Startup culture used to mean running a business from your garage and maybe upgrading to a shabby office space once you got big enough to hire employees. Now, apparently, it involves rooftop decks and “vibe managers.”
Some foreign entrepreneurs recently got a tour of several Silicon Valley startups’ offices as part of TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference and were reportedly blown away by the extravagance, according to ValleyWag. At one startup in particular—Heroku, a cloud computing startup bought by Salesforce in 2010—the visitors saw exposed brick walls, beautiful reclaimed wood, a kitchen stocked generously with food and beverage by an in-house “wellness guru,” along with a company amphitheater and rooftop patio (dubbed “the lighthouse”) with sweeping views of the city. The tourists met with Heroku’s two “vibe managers,” who are responsible for company ergonomics and choosing the right throw pillows for the office.
One Australian entrepreneur was surprised by the experience: “I’m kind of in shock,” Kate Lanyon, co-founder of a Melbourne-based startup, BrandSpot.co, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Heroku’s offices are surely an extreme example—and the company isn’t exactly a rough-and-tumble startup anymore with 150 employees. But the growing extravagance of Silicon Valley culture and offices is certainly earning its share of mockery and scorn in recent months. New HBO series Silicon Valley portrays six tech-geek roommates who decide to start their own music site and work for a Google-esque and over-the-top tech giant called Hooli.
One Columbia University computer science grad, Yiren Lu, examined Silicon Valley culture in the New York Times earlier this year and concludes that seemingly over-the-top employee perks in Silicon Valley come in part from startup founders trying to create a clubby feel:
People think of all these perks, the free food, the flexible hours, as a sort of Gen Y invention, a deliberate extension of adolescence deep into the 20s. But it’s not really about that. It’s not even about squeezing extra code out of employees. It’s about filling some platonic vision of how work should be: a tight-knit group of friends pushing themselves to greatness.
The lavish free food offerings at some Silicon Valley companies has even caught the eye of the Internal Revenue Service auditors recently. The IRS argues that free meals are a taxable fringe benefit and have sought to collect back taxes from companies that haven’t paid taxes on them.
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