I previously shared our founding story and my history of solving startup communication and collaboration problems here. In this article, I wanted to focus on...
Startup culture is a key criteria for being an asset to your startup. It can influence many aspects of your success from how effectively you build a product to how quickly you gain traction with your target market, to customer brand loyalty and how aligned your employees are to your focus strategy.
Building and maintaining this culture takes time and effort, but the payoff can be huge — both for your company and for your personal growth.
As entrepreneurs, we are often motivated by our desire to prove ourselves. This motivation can blind us to other possibilities. When we begin our venture, we might overlook the difficulties that might be associated with pursuing said endeavor.
Instead, we focus on how to secure the next funding round—whether it be via investment or debt financing—and often lose sight of some factors that can bring huge rewards such as Return on Culture, Collaboration in the workplace, A shared common goal and Competitive Advantage.
Startup culture is anything but static; it evolves and changes depending on the needs of the day. This means that some startups will be more successful than others. But, understanding what makes for a good startup culture can help you determine how your startup will thrive.
In this article, I will define ‘what is startup culture’ as it relates to team composition, talent acquisition and retention, business strategy, open communication and how leadership teams enable the best possible team ethos.
Leave the politics to the politicians
It is safe to say, successful startups are built on mutual success where everybody is giving everybody else credit. Ideas are judged on the outcomes, not on who came up with the idea. Individuals feel safe to take risks, and even fail, using feedback to improve the next idea.
In toxic startup cultures, everyone wants to make sure everybody else knows what he or she did, even if he or she didn’t do it. Founders focus on the wrong things, employees feel disengaged and teams do not collaborate. Being the best ‘Spin Doctor” won’t deliver the best results for your startup.
It’s not a job, it’s not even a family, it’s a team mission
Great startup cultures are typically made up of people who could be doing a myriad of other things, but come together as a team to work on a particular product or service their startup is building, because it is important to them and they believe in it.
These cultures are often centered around amazing team work, diverse skill sets and the unyielding drive to help your team be more successful.
Intolerance for mediocrity
Great start-up cultures bring fantastic rewards for team players and have a natural self-management process for weeding out those who are not adding value to the vision, mission and team collaboration culture. Instead of accepting the least common denominator, great start-up cultures quickly reject those who are not meeting a high bar and search for talent who will push the bar higher.
This makes talent acquisition and retention highly competitive for modern startups, but if your culture is strong, teams collaborate effectively, individuals are passionate about your mission, then mediocrity won’t be something you agonize over.
Being mindful of spend
Great start-up cultures make every pound, dollar, cent or penny count. Being lavish doesn’t always bring lavish rewards, however being honest to your reality and combining that with creativity from your team as you grow, the results you produce will be real and every individual will feel proud to be part of your growth journey.
Great start-up cultures should always reward people in the short, medium and long-term. Short-term rewards are typically cash incentives, and they can play a motivational factor in achieving short term measurable goals quickly.
When it comes to long term rewards, equity is the play for most startups. But many startups do this very badly, especially with younger teams who may not have experienced equity rewards previously.
If you underpin your long term success with equity then be sure to consistently communicate the benefits, think of creative ways to visualize it, as it’s a sure fire signal that if your employees are not engaged by long term rewards, then they won’t stick around for the long term journey.
Perfect team alignment
Great start-up cultures are well-aligned, typically most effective when working in very small teams.
The strategy needs to be simple enough that it makes sense and is aligned with the vision, which your employees are engaged with, and best of all, pro-actively help to refine.
People are doing what they are good at and in the right roles. Every employee, from the CEO to a new hire, is on the same page.
The McKinsey 7-S framework is a great assessment tool to track your strategy and culture alignment.
Communication first, even when times are tough
Every successful startup is built on the foundation of solid communication with employees and clients. By taking this approach it becomes easy for everyone to buy into your journey, and help overcome challenges when they arise.
Your communication tone should be honest to values, free-flowing and always invite feedback. A startup journey to success is rarely smooth sailing and there will be many ups and downs. Our tendency as human beings is to not want to share bad news.
However, if you can tell your story to include the ups and downs, everyone involved in your journey will be excited by the next installment.
Lead by example
Most great startups focus as much time and effort on their culture as they do on their product and marketing efforts.
When founders and leadership teams are the ‘soul of the culture’ many benefits cascade through the entire organisation and your clients.
As a founder or leader it is your responsibility to continually set the cultural direction and empower your teams to collaborate and refine it within their specific objective and goals.
We have all experienced it before, sales don’t know what marketing ‘actually’ does, marketing are frustrated with sales for not following up on leads quickly enough, sales thinks engineers are more interested in just developing cool tools, engineers feel the market feedback they are receiving from other teams is inadequate, and everyone thinks the sales team is overpaid and should be selling more.
It is critical to success that this toxicity doesn’t develop in your startup, you will benefit considerably when everyone shares a mutual respect for what everyone else does and everyone celebrates wins from wherever they come. A healthy debate and communication culture leads to innovation and decisions that are accepted, even if there are disagreements.
When your culture extends to your clients typically you find these great startups continually agonize over defining who their customer is, what the customer really needs, and how the customer will discover value and maintain that value in your product proposition.
Being truly customer-obsessed starts a long time before a single line of code is written, it becomes a daily process and integral to your culture.
The most successful startups combine effective team collaboration and customer feedback as part of their cultures, and these startups are rarely caught out by customer issues because they are proactively and continually empowering their customers to tell them the true value they require.
WHETHER YOU ARE 100% OFFICE BASED OR HAVE ADOPTED HYBRID WORKING AS PART OF YOUR WORKPLACE CULTURE...
Find out more about how Flowtrace can help your startup improve team collaboration and measure your cultural impact on employee engagement and productivity through our 5 minute 'Company Collaboration Health Check' tool or check out some of our use cases.