Over the last few years, it has been a blast getting to know the NYC startup community.

I’ve taught classes and workshops on organizational culture and managing people, and enjoyed great conversations with founders and leaders.  I’ve done some good consulting work, too!

When talking with startups, and culture comes up, I usually mention one point of concern.


There’s no reason to have beer.  On tap.  In your business.   Unless you own a bar.

This opinion has led to many memorable exchanges.   The most heartbreaking, probably, was with a great young woman in my circle.

“Devs need beer,” she told me.

I was floored. And wanted to understand, so I asked around a bit.  Someone — maybe this same woman, this was a while ago — opined that beer in the office had roots in the frat houses that some of the younger guys had recently left behind.

(NB:  Investors aren’t backing frat houses.)

Check out a few companies that are currently hiring.    Notice their lists of amenities, beyond the tech, the awesome people and the space.

Beer.  Beer.  Snacks.  And Beer.

(Disclaimer:  I drink beer.  Guinness.  But not at the office.)

Now, when I mention my concern to founders and leaders, I’m usually told that they’ve got it under control.

Seriously.  Take work.   Add competition and the drive to achieve.  Add being tired, stressed, and wanting to bust out and unwind.  Mix in some hormones and inexperience.

Add beer.

It’s a recipe for mixed signals, disagreements, misunderstandings.

Alcohol impairs performance, judgement, motor skills, and then some.   (True story:  more, here.)

And beyond that, no matter what you feel about the frequency of harassing or predatory behavior, it’s far likelier to happen when alcohol is present.

If you read something on the internet and think you really know what happened, put your hands on a copy of Rashomon.

Watch it.  Repeat if necessary.  Make sure you’re feeling the punch line:  you probably don’t know what happened.

The only thing you can add to that tragic, tragic situation is noise.

You can add value, though, by taking action.  Consider that your action could prevent a trainwreck in the lives of people you know:  think about what your devs really need.

In general, they’re people.  They need sleep.  They need a balanced diet.   Some exercise.   Sunlight, on occasion.

At work, they need problems to solve.  A solid team.  Understanding.   Belonging.  Leadership.  Great tools.  An environment where they can focus and get work done.

They don’t need beer.

Then really consider the role alcohol should play in your organization’s culture.   Maybe check in with an employment lawyer.

Then, get the damn kegerator out of your office.

And PS.  An apology.  To a CTO who’s my Twitter friend.   A couple years back, you sought out women to review your company’s recruiting website, because you weren’t attracting women.  You asked us, did the job listing look “sexist” at all?   My response at the time: looks good to me.  In hindsight, the problem might have been…beer.

Women, how do you feel about beer in the office?

10/16 edit: And men, sorry I left you out. What do you think?

Update, 10/17:   Thanks to Kirsten Lambertsen and mathattack for posting this to USV.com and HN, respectively.

And thank you for visiting to read and comment.   This has been a great learning experience!

Photo:  beer frame, by marya, via flickr, under Creative Commons license.