When evaluating startup “extras” ask yourself: Is it a perk, an essential benefit, or a distraction?

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At well-funded startups, “perks” like coconut water, nap pods, dry cleaning on-site–even ping pong tutoring sessions–and more have become the norm (as well as the subject of plenty of jokes within and outside of Silicon Valley). Tech journalist Kara Swisher calls this phenomenon “assisted living for millennials.” Competing for our talent with other companies of comparable size and growth, many startups use perks for recruiting and retaining talent in addition to cash compensation.

Here are a few of the perks offered by tech companies:

  • Google offers a concierge service to run employees’ errands and save them time.
  • Apple pays for fertility aids including covering female employees freezing their eggs.
  • Airbnb offers $2000 travel bonus to go anywhere in the world.

Essential benefits vs. perks

Let’s break down perks into “nice to have” and essential benefits, aka things that you really do need in order to maintain your general well-being and feel happy at a company.

Essential benefits include: health, dental, and perhaps vision insurance, a solid retirement plan, fair parental and sick leave policies, decent vacation allotted, flexible hours and remote work policies. On the less essential side but still very good may include things like good, strong coffee onsite and snacks so you don’t have to leave the office and walk twenty minutes in order to get a bite while in the middle of a coding session. For you, other essential company benefits may include a formal education stipend so you can continue your education and increase your skills, or childcare reimbursement, or flexible spending accounts, or a gym onsite so you can work out during lunch to feel balanced and help you focus. Or maybe a remote office stipend so if you’re a remote employee you can work outside your home in a community-filled, secure, reliable location.

When is a perk a distraction?

Geography of Genius author Eric Weiner argues that so-called perks can actually curtail creativity. Weiner says we need some friction in order to facilitate the creative processes so crucial to startup success. Weiner says we actually do our best work without all of the perks. “Discomfort, and even a degree of hardship, are what drive creativity, not bean bag chairs and ping pong tables,” says Weiner. The “is this a perk or essential benefit?” question is encapsulated in this sardonic tweet:

Indeed, perks can masquerade as valuable but may actually be a distraction from something essential a company is failing to offer. If your company introduces yet another kind of cereal but fails to offer a sane parental leave policy, then that perk may be a distraction from a real benefit. If a startup offers annual lavish trips to the beaches of Mexico or skiing in Tahoe, but has a cutthroat culture and doesn’t allow employees to actually enjoy their PTO undisturbed (at least most of the time), then that perk may be a distraction. User onboarding expert Samuel Hulick calls this “getting drunk off our own kegerators.” If your company has a luxury massage chair onsite but offers crappy health insurance, then there’s an issue.

Final Thoughts

You are the only one who can determine which benefits are truly essential. If you’re considering working for a startup, think about the benefits as they relate to the total compensation package, as well as your experience at a company.  Don’t overlook startups that don’t offer tons of fancy perks, as long as they offer the essential benefits you care about. By re-framing the lack of flashy perks at a company as potentially a commitment to invest in essential things, you could find a work opportunity you really love that you’d otherwise overlook. Ensure the essential benefits you care about are covered in addition to things like alignment with the company’s core values, or risk missing out on an otherwise awesome startup work opportunity while you’re beelining it to the nearest nap pod.

Year In Review: Reflections On A Spectacular 2015

From client acquisitions to speaking on several panels for the first time, to stepping away from my consulting business and becoming a full-time, proud Rocketeer, to helping grow the local diversity in tech group I founded in my home city of Boulder, CO, Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, to over 225 people, plus hosting and participating in a dozen local events in Boulder and beyond, 2015 has been a year to remember. Best of all, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people, companies, and mentors. To close out this memorable year, I thought I’d share some of highlights.

Three of My Clients Got Acquired–And Then One Of Them Acquired Me

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbury the day after joining the company.

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Rob Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbery the day after joining the company.

Perhaps the biggest professional news of my year involved the extraordinary success of my clients. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success-driven businesses sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line. Read more about the acquisitions, and how thrilled I am to now be a Rocketeer at ServiceRocket.

Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse 

Top 100 Customer Success Influencers at Pulse.

This year MindTouch listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was honored by the mention, and enjoyed connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserved to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.

Customer Success Twitter Chat Thrived

In 2014 I launched the first-ever Customer Success industry Twitter Chat (#CustomerSuccessChat) while consulting with Frontleaf (acquired by Zuora in May ’15). Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English were totally on board, and together we launched the chat back in 2014, and in 2015, it really took off. The monthly twitter chat brought together Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners to talk shop, share best practices, and discuss overcoming challenges.

The chats consisted of lively real-time discussions including a series of questions on one topic (onboarding, sales and customer success, etc.) leveraging the #CustomerSuccessChat hashtag Twitter. We asked subject experts to mark their calendars to guarantee a high-level discourse, and others from the world of software adoption and customer success were also invited to weigh in on. After the chats, the Frontleaf team and I compiled chat recap blogs highlighting the gems from each one. This one on Customer Success as growthhacking is my favorite. At the moment I’m not running the chat, but maybe some form of it will return in the future.

