Creating a Great Company Culture at your Start-Up

Even without any conscious effort, your start-up already has a company culture. If it’s positive or negative is something you, as a founder, need to nurture. In this article, we explain what culture is, and how you can start to embrace and enhance it.

Most start-ups are operating with small teams, and busy on building product and concentrating on growth and customer acquisition. It’s easy for founders to overlook the importance of getting their culture on the right track in the early days, as they tend to have 100 new obstacles every week.

Luckily, most start-ups tend to attract talent that is passionate and hard working as it is, so there’s often little need, particularly in a very small team, to spend too much energy on creating a company culture, however this is often the best time to do so; by setting your culture early, you are creating a direction for your start-ups organisational culture to head.

Candida Brush, in an article for Forbes, stated “Why is culture important in a new company? The failure or quit rate of new ventures is around 50-60% during the first 2 years.

When a business closes their doors, one of leading causes is leadership or management which is often stated as poor team composition, incompetence (living too high for the business or emotional decision-making), all of which can be linked directly to culture.”

What is company culture?

Let’s kick off by understanding what company culture actually means.

Your company culture is a combination of your shared vision, and the way your internal team and the organisation acts. Typically, in a start-up situation, the culture is heavily influenced by the founders of the company.

In their small business encyclopaedia, state that company culture is ”A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time .”

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You already have a company culture, like it or not

Many start-ups are so busy when they start a company, they are building their product and looking for product market fit, that they don’t pay any attention to their culture. They believe it’s something they will focus on down the track, when they hit their 50 employees, 100 employees, etc.

Little do many realise, that the moment they take on an employee, they have a culture. In fact, if you have two or more founders, your culture has already kicked in. You may be unaware of it, however there’s already a culture attached, and it is up to you to help craft a strong, positive one.

Startup company culture tips

Five steps to get started

Here are five ways that you can start to understand and nurture your company culture as an early-stage startup, through to a mature organisation.

Understand your purpose

It’s important to understand your organisations purpose. I’m not talking about ‘create great products’ or ‘make truckloads of money’, I’m thinking deeper than shallow short term statements.

A great way to do this is asking yourselves ‘So what?’ and get the centre of your direction. Say you are building a tech startup to that allows users to find nearby rental properties. You could ask ‘So what? How does that actually help people?’ After some time, you could find that your purpose is ‘to help people find their dream homes’.

Purpose in your organisation really matters; however only if you explain and share it with your team.

In a recent survey by consulting firm, Deloitte, they state “73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t”.

Define and document your values

I have previously written about how we empowered our entire team at Bam Creative in creating a great company culture.

We created our values using a six step process, being;

  • Leadership brainstorming
  • Refinement
  • Team brainstorming
  • Collation and refinement
  • Feedback cycle
  • Adoption

There are many different ways to create your company value statements; however we found this worked best for us. I break this down into more detail in the post, Creating company values that boost company culture.

Hire with value-fit

I’m not suggesting that technical or role specific skills aren’t important, however just as important to these skills is the ability for the new hire to fit within your culture.

In your interview with a candidate, be open and specific about your company values, and describe your values, as far as how they direct the culture you are creating. It is worth asking the candidate a few questions about how they understand these values, and what they believe these values mean. This all helps to better assess candidate suitability.

Work hard to create positive culture

In a previous article on this blog, titled How to create a positive company culture in 11 easy steps, fellow writer Heryati suggested encouraging positive communication, as well as being welcoming of new ideas.

Two things I have always worked on to keep a positive culture in what we do, are;

Keep communication open

Not just between management, but between all levels of the business. Openness and transparency builds a sense of ownership across the entire organisation.

Treat your team right

I don’t mean with perks, although they can be great. I’m talking treat everyone with respect and real personal care. Everyone wants to be respected, and cared for.

Constantly review your culture

Creating a great company culture isn’t something that you write a document about and then shelve it, ticking off that ‘create company culture’ checkbox. As Mike Murchison said earlier, cultures evolve over time, and you should be reviewing it regularly, and value how effective your culture and current team are.

A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneurs job is to build the foundation.
– Brian Chesky, Airbnb

How to preserve your company culture as your business grows

As your company grows, and you move from start-up to established phase within your business, it is important to re-evaluate your company culture, and ensure that it is still headed on the right track.

Rather than set the task aside as complete, you should be turning your attention to perpetuating the positive corporate culture you have created.

We have an annual review of our values and culture, and ask everyone with our team to take part in it. It is important that we take time to reflect on what is working, and what isn’t, and how we can keep our positive company culture.

This also sometimes means not only hiring, but firing for values.

If recently hired employees are degrading the company culture that you have spent much effort building, you must should quickly to address the issue. It’s typically either a lack of direction when it comes to your cultures and the behaviours you expect, or they are negative people and in this case, the behaviour is likely not to improve.

Paul Mandell, Co-Founder and CEO of Consero an article on states “CEOs often resist excising toxic but otherwise high-performing employees for fear of disrupting the critical work of the business. But rarely do such situations work themselves out on their own, and they often worsen as time goes by, causing long-term harm that far outweighs the short-term benefit of keeping culture-destroying teammates.”

The job of a CEO is to do 3 things: build the best team, get resources, and communicate the mission.
– Nathan Hubbard, Twitter

Ensure even with a remote team, that you spend time on explaining what your company culture is, and what values you hold as a team.

In Summary

Creating a positive, strong company culture at a start-up is one way to help ensure longevity of your business. Taking time out to find out how the team is feeling, and what your shared values are, is a great start towards building a company culture that will last as your team expands and your business gets bigger.

Even at early stages, you are creating a culture, whether consciously or not, so set aside time now to nurture it the way you want it to grow.

Good luck!

Miles Burke

Miles Burke

Miles is the founder of 6Q. He is passionate about peer-to-peer recognition, company culture, employee engagement and wants every workplace to be the happiest it can be. Miles is also MD of Bam Creative, an author and public speaker.