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Startup Culture Building: 15 Tips From Leaders

Startup leaders, what is your best tip for others following the entrepreneurial path that want to build a strong, thriving company culture right from the start?

To help you build a strong company culture for your startup, we asked entrepreneurs and startup founders this question for their best tips. From paving your own way to picking the brains of your employees, there are several pieces of advice that you can follow to build a thriving company culture right from the start.

Here are 15 tips for startup culture building:

  • Pave Your Own Way to a Positive Outcome
  • Start With Vision and Mission Statements
  • Build Benefits Around Employee Values
  • Be Transparent and Stay Optimistic
  • Host Weekly Townhall Meetings
  • Hire People Who Share Your Ideals 
  • Pick Values That are Natural to You
  • Be Intentional With Your First 10 Hires
  • Start Off Strong With a Lean Team
  • Get Your Mindset Right
  • Provide Transparency to Get Buy-In From Your Team
  • Trade the Ping Pong Table for Values
  • Emphasize Transparency and Respect
  • Power Your Company by its Purpose
  • Pick the Brains of Your Employees

Pave Your Own Way to a Positive Outcome

Entrepreneurs should pave their own way and achieve a positive outcome, based on ingenuity and perseverance. So, for new entrepreneurs, I would suggest that they place a huge importance on brainstorming and looking for innovative ways to complete somewhat normal actions. This can create a dynamic, inspired company culture from the very start.

As we’ve seen in the current business environment, it’s become evident that entrepreneurs must be willing (and able) to pivot on a moment’s notice. Therefore, targeted Plan B strategies will serve to be much more important than you may initially think. In short, be creative, be prepared and be resilient.

Ryan Rottman, ​​Co-Founder and CEO, OSDB Sports

Start With Vision and Mission Statements

What is the purpose of your business right now? What would you like to change in the world with your service? When you answer those two questions, you will get your vision and mission statements: the solid foundation for your company culture. They will guide your decision-making and attract employees with the same mindset.

Rafal Mlodzki, Founder and CEO, passport-photo online

Build Benefits Around Employee Values

The workforce demographics are going through a dramatic change with Millennials and Gen Z now making up over half of all employees, and creating a benefits package that is responsive to their core values is a solid pathway to building a strong company culture. Research has shown that Millennials and Gen Z value work-life balance, and attention to that issue plays a major role in how they choose a position, as well as if they remain with it.

Creating benefits such as flexible work schedules, greater amounts of PTO, fully stocked breakrooms, caregiver support, and even benefits that provide charitable donations to important causes, can send a message to your employees that you care about their needs and have incorporated their values. By creating a benefits package that adhere to the values your employees hold most dear, you can build the foundation of a thriving and lasting company culture from the start.

Cody Candee, Founder and CEO, Bounce

Be Transparent and Stay Optimistic

Being transparent and staying optimistic. For the former, being strategic in not only what you say, but when you say it.  The more transparent you can be, the more your team will trust and follow your lead. For the latter, preparing mentally and knowing going in that it will be much harder than you think. Don’t panic, pivot, and know that optimism is not optional. In summary: work smart, have faith, and fail forward.

Matt Woods, Co-Founder and CEO,

Host Weekly Townhall Meetings

One thing I’ve always done and which I know has contributed to our awesome company culture is weekly townhall meetings. Every Friday at noon, I give our entire team a quick debrief on high-level updates and open the floor to questions – on anything. Employees can ask me whatever they like, and I do my best to give them direct, non-evasive answers.

The only time I hold back is if something is confidential or highly sensitive. Otherwise, I do my best to be transparent with my team members. I believe this encourages them to similarly be transparent with one another and foster a culture of honesty and openness.

The last thing I want is a culture where people are afraid to speak up or share ideas, so my #1 focus is always on openness. In my opinion, these weekly townhall meetings, which usually last just 20 minutes, are a major contributing factor to this type of culture.

John Ross, CEO, Test Prep Insight

Hire People Who Share Your Ideals 

You cannot build an excellent corporate culture if the wrong people are hired as employees. Just one erroneous employee within your organization might cause a significant disruption that is difficult to recover from. Hire people who can set aside their egos for the team’s sake. These are the employees who are inspired by, and even applaud, the accomplishments of others. They are not motivated solely by their objectives. Selfish people will not care about your culture or their coworkers, walking over them if it means they will benefit in the process. This behavior will spread to your other staff, resulting in organizational dysfunction.

Before recruiting somebody to work for your firm, you must thoroughly vet them. Ask them questions about the culture you’ve established. Do not hire them if their responses do not reflect the type of person who embodies your culture.

Salvador Ordorica, CEO, The Spanish Group

Pick Values That are Natural to You

It’s essential for companies to set their company culture from the beginning to avoid any issues down the road. The first thing you want to do when you are starting the company is to begin thinking about how you’ll want your employees to be treated, how you’ll want them to act, and what kind of environment you’d like to provide them. Answering those questions will give you a solid foundation to begin to grow.

