Letter from 1369 Coffee House, Cambridge, Massachusetts Letter from 1369 Coffee House, Cambridge, Massachusetts

December 1, 1998

The problem with most workdays is that they start so early in the morning. It's 7:40 a.m. and I'm making my way through a narrow aisle lined with tables, trying not to spill my second cup of Colombian with skim milk and extra, extra sugar. My mind races with the pressures of the day calls to make, proposals to review, clients to visit. "At least I'm not alone," I think to myself. Around me everyone is busy reading, typing on laptops, editing on legal pads, or speaking into cell phones. No, this is not your typical office in corporate America. It's the 1369 Coffee House in Central Square, Cambridge.

Dalmex Business Technology Partners, our two-man firm, officially has office space in Harvard Square. But, unofficially, the 1369 is where contracts are written, software code is programmed, and number crunching takes place.

On a typical morning, the Coffee House is filled with graduate students working on dissertations, professors correcting papers, and societal pundits arguing about the burning issues of the day. The employees are not your typical office staff; some have multiple tattoos, color-treated hair - if they have any hair at all - and a few raise body piercing to an art. You'll also find a cast of local personalities, such as the Reverend Love, the unofficial "Mayor of Cambridge," and Peter, the Headmaster of the School for Meteor and Earthquake Prevention and Instructor of Electromagnetic Self-Defense.

But you might also see a meeting of the marketing department of PlanetAll, a local internet startup, or an executive from Wildfire, a virtual secretary service. And somehow, in the midst of the morning hustle, with soothing jazz in the background, there is order in this chaos, where everyone gets their coffee and everyone finds a seat.

It's an odd spot from which to run a business. But the background noise keeps me focused; it forces me to concentrate and draw from a deeper source of creativity. Sometimes, a contract for a marketing company calls for mocha java with whipped cream and, at other times, a law firm needing a strategy for telecommuters calls for a good old American cup of joe.

Which isn't to say we haven't had some problems. Like the time I made meeting arrangements with a prospective client, an executive for a small technology company that needed a firewall setup. I had met the client at a conference and, after several conversations, invited him for coffee at the 1369. The day of our meeting, I arrived early and scanned the seats, but could not place him. Twenty minutes later, he called me on my cell phone. I tried to brush over the fact that he was late. He was extra polite. After a long conversation, we agreed on terms and said a cordial good-bye, neither of us mentioning the mixup. I finished writing some notes and rose to get more coffee, only to spot him three tables down, dressed in jeans and a baseball hat - I hadn't recognized him without his business suit. Fortunately, it was nothing another cup of coffee couldn't fix.

But nothing lasts forever. PlanetAll was recently sold to Amazon.com for $88 million. And Dalmex has plans to expand to six employees which will be hard to manage from a coffeehouse. It would would be nice if we can keep the casual feel. Lucky for me, I have some influence on the decision.

Beto Pallares, one of the co-founders of Dalmex Business Technology Partners, has recently switched to espresso.

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