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Tech Confidential (Part Five)

Edited by Nan Wiener and Jenna Scatena | September 20, 2012 | Story Tech World

I used to be a chef at one of the Google Cafes, but I left and started my own catering business, delivering meals to a handful of tech companies in SoMa and the South Bay. They feed their employees well, and money is no object with them. The employees tend to be well informed about food, though they can be demanding. One guy will only eat egg whites. Another wants something with no fat, and he requests the nutritional information for each meal, including which version of vitamin A is in it—retinol or beta-carotene. They’re also really into the fad diets. The Paleo diet is huge right now, especially at the companies with Ferraris parked in front and private gyms inside. They don’t eat grains, legumes, tubers, corn, or celery, so it ends up being about 10 ounces of meat per person. That’s a ton of protein. And expensive. Other offices are into the low-alkaline diet. The thing is, though, as many requests as I get for quinoa and organic and free-range everything, they also want mac and cheese and chicken pot pie. So every five days I give them some comfort food.

The real gluttons are these guys down in the South Bay. When we set up, they actually mob the delivery driver. People harrass the person putting out the meal for them, and they try to grab plastic forlks—or the chicken—before we have a chance to put sauce on it. Lunch is at 11:30, but by 11:22 there are guys already complaining, "I have to go to a meeting, so give me that chicken now." People are just in their coding bubble and don't have manners. We actually had to start sending another person along, just for crowd control. ONe new driver got really intimidated and flustered: I mean 50 or 60 people around her, grabbing at the food and utensils.

Looking for a buyer for your startup is definitely a dating game. You’re trying to show interest, but not too much. And you’re trying to go with your gut and figure out if this is the right person for you. With every company, I was trying to convince them that I was really passionate about them, that they were the one. But I felt a little dirty about it. Like, suddenly you’re passionate about your competitor, which is bullshit. So I had to spin it: “You and I share a passion for this thing, and it would be better if we joined forces.” In some cases that’s true. In others, I was making the best of a bad situation.

The whole process was taking so long that I often thought, why are we even going through this? It’s a huge waste of time. It’s also personally stressful, because people trust us with money—and from a reputation standpoint you want to pay them back, plus a return. We want to start more companies, and you don’t do that by dicking people over.

Also, my cofounders and I fought a lot. It wasn’t that we were mad at each other; we were in a shitty situation. It’s like when poor people fight over bread: We’re just both really hungry. At one point, I remember we were fighting for about two hours, and then were like, “What are we fighting about?” We honestly couldn’t remember. It was all a bit of a soul-sucking process. One side of my face started twitching for days. We finally got an offer several months into it. All four of us are getting paid a substantial amount, and I get some stock options too. It’s not life-changing money, but given the fact that I’ve never had a lot of money, it’s going to have a big impact. I’m happy about the money. I wish I were happier—but I’m happy.

I was an environmental studies major at Cal Poly and wanted to have an impact on the world by working on sustainability issues. But when I graduated, I had a mountain of debt from student loans. A friend referred me to a job as an office manager at a tech startup, starting at $25 an hour. I didn’t know the first thing about tech, or how big the industry was going to become. It was just presented as being a cool workplace. Startups always highlight that they have Nerf guns in the office to prove to you that they’re “fun.” But really, it turned out to be more of a “keep your head down and work” environment. Still, the money was good, so I took the job, and after a year of working there we were acquired by a Fortune 500 company.

Every once in a while I look into jobs in the environmental sector, but there aren’t many options, so now I’m looking to work at another startup. It’s sort of addicting. You can hop from startup to startup, increasing your salary exponentially instead of making the slow climb up the corporate ladder. The big downside is that I’m not saving the world. But I’m making a lot more money, plus I have a 401(k), nice stock options, great benefits, etc. I could lose my leg today and probably get a prosthetic one by Friday.

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