After this, dedicate time to defining your values, as this is the most important part of your company culture. Make sure the values you’re creating are unique to you and your company. Pick values that are natural to you, or the leaders in the company as this will be an easier way for your employees to follow. My last tip is to always practice what you preach, if the CEO of a company doesn’t follow the company values it reflects poorly on the whole company.

Rich Rudzinski, Founder,

Be Intentional With Your First 10 Hires

The first 10 people you hire will define the culture of the company. Be very, very intentional about hiring those 10 people in terms of your values. They will define how you communicate and collaborate with each other, how you execute on deliverables, how you recognize and support each other, how you take ownership for mistakes or deflect/blame others, how you support diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, etc. Those first 10 people will help decide who to hire for the next 10 employees. And guess what? They will hire people that are like the current culture that they created.

Scott Baker, Founder and CEO, Stage 3 Leadership

Start Off Strong With a Lean Team

Make sure that you start off strong by hiring a lean team. It may be tough at first, and you may be tempted to hire and scale up quickly. However, your first team can make or break the company when you’re starting out. So, take your time.

Find passionate team players who will rise to the occasion. Look for the ones who believe in your vision and what your company stands for. When you hire committed, proactive employees who have a positive attitude, they become the start of your thriving company culture.

Eric Ang, Director, One Search Pro

Get Your Mindset Right

You set the tone for your business. If you have any mindset blocks, limiting beliefs or trauma that hasn’t been addressed it will all come to the surface once you start the entrepreneurial journey. Working with a therapist or coach to help you see your unconscious patterns or blindspots will help shift your perspectives and give you the tools you need to thrive as a leader. The leaders who neglect their own inner work often unintentionally recreate an unhealthy or toxic environment in the long term. You are your business  – if you are thriving so will your company.

Jennifer Farner, Vibrant Life Coaching

Provide Transparency to Get Buy-In From Your Team

A strong startup culture isn’t about virtual happy hours or coffee dates (although those things are important too!). Your real culture is what happens in the day-to-day work.

As a startup leader, it’s your job to set the vision for the company and then get buy-in from your team to make that a shared vision. To get buy-in, provide a ton of transparency and clarity through frequent communication with your team—and leave room for criticism and vulnerability.

At Butter, we provide transparency in several ways:
– All employees have access to our most sensitive business documents (e.g. investor memos)
– We leave plenty of space to answer any and all sensitive questions at townhalls (e.g. questions about runway or churn!)
– We always default to public discussions, meaning 95% of our internal conversations happen on open Slack channels

Jakob Knutzen, Co-Founder and CEO, Butter

Trade the Ping Pong Table for Values

Startup leaders should focus less on the bells and whistles and more on company values. Entrepreneurs can get carried away with what a startup should look like; ping pong tables, basketball hoops, and an elaborate array of snacks.

These features may attract talent, but when employees grow bored of golf putting in the office, what will compel them to stay? Don’t just hire employees with the talent – employ a team who shares your vision.

Hire employees who are motivated to work as a community, resonate with company values, and are passionate about the mission.

Amrita Saigal, Founder and CEO, Kudos

Emphasize Transparency and Respect

Two components to help create a healthy company culture are respect and transparency. Respect means creating an environment where people trust they won’t be shamed, embarrassed, or penalized for sharing ideas, asking questions, expressing concerns, or making mistakes. Where people are not scared to make mistakes, creativity thrives, leading to innovation.

Transparency helps counteract rumor mills which are distracting at best, and toxic to an open supportive culture, especially in hybrid workplaces where remote employees have limited communication channels. Transparency also contributes to the overall trust the workforce has management. By emphasizing respect and transparency, you’re defining your cultural values and creating a safe environment, leading to a healthy, thriving corporate culture.

Nirav Sheth, CEO and Founder, Anatta Design

Power Your Company by its Purpose

Leading by your sense of true north propels your business forward. Leaders set the tone for the whole company and how customers perceive your brand. More and more consumers are looking to engage with brands online before they buy, as a brand’s ethical values and authenticity often drive their purchasing decisions. For this reason, it’s increasingly important that what your business stands for is transparent. This behavior creates an ethical culture within an organization. And it develops a healthy relationship between employers and employees, enabling all team members to flourish and be more productive in their roles.

Integrity in business aligns your principles with the company’s values. And it’s that authenticity that builds trust with customers, increases sales, and boosts customer advocacy.

Chris Gadek, Head of Growth, AdQuick

Pick the Brains of Your Employees

Being an entrepreneur means something different to everyone, but all entrepreneurs share one common goal: to run with an idea and take the necessary steps to ensure its success. To get there, a tremendous amount of ingenuity and perseverance is required–in addition to an open mind and collaborative spirit.

For future startup leaders, I would suggest that they tap into all industry resources and pick as many employee brains as possible so they’re prepared for a range of possible scenarios and smart solutions to ensure the highest level of success.

Greg Gillman, CRO, MuteSix

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