The No Jeans Tax

Sitting around recently with Rob Johnson of Gnip, Tim Falls of SendGrid and Vikas Reddy for Occipital, we were talking about startup culture.

My first job out of college (unless you count my temp job removing staples all day for several months) was at Denver’s then largest public relations firm. I knew I wanted to work there the day I interviewed for my internship because it was massage day. A masseuse came in once a month and gave free massages to every staff member. What I didn’t know is that so often people were so under the gun that they didn’t have time to actually get the massage.

Perks are what companies hold out when they describe their culture be it free massages or half-day Fridays (we had those too). But perks do not make a culture. Culture isn’t that Trada pays for my gym membership to One Boulder. Culture is that no one at Trada cares if I leave for more than an hour to take a gym class because they know I’m a grown up and trust me to get my job done.

As my boss Bill Quinn said, “All I’ll have to do is treat you like a grown up to win your respect.” A former agency man himself he understand that agencies are full of micromanagers and people who tended to sweat every single small thing. That was the culture.

One of the trademarks of my first company was that they had a program where you could pay money to wear jeans on Monday to Thursday in our business casual environment for $5 a day. Each quarter the company would donate the proceeds to a charity that we would choose as a staff. Which sounds heartwarming until you think about it.

As Rob said, “So wait…they made a policy they felt mattered but told employees they could pay to break it and then financially benefited by getting tax credit for donating to charity by charging you a ‘jean tax’?”

Well, when you put it like that, yes.

Culture is letting employees wear what makes them feel comfortable and trusting them to know what’s appropriate depending on what they’re doing and who they’re meeting with.

I’m grateful for the years I worked at the agency. My co-workers were incredibly sharp, the clients were fun and my boss Brandy Radey was (and is) an incredible mentor. But I’m glad that I work at a Boulder startup that doesn’t charge me a “jean tax.” Because that’s what constitutes a culture.

If you’re interesting in working at a place with a “No Jeans Tax”, Trada, SendGrid, Gnip and Occipital and pretty much every startup in Boulder is hiring like crazy. Apply at Trada for a dev/engineer position, and free coffee is on us at Atlas Purveyors.

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  1. Jeremy Tanner June 24, 2011

    Where I thought this was going to go was talk of a startup that had reversed the jeans tax, as in “Wearing khakis, suit or slacks will be allowed, it’ll just cost $5 a day” That’d be nice.


  2. Rick June 24, 2011

    Based on title thought there was a tax if you didn’t wear jeans! Great Thoughtful piece …

  3. tmarkiewicz June 24, 2011

    Jeremy, I was thinking the same! Sounds like something we should implement at my company…

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