5 Founders Talk Startup Company Culture

From the outside, many tech start-ups look like they only focus on ping pong tables, full-time office chefs and a lot of perks. It’s not the case in reality. Many startup founders put plenty of focus on culture and hiring, as the five founders featured in this article explain.

It’s easy to assume company culture is all about team lunches, free massages and arcade games. It is certainly a simple mistake many early startup founders seem to make. Whilst perks certainly do improve your team’s mood, they aren’t what drives the culture.

Company culture is driven in these start-ups, particularly in their early stages, by their founders. What attitudes they present are often found as unwritten company values.

Anyone involved in a start-up, or any early stage business, really should address how they want their company culture to become. It’s often difficult, especially if there are only a handful of employees, to picture ever needing company values, a company ethos or a focus on culture, but these early days often help set the tone within the business for years to come.

Joel Gascoigne, Buffer

Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO of the exceptional social media start-up, Buffer, says “There’s no right or wrong with culture, it is simply a combination of 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. At Buffer, culture is definitely something we’re starting to be more deliberate about.”

Joel wrote a great post about the importance of culture in start-ups on his personal blog, entitled ‘The evolution of culture at a startup’ which is well worth the read.

Biz Stone, Twitter

If there’s a startup company culture that many founders aspire to, it would be Twitter. It’s not a case of culture being something that the founders didn’t consider and left to chance, either.

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Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter says “Startups have a unique ability to create a culture of compassion that helps us improve and in so doing, we are more likely to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s possible to build a business, help people, and enjoy our work. How we approach our work is often as important as the work itself because the way we treat each other, our shared environment, and the way we cooperate shapes us as people.”

I personally really like this concept raised by Biz, of “unique ability to create a culture of compassion”. We, as business leaders or start-up founders, need to remember that our businesses affect many people, whether they are users, investors, suppliers or the like.

Darmesh Shah, HubSpot

Darmesh Shah, Co-founder and CTO of the popular HubSpot agrees with both Joel and Neil, in that both your hires and how the founders think are vitally important to culture

“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).” Says Darmesh.

“As you noted, it’s not the ping-pong tables and beer that build culture — it’s the behaviors.”
-Darmesh Shah

Rand Fishkin, Moz

Darling in the search engine optimization space, Moz, even have a great page about their company values, for the world to see. Titled TAGFEE, which stands for Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, and Exceptional, they make for great reading.

Rand Fishkin, Founder and CEO of Moz, states “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 & 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 & 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 dictate the culture.

I wish that values, mission and vision, and people decisions were always spelled out on a document, but very often, even at Moz sometimes, the actions speak louder than what’s on the mission statement or the core values list.

Neil Patel, Crazy Egg

Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics states it’s also about the people that you choose, that help form your start-ups company culture.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that culture is really important. I used to think that you could just hire smart people and expect them to do wonders for you. 

But if people don’t fit within your company culture, they will be more likely to butt heads when it doesn’t make sense, quit when things aren’t going well and not care for your company.

In Summary

As these five founders have been quoted, startup company culture is a lot more than just beer and ping pong tables. Spend time to get your values right, hire for cultural fit and values and focus on making your business something that reflects the high values of the founders. 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.