Helped Launch The World’s First Customer Success Podcast

When Frontleaf asked me to devise a new channel to reach their target audience, I researched and created a plan to launch the Customer Success industry’s first-ever podcast exclusively dedicated to that topic. In early 2015, Customer Success Radio, the first-ever podcast about all things Customer Success and the cloud, hosted by Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English launched to great acclaim. The show served as a phenomenal source of leads and buzz for the company. The podcast archives are really worth a listen. While the podcast is currently on hiatus, Tom and Rachel tell me they will hopefully continue the podcast in some form at Zuora.

The experience of creating a plan for a podcast from soup to nuts was invaluable, and the lessons learned along the way have been very helpful in the creation of the brand-new podcast Bill Cushard and I will be co-hosting through ServicerRocket Media. Look out for “Helping Sells Radio” podcast in the first quarter of 2016.

Grew Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech MeetupIn May 2014 I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in tech in Boulder, CO and beyond. In 2015, with the help of epic co-organizers, we hosted a dozen local events, became a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance Member, and continued to be supported by our amazing sponsors SendGrid, Pivotal Tracker, Galvanize, and more. We even got a shout-out in the Denver Post and hosted an official Boulder Startup Week event. I’m so proud of the community we’ve built and are continuing to build here in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I look forward to working with more local companies and organizations and to hosting and participating in more events in 2016.

Moderated ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” Webinar Series

Throughout 2015 I co-hosted the webinars in ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” series alongside ServiceRocket’s Head of Training and Director of Marketing, Bill Cushard. This year we interviewed industry leaders talking about customer education, customer success, software adoption, and more. Guests included expert GitHub trainer Peter Bell, Behavioral Design (Gamification) Expert Yu-Kai Chou, ClientSuccess Founder/CEO Dave Blake, and many other industry thought leaders. You can check out the archives and look out for more great webinars featuring all-star guests in 2016.

Spent A Month At ServiceRocket’s Office In Santiago, Chile

This year I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month working out of ServiceRocket’s office in Santiago, Chile. ServiceRocket is a major contributor to the growing startup community in Santiago, and it was a blast to join the team there to host and participate in events and work on projects together.

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Enjoying empanadas with incredible ServiceRocket team in Santiago, Chile.

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Hiking in the Andes near Santiago, Chile with ServiceRocket colleagues.

Was A Panelist At S-Factory Event In Santiago, Chile

In October, S-Factory accelerator, which is run out of Start-Up Chile, invited ServiceRocket’s Chief Operating Officer Erin Rand, accountant Noelia Rio and me to speak on a panel to discuss how we’re “rocking it”. I was honored to speak to the entrepreneurial audience about growth marketing, our company values, and how we approach software adoption and customer success. S-Factory Executive Director Patricia Hansen was an engaging moderator, and I enjoyed participating as well as listening to and learning from insights shared by colleagues Erin and Noelia.

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Speaking at S-Factory (part of Start-Up Chile) in Santiago in October 2015.

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Participated In NewCo Boulder Diversity In Tech Panel

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Speaking at NewCo Boulder “Diversity in Tech” panel in November, 2015

In November, I was a panelist on the “diversity and inclusion” panel at NewCo Boulder, hosted at Quick Left in Boulder alongside Quick Left’s VP of Engineering Chris McAvoy and Executive Leadership Coach Gerry Valentine, moderated by Rachel Beisel. I loved being a part of the discussion and getting to chat with people after who wanted to continue the conversations about “bringing your whole self to work.” I shared personal stories as well as lessons I’ve learned from working with Silicon Valley Women of Influence, ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand and VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, both of whom do amazing work to increase inclusion in tech. It was cool to hear that people enjoyed the panel and that QuickLeft may want us to recreate the panel again.Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.45 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.28 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.32.21 PM (1).jpg

Interviewed Hooked Author Nir Eyal With Bill Cushard

Sarah_graphic-05I helped crowdsource edit the book Hooked by behavior engineering expert Nir Eyal and have been a huge fan of his work for a while, so it was a big honor to get to interview him and Bill Cushard for ServiceRocket Media. It was an amazing discussion about behavior psychology, customer education and software adoption. Listen to the interview.

Looking Forward To 2016

I’m grateful for the amazing people and companies with whom I had the privilege of working in 2015. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special year, and for being on this journey together.

I’m excited for what’s to come in 2016. In the first week of January, I’m headed to ServiceRocket’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for team building and to work on projects with our team in KL. ServiceRocket Media has some awesome projects in store including a brand-new podcast, epic webinars, and much, much more. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. Sarah

Reflections On Being Out In Tech

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.

In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)

But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.

For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention it. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.

In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.

When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still is.

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, founder of Fog Creek Software and out leader in tech.

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, out founder of Fog Creek Software, through Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup.

Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software,  gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.

Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, same-sex marriage was illegal. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.

These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.

Thanks for reading. – Sarah