Our Guide to Startup Culture
All startups are in a daily competition to attract top talent. Building a strong startup culture is one of the easiest ways for startups to differentiate themselves and win-over top talent.
What is Startup Culture?
Every business has a culture. An offshoot of Silicon Valley culture, startup culture prizes ownership, transparency, growth, and ownership. Startups are about disruption and revolution: they’re about changing the way a market currently solves a problem. A strong culture informs employees of what is expected of them, courts the best and most motivated employees, and builds the foundation for a long-term, successful enterprise.
In recent years, successful startup cultures have experienced an evolution. Rather than being singularly mindful and driven, such as the early days of Apple, they are now embracing failure and work-life balance. Employees have begun to reject the traditional tenets of startup culture, which often had employees working long hours and numerous days in pursuit of perfection.
Instead, startup cultures are now taking notes from giants like Google, encouraging both innovation and failure, and allowing employees to experiment. Modern startups have many employee-based amenities and ensure that their employees are inspired and motivated. At the same time, startups use their culture to make sure that their employees remain engaged and invested, and that their employees are continually working to produce ideas and technology.
Startup cultures encompass the company’s relationship not only with their employees, but also their vendors, customers, and even products and services. A startup is often seen as a cutting-edge, maverick company: a company that is willing to try out unique and risky propositions for the greater good. In terms of customer care and product development, startup culture may be customized to suit the business.
Not all startups are alike, and not all startups buy into the traditional ideas of Silicon Valley culture. Instead, startups tailor their culture to their mission statement and their values, and they make it clear what their business is about. This is one reason why mission statements and values statements have become an important component of the modern business.
A company’s culture may evolve over time, but what is most important is that a company understand its culture in-depth, and enforces its culture at all times. A strong company culture is what ties the company’s employees together, creating the company’s brand and identity, and driving the company onward toward success even as it scales upwards. A company with a weak culture will have uncertain employees who may not necessarily know what is expected of them.
There are many examples of different company cultures that a business can pattern itself against, but ultimately the company’s culture is often going to be informed by its higher-level executives and employees.
Company Culture Examples
It’s not always easy to intuit what a company culture is. Taking a look at some company culture examples can help, both in terms of what to do and what not to do. Here are some company culture examples to consider: Lyft vs. Uber.
Early on in development, Uber established a problematic company culture, with team culture activities that often involved alcohol. Uber experienced numerous complaints and scandals during its growth, due to this problematic company culture.
By contrast, Lyft was able to establish a company culture of responsibility and safety. It experienced far fewer complaints and scandals, and garnered a better reputation in the industry.
Of course, in terms of market share, Uber eclipsed Lyft. But it has experienced significant and lasting damage to its reputation over time. Company culture isn’t everything to a business, but it is a lot. Neither Uber nor Lyft have been able to achieve profitability within their market.
When considering office culture ideas, looking at cultural goals examples can help. Many companies pattern themselves after the companies that they find most successful and inspiring. Consider these examples of company culture statements, from the largest companies in the world:
- Google’s Ten Things We Know to be True. This outline’s Google’s philosophy: customers first, do one thing well, and don’t be evil. Google has long-believed in serving the customer before everything else, as well as focusing on a singular thing at a time.
- Apple’s Vision Statement. Apple is committed to bringing “the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.” Apple sees itself as being a world leader in technology, bringing customers the best user experience possible.
- Microsoft’s Corporate Mission. Microsoft seeks “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” In recent years, Microsoft has been focusing on behind-the-scenes technologies such as their Azure Services, as well as collaborative and communicative products like Office 365 and MS Teams.
As you can see, these cultural statements are brief and impactful. While the actual mission statement, company culture, and guidelines may be more in-depth, the company culture needs to be able to be explained in a simple, succinct way.
Of course, these are also some of the largest companies in the world. But they all started out as startups, and their cultures have remained largely unchanged since then. Google started out with the mission of “don’t be evil.” Apple started out providing useful technology with superb interfaces. Similarly, Microsoft has always been user-focused when developing its products.
It’s often said that an expert or a professional is an individual who is able to explain complex concepts in simple terms. Similarly, a business that really knows its identity will be able to describe its identity within a single sentence. This single sentence should resonate strongly with both employees and customers.
Being able to simplify a company culture is critical, because a company culture has to be simple in order to be followed. An overly convoluted or complex company culture will be impossible to maintain for any business, and will lead to more confusion than is necessary.
And then there are the companies that have a bad company culture. As an example, many have stated that they are dissatisfied with Amazon’s corporate culture in recent years, which puts a performance-driven environment first.
Amazon’s culture emphasizes an “outstanding, continuously-improving customer experience,” which has reportedly led to burn out and fatigue in many of its employees. An emphasis on “relentless focus” has led Amazon to be successful, but also the target of a number of high profile labor complaints.
What's it like Working for a Startup?
Working for a startup is often a cross between passion and a calling. People work in startups not to make the most money, but rather to be a part of something that they feel really matters. Working for a startup salary is often demanding and requires an employee to wear many hats, but there’s the hope that an employee may get in on the ground floor of something special: the next Google or Microsoft.
Consequently, an employee wants to feel as though they are valued, and they want flexibility and perks. Well, employees do value things like a ping pong table and snacks in the office, it can often be boiled down to 4 things that modern talent wants in the workplace: ownership, transparency, growth, and collaboration.
Startups necessarily must be more flexible than traditional companies because they are already asking so much of their employees. A startup is going to ask their employees to work for them far beyond the traditional work week, while also continuously giving their all. Most startups are fairly lean on funding, and consequently they need to be able to reward solid performance in creative ways.
Many startups use things such as corporate catering, health plans, on-site childcare, and other quality of life benefits to keep their most talented staff. But it has to be understood that those who are interested in working for startups do know that they’re going to be working for less: they need to believe in the business itself. As long as they believe that the business is going to be successful, disruptive, and innovative, they are likely to remain onboard. Much of this has to do with the culture.
Why Should Someone Pick Your Company?
Most people who work for a startup have already considered the working for a startup pros and cons. Ultimately, there are two major reasons people decide to work for a startup:
- The soft benefits are fantastic.
- The future opportunities are great.
An employee may forego a significant salary if they feel that the startup’s soft benefits compensate for the loss of income. If an employee needs flexible time, so they can spend time with their children, or if an employee likes to go on lengthy vacations but still gets their work done, a startup may be the right environment for them.
But one of the major benefits of working for a startup relates to future opportunity. Employees often want to buy into a business: they want shares of the business, or they want to be able to have upward mobility within the business. In the tech center, many employees come from businesses that paid them well, but there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
And many employees really want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world. They want to feel as though the work they do is appreciated and matters.
Working for a startup vs big company means that the big company funding isn’t there, but that the startup can be more flexible in terms of the employee’s own goals and desires. A startup can court better talent by providing opportunities for growth, working around the needs of the employees, and putting an emphasis on quality of life.