Dropcam CEO's Beef with Brogramming, Late Nights, and Free Dinners

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things that only big, mature companies did. That has allowed us to hire from a bigger group of people than we would be able to if we were part of the brogrammer culture.

“We focus our benefits on the entire gamut of people who work at Dropcam. We often do events that are family-friendly—not just buying out a bar for a night like the average Silicon Valley startup. We are planning a big barbeque this year. You can still have a beer at a barbeque, but you can also bring some kids. I also run helicopter rides for everybody.”

Don’t Serve Free Dinner

“We try to put our money where our mouth is. We pay for breakfast and lunch but we don’t bring in dinner. Dinner would cost us nothing and would probably get people working for extra hours late at night. But again, it’s one of those things. When you have a person who can work anywhere they want to, and you say, ‘We bring in breakfast, lunch, and dinner,’ you are really trying to trick them. You are trying to get them to work until 10 pm or midnight every night.

“We bring in breakfast and lunch because we think it makes people more productive if they don’t have to go wait in line at restaurants in SoMa, which are crowded. But we don’t bring in dinner. We don’t make people work late. It’s a way to keep people from getting burned out.”

Happy, Rested Workers Are Productive Workers

“When you talk to the spouses of employees [who have changed jobs], they say they would rather find another job here [in the Bay Area] than have their spouse leave Dropcam and move, because it’s a kind of family. Not the weird, creepy kind of corporate family that makes you stay until midnight every night and forget your real family. It’s a different way to run a business, and it comes out of research.

“Did you know that Henry Ford did some research on the number of hours that creative workers can work before becoming marginally productive? It’s between 40 and 50 hours per week. Some startups try to play this game of saying, ‘We want you to work 80 or 90 hours, but only for a few years,’ and they sell the company, and the founders make a lot of money, and the employees make some, but then they’re like, ‘Why where we working that hard?’ Well, why don’t we just take some of that money and make it so you don’t have to be that productive? We want happy, healthy workers who have a good work-life balance.”

If You Must Flip the Company, Hold Out for A Billion Dollars

“We are not building the company to flip it. We have turned down many acquisition offers. Fundamentally, I think that most acquisitions are not good for employees. The average Silicon Valley acquisition is, in the end, in the tens of millions of dollars or less. Think of some of the networks that have been created by the most successful company exits—the PayPal acquisition was for more than a billion dollars. That’s almost like an IPO in terms of the value that’s created, and look what has come out of that: Elon Musk running SpaceX and Tesla, Peter Thiel running Clarium and Founders Fund, Luke Nosek running Halcyon Molecular.

“Dropcam will be successful if we can create a dynasty of people like that. But you can only do that by aiming for large exits. So that is something that is really important to me: making employees wealthy, versus selling out for something that would just make the founders millions.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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22 responses to “Dropcam’s Beef with Brogramming, Late Nights, and Free Dinners”

  1. I would love to find a way to make those corporate ethics work for an independent game development studio.

  2. Wing Wong says:

    I like the work ethic the leadership is promoting and living by. Would be a welcome change if the whole of the silicon valley began to take up that mindset. Would most likely be alot less churn and more community building.

  3. A lot of big established companies could learn a lesson or two from this guy.

    The idea of doing more with less is right up there with supplying dinner. At some point you look at it as a developer and say this is not worth putting the ‘extra’ effort in.

    Recently I had a discussion with my boss about the next level (Lvl11) and the fact that it was expected to put in the extra time to be recommended for advancement. And if you just wanted to do the 8 hrs a day 40 hrs a week thing then it would be ok but it was implied that no advancement was possible… I told him he could keep his Lvl 11 and I was not really interested..

    When has it become the norm to expect developers to have to put in 50+ hours a week just to get ahead?

  4. yohocoma says:

    Wow, a CEO who is a decent human being.

  5. Rubinhood says:

    I immensely respect this kind of attitude. Hats off.

    Why has it taken me 2 decades in the industry to even *read* about this?

  6. David says:

    I’m impressed. Mr. Duffy seems classy and insightful – I hope that he and his firm do well.

  7. Jay Lee says:

    Rare breed. I wish there were more companies like this in the valley. These days I just ask certain questions to ascertain brogrammer culture, and if sensed, run from the place.

  8. Anon-e-moose says:

    I like how he singles out the “young, single, childless, males” and relates them to the “brogrammer” culture. As a young, single, childless, male who thinks “brogrammer” is about the stupidest word we’ve fabricated yet (“cougar,” I’ve got my eyes on you..), I find this guy a little obnoxious. The ideas and intent make sense, but sweeping generalizations aren’t going to get you much farther than the assholes you’re calling out in the first place.

    • gduffy says:

      That’s not my message. I’m actually singling out the companies who *only* hire out of that group and push a culture incompatible with other groups.

