Why Your Startup Culture Matters

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An integrative culture is one of the most important factors when it comes to the success of your startup. Find out which culture is right for your startup!

Note: Although not necessary, I feel the need to state that the below considerations are not referring in any way to my current workplace. These are thoughts and statements referring to past events as well as the period when I owned a company and was deeply involved in the startup environment.

In a world of startups, serial entrepreneurs and crazy funding rounds, startup culture is just another buzzword, as much as disruption and innovation. It has lost completely its original meaning becoming a “must-do” thing, rather than an inspirational guide for success.

The definition states:

Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization (or a startup).

Although fairly simple to understand, many startups founders fail at creating the right startup culture, simply because very few really care what drives the culture of their company or lose sight of it while building a business.

“Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviors…”

Values and behaviors are two important words and one thing that is often overlooked, especially in the early stage, is that these are not mutually exclusive. Values are tightly bound to behaviors, and vice versa.

It’s important for startup founders to define a set of values to follow and believe in. However, it is just as important to understand that values are not abstract words, but something startup founders must believe in. Believing in those values, however, is not enough. Founders need to live, breath and eat those values every single day. If you, as a startup founder, are not the living representation of those “words”, your employees will feel it, and as a consequence ignore your values and destroy your culture.

Values Fueling Your Startup Culture

Startup founders needs to believe in these values, obviously. Quite simple, still, not seen so often around.

The media has led startup founders to believe that creating a startup culture is all about kicker or ping pong table, xbox and some free beers and pizza over a late night stay at the office. These things are not part of the culture, these are just things. Things that might come with a culture, but are not the culture itself.

Whatever your vision and values are, make sure that your employees see them firstly in yourself. All the rest will follow. Once you have established what values should drive your startup to success now and in the next 30 years, be fully aware that these will have a direct impact on the wellbeing of your startup and your people. Your employees, those who care about your company, will evaluate you, as the founder, continuously against these values.

Perhaps I am generalizing when I think that startup founders often fail at crafting the right vision and values for their company, because they don’t want to necessarily build something for the next 30 years. Startup founders (not all of them obviously) build a startup with the dream of… cashing out and retire somewhere in [insert-exotic-country] on a beach.

Make Everyone Embrace These Values

It would be too easy to seat here and just complain about what doesn’t work in our startup land and leave you with the burden of making considerations by yourself. However, I want to go a step further.

Once you, as a startup founder, have identified those values that are part of your culture, you need to make sure that everyone of your team members embrace them fully. This can sound ridiculous or naive and most of us, when faced by the decision of hiring someone, will look at capabilities and company fit.

Company fit is something that gets close enough to startup culture; however it’s not quite the same. It’s generally difficult to identify where the difference lies, but it’s important as a startup founders to go a level deeper especially with those that will represent you within the company. Your managers or early employees should be “evaluated” continuously against your startup culture. Company fit is easy to check, company culture fit is not something you will find out the first day when they come to work.

When a company grows up to 500 people, no one will expect the founder to check every single employee and how well they do with company culture (although it wouldn’t necessarily harm to meet in person with each one of them). However, a startup founder should make sure that every manager understands and lives by the values that drive the startup culture. If that doesn’t happen, the “social and psychological” balance within your startup will break and become toxic.

Your employees are those that work every day in and out building your dream, without leaving the dream. Creating a successful startup culture is crucial for having happy employees for the long run. People joining a startup, don’t do it because of the money (most of the time), they do it because of the environment, the challenge and the unique vibe that nowhere else in a big corporation one can experience. Making sure that the values you choose to drive your startup culture are backed up by your (and your managers’) behaviors, it’s crucial! In this way you will create a successful and rewarding environment to work in.

As much as you focus on creating the right culture, those people that will join your team at the early stage will be the messenger of your values. Surround yourself with capable, yet, similar-minded people, who understand your idea of culture and can help you building a sustainable business over a long period of time.


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Photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA