Disclaimer: I was the first management hire at Automated Insights two years ago and am still there today. I’m a total homer and this is a total puff piece, but I’m making a larger point.

Automated Insights was one of 35 companies, including smallish startups Netsertive, Brooks Bell, HireNetworks, and Reverb Nation, selected by the Triangle Business Journal as a Best Place to Work in the Triangle. The 14 of us here at AI were pretty pumped about this, but also kind of non-plussed.

I’ve been involved with a number of startups in my history, usually tangentially, where you could pinpoint the exact moment everything went south. The two times I’ve been more closely involved, the spiral began when the startup moved to a fancy new building, and not just a better neighborhood with more space, but marble countertops, steel appliances, custom furniture, and at least two or three things you could point to and say, “there is absolutely not a single business reason for this thing to be in this building.”

There is none of this at AI. We’re not in vibrant and exciting downtown Durham and we don’t get to see or mingle with the dozens of other startups on the American Tobacco Campus. We probably should be. We thought about it when we moved last year, and it was so freaking tempting, but we decided to move to a bigger space in the same nondescript, rather plain, kind of smelly building that we’re in now.

It has a fountain, so you know, it’s fancy. It’s also close to Mez. You can’t walk to Beyu, but you can walk to the BP and get all the hot dogs and Torpedos you want. Plus, for the time being, it’s also home to Netsertive, one of the other Best Place startups. But they just raised a bunch of money and will move to accommodate the people they’re going to hire.

All of our furniture is second hand. For the first nine months I was here, my chair was held together with duct tape. But our computers are top of the line. We have all the free sodas and coffee you can drink, and we drink a shit-ton of sodas and coffee. Our office decor is early-period Fathead. We have a ping-pong table and a foosball table, both donated, and both get a lot of use. Adam Smith spent half a weekend rebuilding the foosball table because it just wasn’t holding up.

It also gave Kenny Ip blood poisoning.

Our benefits are extremely generous for a startup or, for that matter, any company. In fact, we’ll be rolling out more this year, but we stick to the important stuff like healthcare, vacation, and life insurance, not massages, health club memberships, or onsite car detailing.

We don’t take company trips to exotic destinations, unless you count the time we all went to the North American Olympic Table Tennis qualifier. That was epic.

So how does this small, bare-bones startup get put on a list of best places to work in a pool of literally thousands of small, medium, and large startups and Fortune 500 companies and everything in between?

Simple. Everyone here, to a person, loves coming here in the morning, loves what they do when they’re here, is passionate about what we’re going to accomplish, and is proud of what they’ve done when they get home.

This doesn’t happen by accident. Robbie Allen, the management team, and everyone else at the company has dedicated themselves to AI, the mission, the culture (and we’ve got the mission statement and values and all the things you’d expect), and the job that we’re all here to do.

We’ve created an environment here where everyone is plugged in to where we’re going and how we’re getting there. I bleed Automated Insights blue, which a lot of the time looks conspicuously like Carolina blue and other times like Duke blue, but I love the company so much I can get past that.

Plus, come on, we’ve got the coolest T-shirts in the Triangle.