The Startup Culture

Lots has been written about the importance of company culture and how to encourage it to develop and flourish in the right way.

Startups and scales ups are unique — especially in our mostly remote work world. They attract a certain type of employee with a different mindset and urgency. From the founders down, the cultural tone takes on an almost quest-like facade.

When I was a green founder trying to balance the early stages of a company and the needs of early stage employees, I visited other founders to understand their company culture. At my company we had all the “culture building” trappings — a foosball table, birthday celebrations, catered lunches and even a garage door that split our board room and kitchen (it was a thing in the 90’s — really).

The other startups that I visited over the years had distinct cultures that attracted their right employee type. Shopify attracted a type of employee where having tapped beer kegs that were flowing at 10am and a slide was appealing. Lyft’s culture was the most empathetic and welcoming of all the companies that I’ve seen and it attracted the same. TripAdvisor was totalitarian in culture — silent and intense — and visiting some of their offices was like entering a library.

Now, for early stage companies that are just trying to establish themselves, culture is a hard thing to build with intention. It’s ok to not “have” a culture at this stage — in fact, culture will get in the way. As the company grows and the team expands, culture will break and rebuild many times over. Instead of establishing a culture in those early days, I tend to think of it as a building a quest.

This startup quest will attract the right people for the right time and, slowly, human by human, company culture will emerge and only then will it require intentional nurturing and guidance.