While I don’t feel I’m in any position to give a tutorial on how to make your company a great place to work, I do get a lot of questions along those lines since Coupa has a reputation as a great place to work. I can certainly share what I think has worked as we’ve grown from nine employees to 900. I can also share where my inspiration comes from: an auto repair shop in Brooklyn that I happened on by chance nearly 20 years ago.
The broken tail light
Up until then, most of my experience with getting my car fixed was like this: You make an appointment to bring your car in, and fill out all this paperwork. You sit in a dirty, greasy, smelly office, drinking crappy coffee and waiting. Your car is never ready on time, it costs more than estimated, and you wonder if you’ve been ripped off.
For some reason I’ve now forgotten, my then girlfriend and now wife Kira and I had borrowed her mother’s car, and it had a broken tail light. We were driving down Neptune Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, and I spotted this shop, and thought, let’s just pull in and see if they have the part and maybe we can drop it off tomorrow.
I remember very distinctly what drew me to that shop. There were cars in the front, and on the side, and you could see people working on them. There was a lot of activity. It looked like a happening place.
I pulled into a side driveway and started walking across the lot, anticipating the usual drill. A guy who had the air of being in charge approached and asked me, “What’s the story?
I said, "Broken tail light, back right." He motioned, and one of the mechanics stopped what he was doing and came over and started looking at the back of the car. Apprehensive as to what was about to happen, I began talking; "It’s just a broken tail light. Do you happen to know if you have the part? How long will it take? What will it cost?"
"Just hang on a minute, we'll sort it out," the guy in charge said.
The mechanic he had summoned had already taken out the broken tail light, pulled out the bulb and was headed off toward the shop. I was thinking, "Wait a minute, gentlemen, I'm not necessarily ready to do this now, not knowing the cost and time it will take.”
I had no choice but to wait for him to come back, so I started looking around. I felt like I was in Santa's workshop. Not only were these people working hard, they were working with joy. You could see it. You could feel it. They were happy. There was music playing. Some of them were humming. A few were tapping their feet as they worked. It seemed as if at any moment somebody might just burst into song. That was the kind of energy that was in the air.
Kira was still in the car, reading something. She looked up at me questioningly, and I shrugged my shoulders to say, "I don't know what’s going on, but let’s give it a few minutes."