“The argument is, build a large company to be insanely great and change the world, right?” says CEO Jon Fisher. “As we operationalize the financial part, the path to making a real contribution in the world can be formulaic.”
A spinoff company from a larger mothership might already have culture built in. At Conichiwa, a Berlin-based proximity agency and beacon company, that’s not quite what is happening.
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.
The company’s mission is to build a new operating system for the physical world, and to get there the team needs zero bullshit. Culture is far too important to leave to chance, says John Cieslik-Bridgen, Estimote’s VP of culture. But it’s also important to allow natural evolution.
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.
“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.”
“It’s been a challenge as we grow with how to disseminate information,” the company’s HR vice-president Alison Meadows told Street Fight. “We’ve been conscious about getting the next level of leaders below the senior leaders involved in decisions, because they’re going to have to roll them out.”
“Startup culture is very unique,” says Stylu’s CEO Justin Colombo. “There’s no such thing as rules. It’s good to have structure, but we’re very open-minded. We’re just moving forward naturally according to our culture and our style.”
The company offers a number of perks, including membership stock shares making each employee an equity owner. “That’s the kind of tactical ownership that we’re going for,” says CEO Ari Kaufman. “Make everyone own a piece of the company. This is your company. Give a sh*t about it — it’s yours.”
The six-year-old software startup employs 21 people in total. Co-founder Sean Abbas is frustrated at some of the ways that companies relate to their employees, and Threads software aims to help managing executives describe and understand the issues in building their company culture.
“We do a lot of different things every day, but it’s not like, ‘check check check,’ everything’s done,” says the company’s CEO Gladys Kong. “It’s about not being afraid to try new things. Keep learning. Keep working at it. Have integrity and deliver excellence”