      We definitely hire young, single, childless males. In fact, I myself am 3 out of 4 of those things. However, many Silicon Valley companies engender an almost fraternity-like culture where you must stay up all night and fit in with “the boys” or else find another job. I think that’s bullshit, and frankly creates a market opportunity for me to hire people who like a more inclusive atmosphere.

      We hire people at Dropcam who are young and single, married and childless, married with young kids, and married with grown kids. We hire people at Dropcam of all different races, family styles, orientations, and creeds. Sometimes we all hang out together, for lunch or a drink (in which case, would you like beer, soda, water?). Can’t make it this time? No problem. People also go their separate ways to have dinner with their families or a concert with a friend.

      But at the end of the day, we all get along famously because we’re just a nice group of people who like building great stuff together. It’s a place where you are valued by how you contribute to the product, not by when your butt is in the seat or by what you choose to spend your time on in your personal life.

      And I love it!

      • Adam Lasnik says:

        I admire your dedication to doing right by your employees. I wish more CEOs would recognize the importance of work-life balance and create a culture in which this is valued and supported.

        With that said, your perception of onsite perks as reflecting or causing poor work/life balance saddens me, and I’ll respectfully suggest it’s very misguided.

        I’ve worked for big companies and startups, companies with extensive onsite perks (including free dinners) and almost zero perks, and I don’t believe there is any correlation between the existence of onsite perks and companies’ expectation of work hours. Looking at my friends’ employment situation further solidifies this for me: there are plenty of “no frills” companies that work their employees to the bone, and there are companies with extensive perks in which a huge percentage of employees do great work, put in reasonable hours, and have plenty of time to spend with friends, engage in hobbies, etc.

        Are there companies (or parts of companies) that have an obnoxious brogrammer culture and/or pressure employees to work long hours? And do many of them offer free dinners? Yes and yes. But as XKCD has taught us, be careful when drawing conclusions in the areas of correlation and causation ;).

        (And though it equally saddens and disappoints me, I can’t even think of where to start in critiquing your argument that ad-supported services are inherently unethical or misleading. In the meantime, though, I trust you won’t be watching any TED talks on YouTube or using an online maps service :-)

        • Ted Prindle says:

          Within the last 2 weeks I’ve bought and installed 2 dropcams. They work great & installation was quick and easy. My wifi signals (I use a base and a repeater) are good to excellent so no problem in connectivity. Great product.

  9. El Cheeshead says:

    How sad, that treating employees well is now a radical management strategy.

  10. Terry says:

    With a fast growing company of only 30 Employees so far the company is having growing pains. The cams are selling very fast. The support center is getting a overflow of calls. Most of the time it is problem with any type of WIFI equipment in a home. Older methods of home construction can kill WIFI such as lead paint or Medal lath used for plaster in the past kills the signal. I am sure he will do well and the staff around him will support him on his path to be the leader in home security for cams.

  11. Joel Bondurant says:

    What a douche. The implication that all single guys are assholes is the sure sign of an asshole.

    • FredInIT says:

      What he’s saying is that he does not want just single white males doing development. Nor does he want assholes – SWM or otherwise. No where does he imply that SWMs are assholes nor assholes are SWMs.

      As you are complaining about this – sounds like you are both – an SWM as well as an asshole. You need not apply.

  12. Glad you did a deep dive on this Wade. Confirmed some of my own biases that I can’t say in public. Well I guess I just did. :)

  13. ryan skach says:

    I hope Duffy’s style of common sense employee nourishment becomes the trend in Silicon Valley as well as other areas that disguise mandatory 12 hour work days with “company perks.”

  14. Wade Roush says:

    I just want to thank everyone for their thoughtful and (mostly) civil comments here. I’m glad Greg Duffy weighed in personally, and I thought the reply to Greg from Adam Lasnik at Google was really trenchant. This piece clearly touched a nerve and I’m sure this is a discussion that tech entrepreneurs, managers, and employees will need to keep having for years to come.

  15. pjordan says:

    Duffy would fit right in, here in Northern Indiana. We have a host of business leaders who are located here, creating a surging tech-base. We are looking for an ethical and diverse workforce who maintain strong family values and who care about whom they server and what they produce.

  16. kyron says:

    two funny things about this article in hindsight. 1) Duffy sold out to google, the poster boys for creepy, “free” services that aren’t sold for a profit and lead themselves to unethical practices. 2) it wasn’t for a billion dollars and won’t create the sort of dynasty he advocated for. but it will make its founders pretty rich.

  17. Adam Taylor says:

    Sound cultural mgmt principles for sure – but only if they’re blended with the right amount of process, measurement and accountability. There will always be pressure & stress in any company (particularly at a start-up)… but if you can build an environment like Dropcam’s… you can more easily manage through those stresses. Good job guy’s.