Have You Cultivated the Best Company Culture for Your Startup?

Keith Krach
June 6, 2016

A clever business strategy might propel your startup into a comfortable market position, but the most remarkable things happen at companies with a positive, high-energy business culture. The folk wisdom behind the entrepreneurial quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” doesn’t lie, and leaders at the most successful startups work hard to establish the right energy at the office. 

If you’ve created the right culture for your own startup, you’ll have done five important things.

You assembled an “A-Team.”

At the moment that an entrepreneur makes the decision to hire even one other person into a business venture, a culture is established. The entire “feel” of a company is dictated by the actions and attitudes of its leaders, and hiring a core group of competent early team members sets the tone for how your business will operate as it grows.

If you’ve created a successful business culture at your startup, you hired the best possible people to fill crucial early positions within your company. You recruited team members thoughtfully, looking for talented people with a resourceful nature and a willingness to work hard, before the company had seen any success. In conjunction with these talents, you also only hired candidates whose personal values were complementary to those you use to run your business.

If you assembled an “A-Team,” you will know it, because your core team members will have perpetuated the process of hiring employees who demonstrate company values as your startup grows. The elements of your business culture will be easily identifiable to both new and tenured employees.

You headquartered your business in the right place.

Up to 69 percent of startups are first housed at a personal residence, and then move to a professional building after they see enough success to justify renting a professional space. The geographic location of the space that a successful entrepreneur selects for his or her team can have a significant impact on company culture.

If you’ve built a solid cultural foundation for your growing startup, you likely chose to establish your headquarters in an area of town where other likeminded enterprises conduct business. This often equates to real estate in a downtown district undergoing a renaissance in collectiveness and co-learning. If your startup has seen rapid growth and success, you may have even moved operations to a new city or state to position yourself among other businesses in your industry. Doing so can strengthen your own culture by association.

You regularly practice team-building.

The most successful entrepreneurs swear by certain truths, one being that any startup incapable of attracting or retaining top talent will never be an industry leader. Most will be incapable of surviving in any competitive market. Creating a team-oriented culture for a collection of talented employees who work well together fosters loyalty and improves morale during difficult quarters. 

If you’re a leader who has created an exceptional business culture at your startup, you don’t skimp on team-building opportunities. Likewise, you don’t insist on employee participation in activities that feel forced. You take the “feel” of your company into consideration and look for chances to increase trust and respect between colleagues, both on and offsite.

You don’t forget your values during growth periods.

As the founder of a successful startup, you’ve seen your venture through, from its original conception to its current industry position. You’ve also probably seen your company increase in size many times over, and you’ve hired employees as needed to accommodate a healthy level of growth. 

If you’ve truly established the right kind of business culture at your company, you haven’t let core values get lost in translation as the size of your startup expanded. You’ve put in place strong leaders who understand the company’s mission and have successfully imparted the importance of the mission to new hires. You have also communicated the importance of hiring employees whose personal values adhere to those exemplified by the startup, even if it means being selective during times of rapid expansion.

You walk the walk.

Perhaps the most important aspect of cultivating a strong culture within your startup is the idea of practicing the cultural creeds that you preach. Leaders who espouse adherence to a set of principles that they themselves do not follow will never earn the respect or trust of their staff, which often manifests as a negative business culture.

If your startup has seen cultural success, you’re most likely to be a leader who is transparent about what you want from employees and clear about your vision for the company’s future. You have high expectations of your staff members, but you hold yourself to the same standards, never expecting more of anyone than you would of yourself.

Part of standing by your business culture also means you are willing to hire and fire for it. You protect what you have built with the help of a team that feels as strongly about company values as you do. You do not tolerate the degradation of culture from newer associates who may have passed the hiring phase but are proving to be toxic to your firm’s working environment.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.