“In the hiring process, we often use the terms ‘smart, hungry, and humble,’” says Zaius CEO Mark Gally. “This notion of being humble is really a critical component of culture. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work extremely seriously.”
It’s never too early to be intentional about establishing and promoting the key values you want your team to emulate, says Liftoff’s CEO Mark Ellis. It provides a set of criteria against which to assess candidates from a cultural fit perspective, as well as a rationale for promoting certain employee behaviors and discouraging others.
While some company founders sit down and write out their core values and identify what their company’s culture should be before they even find the people who will help them, others just go with their gut. For Pete Gombert, founder of local marketing company Balihoo, his gut feeling about culture has turned into a whole new company.
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.”
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.”
The stages of business growth may have no end point, but the opportunities that lie within them are more abstract than they seem. Moz CEO Sarah Bird says that Jeff Bezos’ well-known assertion that it will always be “day one” at Amazon resonates with her, but that financials can cloud the view of that goal.
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.”