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”
At six years old with about 40 employees, the company is currently in a growth phase, and will likely grow considerably in the next year. Euclid’s director of product, Alexander Reichert, says that the daily lunch hour has been a kind of string that ties the team together.
As the company has grown, according to CEO Alexei Agratchev, it has experienced two “productivity peaks,” where fewer people are doing a huge amount of work. Then new hires are brought on, and the productivity stays about the same for a few months as the growth potential is realized. This can be a frustrating cycle to manage.
Every month, one half of the company’s employees travel to visit the other half of the employees — the engineering team is located in Oslo, Norway and the commercial team is in New York City — as a culture-building activity, giving employees a chance to connect while in the same time zone.
“When you have a transition where there’s a new CEO and the company is basically in crisis, it seems like, ‘Oh, this is a perfect time for values,’” said Extole’s Matt Roche. “But it’s unbelievably hard to implement new core values when everyone’s afraid.”
Ampush employs about 125 people, COO Nick Shah said, and their level of satisfaction with their colleagues reflects the close relationship he has with his co-founders. In a recent company engagement survey, results showed that 98% of employees who responded really enjoyed working with their colleagues.
CEO Ben Carcio said that it dawned on him one day that his employees would probably enjoy the perks of the job more if they were linked to company goals. One of the most recent incentives that the Promoboxx team earned was half day Fridays for the summer after hitting a revenue goal during the first week of June.
When building trust and loyalty with both customers and employees, the company mission is a backbone often referred back to for consistency and clarity. Food ordering/delivery startups Lish’s three company values are the focus on the customer, quality, and variety, says CEO Aakhil Fardeen.
The right way to build a company culture: it’s different for every company, every leadership team, and every squad of employees. CEO Tim Fagan says that when G/O spun off from TEGNA, the strategy to build culture was intentionally developed with just three short, simple values: accountability, quality, and urgency.
The company’s CEO said he is witnessing many on-demand companies slowly but surely go out of business, and is more convinced than ever that offering that extra little bit of knowledge to customers is what will inspire them to spend more time with Thirstie, and return to the app on a regular basis.