused team dedicated to a single goal, that momentum can easily push a business forward. Think Twitter. They had no revenue coming in for years, but they had momentum with user growth that kept the team focused on the future.

After about a minute of silence I finally asked, “So, what’s on the plan for the rest of the day?”

“Interviewing developers, free lunch for the team, a foosball tournament, and afternoon drinks with the team that may become evening drinks,” Ryan said as he stood up and walked away downing his beer in the process.

Welcome to a startup that recently received a huge cash injection. Disorganized genius…with a side of Nerf gun.


Next Post – #15: Decisions and Board Meetings

Previous Post – #13: The Benefits of Remote Working on the Beach

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