The Berlin headquarters of software developer Contentful occupies an old brick warehouse with heavy metal doors, broad functional corridors, and spaces native to its industrial past.
Standing six stories high, the structure once accommodated its worker population with a miniature kitchen on every floor, a favorite employee perk perhaps first introduced by a coffee-loving tenant.
Still, not everyone at Contentful loves coffee—or at least its CFO, Markus Harder, doesn’t.
“My secret is that I hate coffee—I just don’t like it,” says Harder, who shortly after his arrival at the firm put in motion a mandate to remove the small kitchens.
“It was arguably one of my biggest career gambles,” says Harder, as he captures our attention and leads us to wonder why a finance leader would make a point of championing such a seemingly misguided decree.
Of course, Harder’s actions are only Part I of a two-part tale. The second part involves the creation of what he dubs “a central watering hole” complete with a coffee machine worthy of Berlin’s trendiest “third-wave” coffee shops.
“With all of these floors and their little coffee machines, we were never seeing each other—we never talked to each other,” explains Harder, who reports that Contentful hired a champion barista for a 2-week period to teach every employee how to properly use the new machine to render an excellent cup.
Says Harder: “Whatever you want to drink—a coffee, a latte, an espresso—you’ll find that there’s always somebody there who has been to the training or someone in line who is ready to train somebody else.”
According to Harder, skeptics of the original mandate have largely been won over, but outsiders still find the coffee-making arrangement hard to imagine.
“Three hundred people, just one coffee machine—how does that work?” asks Harder, echoing the thoughts of coffee drinkers beyond Contentful’s four walls.
“Well, actually, it works. And it’s about the line. It’s a social experience, and one that I celebrate each morning,” remarks Harder, who says that on any given morning he’ll spend a minimum of an hour at the café.
Says Harder: “We’re all in the open. I’m available. Ask me something.”
CFOTL: The pandemic has certainly altered the work environment – but when it comes to hiring, what are your plans over the next 12 months?
Harder: I continue to invest in the team. I continue to invest in automation and systems. I’m actually accelerating hiring at this point, and I’m getting Contentful ready to be a public company in a couple of years. This is sort of a North Star for us. This doesn’t mean that we will go public, but it’s a North Star to which I want to point my team because the quality of financials, the quality of insights, and the quality of processes that I want to see us have is that of a public company.