Editors Note: Nancy Hauge is Chief Customer Advocate and Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Ruckus Network, a digital entertainment service for universities. She is also a speaker at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s (CED) upcoming Opportunity 2005 conference, set for Nov. 10-11 in Wilmington. This column is the latest in The Entrepreneurial Spirit series done in partnership with Local Tech Wire.
_______________________________________________________________________________________It is my sincere belief that the rapidity with which an enterprise creates value is directly related to how well it stocks the company kitchen. And, the lower the nutritional value of the food choices, the greater the intellectual property produced.

I have spent time in a variety of industries: software, hardware, compression technology, storage technology, outsourced manufacturing and digital media. What do they have in common?

They all run on junk food.

Over the years I have spent hundreds of all-night sessions alongside my entrepreneurial colleagues as we prepared for term sheets, due diligence reviews, market launches, product launches, tape outs, quarterly results, auditors and IPO’s. And I don’t remember ever ordering in anything nutritious when the heat was on. When the engineers, scientists and technologists have to stay up all night, they don’t reach for No-Doz they reach for Cheetos. Junk food fuels time-to-market in the United States.

It is always a signal of a declining enterprise when they slow down on junk food purchases. Many CEO’s and CFO’s deny the value of the kitchen. It is an easy expense to control or cut when money gets tight. It seems like no big deal, really. People can bring food in or buy their drinks from a vending machine, right? They will understand that the next round hasn’t closed and the current investors don’t want to bridge us to buy snacks, right? But slow down there.

Losing the Rhythm

The purpose of junk food is not just to give the team a little blood sugar bump at 3 p.m. When you stop supplying fun food, morale and productivity decline. Why? As soon as your supply of Twizzlers and Diet Coke runs out; so do your people. Folks leave the office to go home or go out to eat and consequently you lose just a little time.

Let’s face it, when they leave, even for a short lunch, you can lose the rhythm–the hum of execution. To say nothing of that esprit de corps that comes with foraging for Pop Tarts at 2 a.m. or the creativity that accompanies your third Red Bull and fourth bag of Nacho flavored Doritos in an hour at 5:30 p.m.

I once worked for a start-up computing company that grew to $7bil in revenue during my stint. In the early years we brought in doughnuts every morning. As time went on the doughnut bill got to be pretty outrageous. So we cut back to doughnuts only on Wednesday mornings. Funny thing, our product launches began to stretch out. We were not moving as fast as we once had.

Donut Power

When I asked the VP in Engineering what had happened he said “You cut back the doughnuts! My guys used to get in here by 8 a.m. every day to get their favorite doughnut before it was gone. Now they come in around 9. I have 600 engineers in this organization and I lost about 600 man hours per day because you stopped the doughnuts!”

Why should junk food have this effect? Can a doughnut really motivate folks to come to work earlier? Sure. It is simple. People eat stuff at work that they would never be caught dead buying and never allow themselves at home. It is a compensation for long hours. And wholesome food really doesn’t cut it. No one goes to the community kitchen to fix themselves a salad and then go back to work. People do not bond over the cottage cheese. When you go to the kitchen at work it is to find something fat or fun or naughty and a colleague to share it with. Forget fresh fruit–it is forbidden fruit that cranks up the volume among entrepreneurs.

Junk food in the start-up kitchen is designed to keep your most important asset at work. Do I really promote enticing employees to spend too many hours at work and eat junk food to boot? You bet I do. Junk food is the enabler of an unbalanced lifestyle and an unbalanced lifestyle is crucial to start-up success. Seek balance and nutrition after we are doing $500mil in revenue, OK?

Until then, pass the Pork Rinds and Beef Jerky (I’m on Atkins).

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