Cleaning the Kitchen

One of the problems all startups have that no one will tell you about is that the kitchen is always dirty – especially the coffee maker – and despite any number of email pleadings, no one will fess up and the problem never resolves itself.  The only thing that prevents the mold from taking over the entire room are the employees who get so grossed out they suck it up and use the ancient scrubbing device stuck to the counter just behind the sink to clean things up.  After rewarding themselves to a fresh pot of coffee and a snack on a clean plate (perhaps even eaten with a clean, metal fork!) the next day the kitchen has reverted right back to its normal form.

This is somehow symbolic of how all aspects of startups work – everyone has some tolerance to the messiness inherent to how things work.  If something gets too far out of whack, someone has to step up and clean things, even if they didn’t create the mess.  Hopefully you can figure out who is causing the messes and give them a real talking to, so things can improve for a while.  But mostly you just keep things functioning one way or another in hopes that someday you will be able to afford that fancy espresso machine and a cleaning staff to make it shiny every night.

Or until you get bought by a big company that stops providing free coffee and moves you to a cube further from the coffee machine than from the nearest coffee shop.

At a previous job, the guy who used to come by to fill the free beverage refrigerator told me that one of the first signs the company was going downhill was when his contract got canceled.  We stopped getting the good juices a few months later, and I wasn’t sure if that was good, because we still had some free options, or bad, because the cost cutting had begun.


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