Street Culture: How Some of the Most Successful Startup Leaders Motivate Their Teams

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The mobile consumer has been a source of a lot of growth in local over the past decade, where industry gaps are being filled by driven innovators. New tech startups might not have a formula to create culture, but many leaders consider culture an important component that helps drive financial success. Though every company is different, some trends emerge: leaders must be transparent with employees, they must hire for fit, and they must give employees a way to feel that they partially own the company.

At mobile payments company Square, for instance, a focus on keeping the culture open and transparent helps hold on to the small startup feel, even with more than 1,000 employees and a high-speed growth plan.

“From day one, collaboration and transparency has been an important part of our culture,” Chris Gorman, global real estate and workplace lead at Square, told Street Fight. “So when we moved offices in San Francisco, we actually designed our space to work like a city to encourage both. In a city, spaces are designed for people to come together and share things in a quick and easy way.”

The Square office takes up an entire city block and has a main “boulevard” running from end to end with a coffee bar in the middle and a library at the end – both that act like public meeting spaces. All conference rooms are glass and named after streets in San Francisco, such as Castro and Divisadero. There are cabanas, stand up tables, and couches throughout the office that invite employees to step into the busy city life, or take time away from it.

Not all startups can afford professional interior design taking up a whole block in the heart of San Francisco, of course, and Josh McCarter, CEO of service commerce platform Booker, says that being approachable as a leader has helped his team thrive.

“I have read that employee retention is 25% compensation,” McCarter says. “The rest of it is employees feeling good about leadership, having open lines of communication, getting feedback, being in a positive work environment, and having opportunities to learn and grow.”

Most of all, McCarter says that one of the most fundamental tactics to company culture is to hire the right people. The initial interview process for every individual employee is an opportunity to find out if those people will fit in.

“I think that especially when you think about the typical startup with people working 10 or 12 or 14 hour days, you have to have people who are like-minded,” he says. “If you have somebody who has a different mindset — who is used to hierarchy and structure and you need them to be an entrepreneur and take charge — if you’re misaligned, that undermines any type of culture that you want to put in place. Hiring for fit is the first thing you should start with when building corporate culture.”

Hiring for fit may be the most ubiquitous detail that startup leaders reference when discussing company culture. Tony Xu, CEO and co-founder of on-demand delivery service company DoorDash, says that he looks for employees who “want to do good” before anything else. With that starting point, Xu also says that his employees have also responded well to a culture of sustained transparency, where every performance metric applies to every employee — including himself.

Finally, what many of the most driven and successful leaders have repeated over and over again, is that they put tremendous effort into ensuring that employees have an extra incentive to bring 100% to every workday.

For Ari Kaufman, CEO of location marketing company Placeable, getting his employees to “give a sh*t” about the company they’re working for is the best way to create a productive, positive workplace. At Placeable, every employee is given equity in the company – a valuable option that Square also uses to help employees feel invested and motivated.

“You want to figure out how to build a culture where everyone has a sense of accountability to each other,” Kaufman says. “Not just to me. I’m not the only one driving everything here.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.