Young men and women around table putting hands together

A strong company culture is what makes startups great

  • How to build a strong company culture
  • Motivated employees help grow your business
  • What do seasoned entrepreneurs think about startup culture?
  • The first step in building a successful company

Silicon Valley-style startups are increasingly popular places to work. They develop the latest technologies, work on exciting projects, and are led by visionary entrepreneurs. So it’s no wonder that 44 per cent of US graduates want to work in such companies, while only 14 per cent prefer corporate jobs. After all, building a business from the ground up is a chance to leave a lasting mark on its future. As Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, says, “If you’re offered a seat on the rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” And while reaching great heights with a startup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s also a nerve-racking experience.

Long working hours, job insecurity, and a lack of funding are some of the downsides of working in a young company. And even with their best efforts, a whopping 75 per cent of startups still go bankrupt – but figuring out the cause of their failure is no easy task. Were they outcompeted? Did they not listen do their customers enough? Did they have a sub-standard marketing strategy? Whatever the case, the issue can often be “linked directly to [the company’s] culture”, Candida Brush, a professor at Babson College, says. Indeed, a company’s culture defines the values, expectations, and goals that guide employees and make them either motivated and creative teammates or unhappy individuals who don’t care for your company the way you, the founder, do. This can make all the difference for a small business.

A positive startup culture has been proven to be a key requirement for long-term growth. It enables founders to scale up their business, boost productivity, hire top-quality staff members, that have a sense of mission and know why they do what they do – and they tend to stick around for a long time. The responsibility for building a successful company culture falls on the shoulders of the founders and their first employees.

How to build a strong company culture

The first step is for a startup to really, deeply understand its vision and purpose, as that’ll guide the company through good and bad times. The best way to figure this out is by asking yourself “How does my product really help people?” For example, if you’ve developed a holiday rental platform, the purpose of such a company isn’t merely to sell room reservations. It’s actually much bigger than that – it’s  helping people experience their dream holiday and have the time of their life. Once you’ve defined the purpose and mission of your startup, communicate it to your employees, as they’ll be the ones who will be promoting those values. This will not only motivate them, but also signal that the company values open communication between staff and leaders in a flat organisational environment, where everyone is included in the decision-making processes. Less hierarchy creates fertile ground for planting new ideas, where employees are encouraged to be creative and think outside the box.

Young men and women holding hands high up
The first step is for a startup to really, deeply understand its vision and purpose, as that’ll guide the company through good and bad times.

Managers need to foster creativity and innovation by showing their employees that failure won’t be perceived as a lack of competency but as a learning opportunity. That way, people will know they have the full support of the company they work for. And to ensure future employees develop the same ‘sense of security and freedom, it’s important to be specific when interviewing them for the job and describe the values your company stands for. Analysing their answers will help you decide if they’ll be a good fit with the team.

Furthermore, the development and productivity of employees should be a key priority. A positive startup culture depends on empowering people and promoting their talents. For example, if several employees in the sales department consistently overachieve, reward them and provide the tools and training necessary to further develop their skills. Also, always be on the lookout for potential leaders among your employees. Show your confidence in them as they live and breathe the company’s values. Finally, founders need to be aware that creating a successful startup culture isn’t a one-off task and requires constant work and promotion of the values they stand for.

Motivated employees help owners grow the business

Developing a strong company culture is not an easy task, but its importance can’t be stressed enough as it can result in huge (business) benefits. The entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk once said to the first 100 employees at VaynerMedia that it’s their “responsibility to maintain the culture” as the company continues to grow. This way of dealing with staff and creating an inspiring workplace ensured that his business reached an annual revenue of $200 million. Their positive culture motivated the employees to go the extra mile, trust each other, and create strong working relationships. They also recommended people who’d be a good fit for the team, helping to develop a strong HR department. A successful startup culture such as the one at VaynerMedia motivates employees to stay with the company, fosters loyalty and makes them want to be part of the company’s growth.

What do seasoned entrepreneurs think about startup culture?

Neil Patel, a digital marketer and the co-founder of KISSmetrics, explains that hiring based on job skills alone never worked out for him. In his experience, “if people don’t fit within your company culture, they will be more likely to butt heads when it doesn’t make sense, quit when things aren’t going well and not care for your company.” On top of that, it’s critical that entrepreneurs lead with their actions by adhering to the company’s values. Rand Fishkin, the founder and CEO of the marketing software company Moz, argues that “even at Moz sometimes, the actions speak louder than what’s on the mission statement or the core values list.” Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, agrees with this, and adds that “It’s possible to build a business, help people, and enjoy our work.” By ensuring their companies are more than just profit-driven entities, these founders managed to create lasting businesses that inspire employees and customers alike.

The first step in building a successful company

Startups are an increasingly popular career choice for many people lured by passionate founders and exciting projects. Yet, working for such a business usually means long working hours and job insecurity – as three out of four startups fail. Added to this sobering statistic is the fact that many young companies simply lack a strong culture that inspires employees to work harder and smarter than the competition. That’s why entrepreneurs who instill positive values in their staff usually end up taking their business to great heights – a great example for startups to follow. Of course, nothing good comes easy, but you can start with one important step – explaining to your employees why you do what you do and inspiring them to share your passion.

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