Cultivating and maintaining a fantastic Startup Culture
Ask any successful startup founder about the key to success in the companies they’ve built, and they’ll almost tell you that it all comes down to creating a fantastic company culture.
“Startup Culture” as a term is difficult to define and even harder to quantify. It is something that is built from the very start and help shape the soul of a company. It is a driver of innovation and a strong one increases loyalty, productivity, foster teamwork, and reduces negative behaviour.
So culture is a big deal and one of the way companies distinguish themselves from one another.
The question is how to do you create a strong culture and then maintain as you grow?
Only a few entrepreneurs have a good answer to this question. Here’s what they have to say on cultivating and maintaining a fantastic startup culture.
“You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behaviour. If you encourage people to share, and you give them the freedom to share, then sharing will be built into your culture. If you reward trust then trust will be built into your culture.” – Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp
“If you’re just starting out as a new company, then the easiest thing I would suggest is to figure out your own personal values (which is harder than it sounds) and then just make the company’s values the same as your personal values, and make sure you hire people whose values match the company’s values (and you fire people for values violations).” – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com
“Having a clear mission and making sure you know that mission and making sure that mission comes through the company is probably the most important thing you can do for both culture and values.” – Brian Chesky, founder and CEO of Airbnb
“I think culture to some degree is basically to some degree the resolution to a bandwidth problem. The first 10 people you hire are so important is because you’re not just hiring those first 10 people, you’re actually hiring 100 people. You should think of each one of those people as bringing along sort of 10 other people with them.” – Patrick Collison, founder and CEO of Stripe
“In order to create great company culture is to start with the most simple, and important step: codify or document the values and culture. It’s important for all companies to identify their culture, and then to communicate it broadly. At 500px, we break out culture into three primary components – our common values, our attitudes, and our behaviours. As CEO, it’s my responsibility to gather and collect input from everyone in the company on all three components, distill them into concepts, and then document and present them back to everyone.” – Andy Yang, founder and CEO of 500px
“Building a strong culture has little to do with the “table stakes” — food, perks, beer, etc. and much more to do with defining the “WHY” in terms of why you exist. I believe it’s the founders’ job to clearly define a compelling vision – one that is rooted in authenticity and can be attached to any one person’s role in the company (meaning, they can easily connect the dots between what they are doing to drive forward the vision). All companies can state the “WHAT” and even the “HOW” but it’s harder to clearly define the “WHY” — that’s where the community starts to form and you see true, unbridled engagement in your team.” – Julia Hartz, founder and CEO of Eventbrite
“Early employees shape a company’s culture. By understanding your employees values and uniqueness it allows you to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong. We also believe that inclusion be part of your core values. Having inclusion as a value leads to an increase in retention, a positive culture, and diverse hiring.” – Wayne Sutton – Serial entrepreneur and founder of Change Catalysts.
“There’s no right or wrong with culture, it is simply a combination of a natural personality of the founding team in addition to proactive work to push the culture in a desired direction and to maintain certain values. I think to build a culture that can inspire people to want to work for you, you will want to take the time to make specific changes to shape it. ” – Joel Gascoigne, founder and CEO of Buffer
“The culture of a startup is defined by three things: 1. How the founders behave, 2. Who they recruit, reward and recognise. 3. Who they release (let go).” – Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of HubSpot
“If you’re trying to figure out what a company’s values really are, look at the decisions management makes when lots of money, risk, or loss of face for executives is at odds with the stated values. Want to know the company’s mission and vision? Look at what they’ve intentionally chosen not to do, even though it could be lucrative. And if you’re seeking answers to why a company hires and fires, talk to the managers about their most unorthodox hires that have worked out, and the most regret they’ve felt when letting someone go (and why).”
Rand adds that even though start-ups or businesses may have published company values, it’s not these, but rather the actions of the team that dictates the culture.
“I think every company inherently has a culture from day 1. It’s almost impossible not to. However, I do think it’s important to focus on building a positive culture that the founders are proud of from day 1. That being said, culture may change as the company grows, so I always encourage people to not try to create the company “values” until you’re at least a few employees in, and see which values you truly care most about. We tried coming up with values on day 1, and it was way harder than when we did it on day 240 (i.e. 8 months later, and 10 employees later) since we knew what things mattered most to us from the employees we had hired.” – Liz Wessel, founder and CEO of WayUp
“A company’s culture is not something you simply create. It evolves and getting the right people on the team is the foundation for it.” – Kenneth Svenningsen, CEO of Shipbeat
“We three founders promised each other that we were going to really work hard and that we would remain friends throughout the process, regardless of what happened. So every month, we would return to that bar where we had the original idea, and we would have a 360 review of each other. We’d put somebody in the hot seat and say: “Hey, you’re doing this well, but this could be improved. And when you shoot me a 10-page e-mail at 2 in the morning, I want to punch you in the face.” That set the tone for the culture at Warby Parker, which would really be rooted in open and honest feedback.” – Neil Blumenthal, founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker
Image: Flickr, Sebastiaan Ter Burg