The Culture of Startups I & II

Building a Startup Starts with Culture 

Culture is one of the most important engines of the company, and in today’s world, we rarely see a startup being transformational and iconic without a strong sense of Culture. Culture acts like a glue that keeps them going and is a set of beliefs and behaviors that the team follows to build a company when it’s going against all the tough odds in the startup world. Culture is a set of behaviors or virtues that people in the company identify and understand. Startup culture is a workplace environment that values creative problem solving, open communication, and a flat hierarchy. In a corporate culture, core values are typically informed by the company’s identity, including its mission statement, customer service, and products. 

It is imperative to understand that Culture is established in the company’s early days and is usually an output of how the founders and the very early teams want to run their businesses. However, it’s challenging to measure the Culture at the outset; it’s comparatively easy to reinforce at that stage. As your company eventually begins to grow and flourish, it becomes tough to operate and scale if it doesn’t have the right Culture, leading to bad decisions, split among the ideas and teams, and needing constant realignment and rogue behaviors. Having said that, Culture is and should be unique and authentic in every organization giving it a strong sense of purpose and mission with a balance of the modern-day diversity and quirkiness in the startup world. Culture is not about bringing operating principles from a successful company and pasting them on your walls or what founders believe about their company, it’s how the people who work in the company feel about their work and live with it. 

Culture isn’t something that can be delegated or outsourced. It needs to be in total control of the founders. Founders should make it their utmost priority to develop a thriving culture, centralize it and protect it every single day. Operationalizing Culture is another set of challenges that must be dealt with correctly. The way to go about them is first to write out the operating principles that are tied to the company’s Culture and identity to make sure anyone who reads them would know how to act in a specific scenario. These principles should be simple, easy to understand, but at the same time deep and actionable. When done and implemented correctly, this ensures that people act in a certain way without being asked and improves efficiency. 

The way to maintain an influential Culture can be done in certain ways. It starts with the founder’s habits, behaviors, and honesty, and people working in the company usually queue it from the management and leaders. Another way to maintain it is by having excellent communication channels and teams devoted to conveying and reinforcing the principles and values. And finally, probably the most crucial step is to hire the best-fitted people. Having brilliant Ivy league graduates won’t guarantee your company’s success; having correct people who identify with your vision and share similar beliefs would improve your chance at success. 

Additionally, as your company grows and scales, you must also evolve and allow people to mold their “team” with their Culture and feel, but all within your company culture’s framework. It’s clear that we can’t make everyone the same, but the founders and the leaders must make sure that they help the company grow and change with a sensible core culture framework. The delicate balance between cultural consistency and change must be maintained. 

Building a Culture in the current crazy world of remote work is something that is ever evolving. Effective communication and building personal relationships are two ways that might help leaders make progress, but this is uncharted territory, and every company can have its way of having success. The common consistency is ensuring that the employees have a strong sense of belonging and a “tribe” like feeling with shared purpose and pride about the work with gratitude for the successes. 

In the modern startup world, the stats tell you that you will fail. But, by fighting the odds and the incumbent and embracing the challenges, you give yourself a shot at the glory. Similarly, suppose your startup Culture isn’t correct and working. In that case, it’s usually evident to see, but you as a leader must address and fight it in a similar capacity and dedication for having a winning business. 

This post was written by Diyab Riyaz and Jeffrey Camp. Mr. Diyab is a member of Cane Angel Network investment team and is pursuing a Full-Time MBA from the University of Miami graduating in 2023. Mr. Camp is the Managing Director of the Cane Angel Network.