The Curious Case of Coffee in Startups


Because of its unfailing ability to increase office productivity, the employee of the year award once again goes to… Mr. Coffee Machine.This thought cracked me up as I sipped my third cuppa freshly brewed hot cappuccino, delivered to my desk in an attractive paper cup that read “Gloria Jeans”. It’s amazing how the fuel to keep every employee going, especially in the stressful environments of a small startup, is this brewed beverage with a dark, acidic aroma prepared from the roasted seeds of a coffee plant.

“Incidentally,” says Neha Sharma, “the idea of starting up "Fruitz Koncepts" came out over a round of coffee and I whole-heartedly believe that it is one beverage that has helped me and my team bring out an exhaustive list of launching and execution work with long schedules after coming back from a tiring job!” She continues, “I think I could never conduct an early morning meeting with my team - unless I have a strong coffee.”

So why has coffee-consumption become such an integral part of the startup culture? Studies suggest a direct correlation between the high stress levels in the startup game and the distressing quality of that coffee bean.

Building a successful company is aeonian, not a sprint, and dealing with stress is part of this aeonic matrix. It would take you days contemplating on how to go about your business models, nights putting business plans to word docs, hours in the shower wondering if those business plans have churned out right and then days again reworking on them.

So first, you don’t get sleep. Then, when you do hit the sack, it takes you hours to fall asleep. The mind is always in hyperactive mode and no matter how time pressed and worked out you may be, it just won’t turn off!

“When we first moved into TBI@BITS (our office space back in campus), we immediately sensed that something's missing in the office. And eureka! We ordered a Coffee Maker online,” says Ankit Gupta, founder on Innovese.

“Coffee soon got into the culture at Innovese, our office-space was in the institute building far far away, and also Pilani is famous for its negative degree celsius winters. It was special - brewing in the cold nights and brainstorming with a hot sweet cup of coffee. We also had some of our friends visiting us at nights to have coffee together at our place, which at times made our night-outs easy and helped stay awake. Coffee-break is great. It’s imperative for night-outs, which unarguably, are the most efficient working hours for a start-up. We still have those white cups with good-luck messages written by our friends who visited us for coffee! A lot 'seriously' happens over coffee.”

The caffeine found in coffee acts as a stimulant and improves concentration levels. Something that helps a startup team brainstorm and innovate together. Just the smell of coffee is so intoxicating! It is so rich, warm, inviting, relaxing and invigorating all at once, that it feels like the instant cure to soothe the high anxiety levels at your workplace. Studies advocate just the aroma of coffee might reduce your stress level by altering the activity of genes in your brain. But the question is - how do you make this a matter of convenience during work hours?

Sangeeta Banerjee of has with her own experience, along with her husband and co-founder Venkat Kandaswamy’s addiction to coffee, finally worked out on what is the easiest and best coffee setup for a startup.

She tells me what she tried, and what worked:

1.             Morphy Richards Espresso Machine.

Pros: Affordable Coffee Maker, fresh brewed coffee, you can experiment with coffee grounds. Also, fills a small office with caffeine aroma when brewing.

Cons: Too much hassle of brewing, cleaning the pot. The bitter oils get accumulated in the machine and without regular cleaning of the internals, coffee loses taste over time. Also, the brew is to be made in one go for everyone – since not everyone enjoys the brewing ritual, and people don’t have a choice of coffee time. Not good for a busy startup team!

2.             Order from a Gourmet Coffee Shop

Pros: Can get variety and quality

Cons: Not affordable for daily consumption

3.             Order from a typical Iyengar Bakery

Pros: Very Affordable.

Cons: Cannot get it delivered to office without a large number of employees. Also, no choice of sugar or milk.

4.             Water Cooler with Hot and Cold option.

Pros: You anyway need a water cooler. Can just get the hot water in your coffee mug and mix good instant coffee with sugar and milk powder. Each one can make their cuppa exactly when they need. Also with the variety of high end instant coffee available now, this is just the right option. In summer you have the option for a cold coffee with the same set up; can stock up with high-end instant cappuccino sachets as well.

Cons: No coffee aroma in office.

One question that makes us so curious about coffee is, “Does coffee help you deal with stress or does it increase stress?” Studies have been forever flip-flopping on whether coffee is bad or good for the health. Eventhough in the short-term caffeine gives us an energy boost and increases our levels of alertness, in the long-term it hinders the system and causes fatigue. It’s an artificial stimulant and therefore our ability to deal with stress is reduced.

So what conclusion do we reach with these paradoxical findings? Simple. Monitor your intake. Don’t drown yourself in a pot of coffee. For obvious reasons, too much of anything is bad. About 3 to 4 cups of coffee is considered moderate. You may consider  cup of green-tea or just some cookies or healthy snacks to much on in order to curb the restlessness, what they call “caffeine withdrawal symptoms”.

Of course, besides the spinning chair you sit on, coffee is the best thing that could have happened to your workplace. Infact, they say, the café world mourned the death of Steve Jobs the most. Without his iPads and MacBooks, coffee shops couldn’t have made more business out of budding, confused and anxious entrepreneurs! One may conveniently conclude, a lot of success stories have been fuelled by the power of… coffee.

And if one still fails, there’s always beer.

- Abhilasha Dafria.


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