Startup Culture - 9 Founders Share Their Words of Wisdom
Startup culture has a reputation for being fast-paced, agile, and messy – but highly empowering for those working within.
The trouble is, as a founder of a startup, how do you know you’re doing all the ‘right things’?
There’s many books out there, TEDTalks and inspirational quotes, but the fact is you probably want to hear it from the founders who have been there, done it, and have the story to tell.
As culture becomes ever more important in startup life, I’ve interviewed a handful of founders and CEO’s who were all willing to share their wise words on company culture.
Make your culture real...
“The trick with culture, is that it has to be real, you can’t suggest one set of values and then live another.”
“We aim to employ clever, motivated people and let them “get their sh*t done” without micro-managing – you can’t expose these values then micro-manage, it would make a mockery out of it.”
“Equally at FanFinders we try those things that should be the norm. On those super hot days we often shut the office (both physical and virtual) a few hours early and allow everyone some time off in the sun, to walk dogs, play with kids and drink beer (well that’s what I did with the time!).”
“Your culture is something alive and always slightly in the flux, it’s not just a document written for you.”
“A great culture is a fantastic thing and helps both retain and motivate staff, but you have to be in it for it to work.”
Alec Dobbie, CEO and Co-Founder at FanFinders
Trust your instinct...
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned about creating company culture since we started NOVOS a few years ago is that it’s all in the recruitment. No amount of dinner, drinks, team events etc will have as much of an impact on your company culture, as hiring the people that fit all of your company values does.”
“If there’s any advice I can give to new start-up founders about building company culture, it’s to make sure every employee you hire fits all of your company values and you trust your gut instinct about the person. Furthermore, give your teams the freedom to build the culture themselves, rather than you as the founder trying to force something, as you’re just there to guide things.”
Antonio Wedral – Co-Founder & Director at Novos
Startup culture starts with you...
“You need to build a magnetic culture that makes the best people want to work for your brand and your customers. You know you have the best possible culture when you have a team that simply cares.”
“There will be ups and downs and there will be moments when you have to put pressure on results, but if the foundations are robust they’ll be the first ones to find creative solutions. It’s a million times more challenging with the current restrictions, but because of that it should be your first priority.”
“No matter how much time you spend reading about it and creating documents, the culture of the company is dictated by how you and your first hires think and behave. Once you’re already growing you can change processes and rules, but not the values.”
“Make sure you start with adjustments on yourself for those traits you don’t want your company to inherit, and remember that when you’re hiring your first team you’re hiring for experience, proactivity, and culture.”
Lamia Pardo – Co-Founder & CEO Journify
Be careful what you project...
“The main company culture lesson I have learned is to stop projecting my goals onto the staff. What motivates me is not the same as what motivates my team members. Understanding their goals and trying to align what our company is doing with where they see themselves in the future has been very beneficial.”
“Our other main culture is not taking it all too seriously. We should be rounded individuals who are not 100% beholden to some corporate ideology. We work hard, we do a good job, and we go enjoy the rest of our lives.”
Ian MacMillan – President at MacMillan Marketing
There is always a way...
“In the past, we had situations with a couple of employees who were always sharing excuses about why something is not possible to be done. This type of attitude is not the way forward for a start-up like Enterprise League which is striving to become THE place where companies do business. “
“Hence we created our company culture to revolve around “There is always a way”. This inspires employees to think outside the box and use their creativity and resourcefulness to find solutions.”
“In order to achieve this as functioning company culture, we promote open and easy communication throughout all layers of our company.”
“Our company pet peeve is a negative attitude, and as soon as we see this trait in an interview the candidate is automatically out. At Enterprise League we believe that a positive attitude of the glass is always half full is crucial for boosting people’s motivation to strive to achieve even more successes.”
Irina Georgieva, co-founder of Enterprise League
You need to be purposeful...
“Something that I’ve learned through the past decade of growing MonetizeMore is how important developing a purposeful company culture is, especially for a location independent business. If the leaders aren’t purposeful about shaping the culture, it will shape itself which in most cases will be detrimental.”
“We started this process by creating a culture doc. This doc has been iterated over the years and leveraged throughout many aspects of the business.”
“It’s one thing to say your company is led by a values based culture, it’s another to live it. The difference between the two can be the core difference between a failing and thriving business.”
Kean Graham – CEO of MonetizeMore
Assume positive intent...
“One of my biggest company culture tips is what I call API – assume positive intent. More often than not, people’s actions and words are well intended but it might not always come across that way – particularly when we work remotely. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and clear communication with your team on a daily basis has been a really important foundation on which we’ve built the Rest Less team culture.”
Sara Stephens, Founder of Rest Less
Don't forget to celebrate the wins...
“In the beginning, it’s important to celebrate the wins. It’s often difficult to do so in a start-up because you are doing a lot of different things and often the wins are missed as fires are being put out. Taking the time to stop and be grateful for the things around you is the key to succeeding in the earlier stages.”
“Creating a company culture is one of the most important aspects of starting any business. Building a core team of individuals that share your vision and understand how you work, is imperative to crafting your company culture. As your business continues to grow, you will have less time with the new team members but your core team will help share the vision and goals of the business. This will ensure that your company culture runs through the individuals who make up your team.”
Stephen Moss – Managing Director of Sourced Capital
Startup culture is the start of a journey...
“I understand that people’s personal lives are important. If a member of the team needs to go for an appointment, attend to a family issue or simply take time off for a birthday, or celebrate a holiday, it’s a no brainer. These things are really valuable to me so I appreciate that everyone should have the opportunity to take time away from work.”
“There aren’t any penalties if people need or want time off for their personal lives, and no one should ever feel guilty about requesting annual leave. A happy team that has freedom is more likely to stick around and go above and beyond the call of duty when needed. I think it’s important to keep this in mind no matter how busy work is, or how many projects you have coming in. People should always come first.”
“I’ve learned that there is no beginning and end – creating a company culture is an ongoing process that will continue. No such thing as ‘job done’ here. Like many things in life, it’s all about the journey.”
“My approach from when I was 20 is different from how it is now I’m 26, and a lot has changed since then. For instance we have taken on staff in new roles – the PR and communications area was relatively new to us up until recently. When you onboard new staff it reminds you that each person has their own needs within the company, and a PR person will have different needs to say, a developer. It’s really no surprise that they need a lot more back and forth, with open communication channels for the editing of content. It wouldn’t suit them to be given a checklist of tasks to go away and crack on with. This understanding makes it possible for them to do their job correctly, but also feel comfortable and supported with their work environment. ”
“I can only imagine that I’ll continue to see changes, and I’ll continue to be flexible in my approach so each and every person in the company can have what they need.”
James Whittall – Founder & Managing Director of Influx Digital
As these founders reveal their wisdom from life in a startup, culture is important – even at the very start.
I hope this advice has given you food for thought on your culture journey, and if you need a helping hand, don’t forget to contact me about a company culture training workshop, or culture consultancy to support you on your way.