Do Startups Have a Drinking Problem?
Sarah Jane Coffey

Thanks for being so honest and raising the topic. It’s not uncommon for start-ups to bill themselves as a drinking company with a software problem. Culture dictates how extreme this gets. And culture spans the gamut. The idea of a Friday, post-work get together for a beer or soft drink re-cap of the week isn’t bad. It’s creates a low-pressure and casual environment to open up new avenues of discussion and build some team camaraderie. A beer or glass of wine or two, probably no big deal. We’re all adults here, right? We’re responsible for our own behavior. We respect you for hanging around with us more than for what beer you drink.

Every day and you probably have a problem. Does anyone need to drink every day? Would you want to? Don’t you have other things to do? (Silly me! You’re working for a startup, of course you don’t!)

But where might this come from? I think part of it is how startups like to flout the rules. It’s the rallying cry. “Oracle/SAP/IBM/Google/NOONE does what we’re doing, row harder, faster, we’re going to change the world!” Some of that is true. Some is the reality distortion field. Some is the work-hard/play-hard mentality.

Also, startups often draw more intense personalities, to put it politely. Larger companies seem to select against these folks but as they’re still smart people, they find opportunities.

Add alcohol and you need a steady moral compass at the top. It’s hard to find good culture, no matter what size company. Bigger companies have more rules because they have bigger liabilities. However, rules just eliminate opportunities for bad behavior. They’re a poor substitute for manners and respect, but don’t guarantee either. Culture is all about the people. Are you hiring thoughtful, supportive and growth-oriented folks or get-it-done, burn-it-down, ends-justify-the-means sorts?

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