I am reading Founders At Work and read this gem today. It’s from the interview with Arthur van Hoff, the CTO of Marimba. They had just gotten 4 million dollars in venture capital…

Another story I remember from our first round of funding was when they gave us the checks – the lawyers were there, Kleiner was there, and I said, “Oh great, now I can buy that espresso machine!” and they all jumped me and said, “No, you’re not going to buy an espresso machine with this money. This is to start the company.”

And it became a sticking point. We were very frugal and we didn’t spend money on frilles, but after the IPO there was a really bad time for Marimba when it was very difficult to hire people, and all the early people that had been there 3 to 4 years were starting to leave. Morale was very low, and so I went to the CFO and said, “Look, I want to buy an espresso machine.” And he said, “No, we can’t do that, it’s too expensive.”

A few weeks later, when another senior engineer quit, I said, “Screw it, let’s go buy an espresso machine.” So Jonathan and I went online and bought this super-duper Italian, fully automatic, $15,000 espresso machine on his credit card and submitted the expense form. The CFO almost had a baby. It was unbelievable.

This was a beautiful piece of work, and they came and installed the espresso machine and it was the best money ever spent. Every morning, people would meet and crowd around it. This thing was just it, the bee’s knees, people loved it, they couldn’t stop talking about it. A month later, the CFO came and said, “I’m sorry, we should have done this years ago.” And it tells you something about where you spend your money and what you spend your money on. It’s not just business-related expenses. You also have to create an environment that you like so that people are happy and feel they are valued.

Arizona Coffee

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  1. David

    Absolutely – I just made that argument at work, we purchased a super automatic (granted it was $1300, not $15,000) and we get more inter-departmental conversation and interaction than ever before. Much less, “those geek engineers” or “those marketing fools” takes place when you know the people in each of those departments.

    This post made me come out of lurking, thanks. And it’s always a great read.

  2. Wow! Welcome to the family. Yeah, $15,000 is a pretty penny to pay for an office espresso machine. I guess it depends on how many employees were going to be using it though.

  3. Doug

    I work with Dave from the first comment above. The espresso machine we bought was justified as a communication tool. It couldn’t be more accurate. Earlier this week I brought a person from marketing (I work in engineering) over to have a latte on the new machine and she mentioned that she had never even been in that building before. I was able to show her around, show what we do in the machine shop, and even introduce her to several people that she normally wouldn’t work with. Now she understands our process and what we do a little more. I’d say just that one visit made the cost justified, and as Dave will attest, there are lots of stories like that happening each week!