Starting your own tech company often comes with a painful side effect, says Joshua Enders, managing partner of client success at digital commerce company Six Vertical: “It’s an absolute grind. It’s like getting punched in the stomach multiple times a day,” Enders says. “I’m speaking from experience.”
Environment, talent, and process all encourage the growth of innovation, according to IT research firm CEB, which was recently acquired by Gartner. But there’s a balancing act that must take place between structure and exploration — especially for smaller companies on a fast upward growth curve.
Dublin-based digital search platform startup Pointy is still at that point where the culture is just what it is, without special definitions or structure. “The number of people on our team now is small, almost painfully small,” says co-founder Mark Cummins. “There’s not a lot of structure. Well, there is structure, but there’s not a lot of process around it.”
“I think it’s important to have marketing leadership from a cultural standpoint,” the company’s VP of marketing, Corey O’Donnell says. “Marketing isn’t just what you tell the world about your business, it’s also what you tell your employees.”
“We are a company that values transparency,” says the company’s CEO, Antonio Tomarchio. “Every month we present to all the people across the company everything that’s going on. I believe that not only it’s the right thing to do, but also that it’s always the best long-term strategy for success.”
For many locally focused tech companies — including NextDoor, SweetIQ, ibotta and G/O Digital — transparent sharing and openness at all levels is inviting a new workplace generation led by women.
“The culture starts at the top and stays with the top and there is nothing more important than leading by example in that respect,” says CEO Kristen Stiles. Her company, Sitter.me, connects parents with local babysitters.
New tech startups might not have a formula to create culture, but many leaders consider culture an important component for success. Though every company is different, some trends emerge: leaders must be transparent, they must hire for fit, and they must give employees a way to feel that they partially own the company.
“Startup culture doesn’t just mean a stocked kitchen with burritos in the freezer and tons of snacks in the kitchen, or jeans in the office,” says the company’s communications VP Dave Heinzinger. “It means everyone has the ability, from the CEO on down, to roll up their sleeves and really go to work on whatever needs to be done.”
“There has to be a process around the strategy to support the goals of others,” says founder David Pachter. “The people driving innovation are the ones on the front lines, working with clients and products. That groundswell of direction and changes, they don’t happen if you don’t have open channels of communication.”