Why Your Startup’s Culture Matters, and How To Build It

Culture is a much-discussed topic that has been bandied about and espoused in corporate and investor circles seemingly all over the world, transcending both borders and language barriers. Basically, a startup’s culture is the kind of environment that its members and employees work in. Every company, organization and startup has its own culture that defines the way it does things, its visions and goals, its beliefs and core values. Defining your startup’s culture very early on will shape how it is run and the direction that it is headed to, and will lay the foundation and building blocks necessary for it to achieve success later on.

Not only does your startup’s culture matter for its performance and success, it is also of utmost importance for your team members, workers, and clients and customers too. Studies have shown that employees and workers are increasingly placing more importance on a company’s core values and culture as a key factor in determining which companies and organizations to work for. Conversely, organizations and businesses with weak company cultures are more likely to experience employee turnover as dissatisfied workers leave for greener pastures, even if it means accepting lower pay to work for a company whose culture they resonate deeply with. As well, a startup’s culture affects how its employees will treat customers and clients, so a startup that treats its employees and workers with dignity and respect will have those same values reflected in its employee and customer/client interactions.

Your active engagement as a founder is key to determining the type of culture your startup wants to adopt. From the very first day your startup is established, you should make it a top priority to set in place the right practises and core values that you wish to adopt for it. By establishing the proper environment for your startup early on, you lay a solid groundwork for your nascent company to be built on. Your startup’s culture will significantly impact the kind of talent that it attracts, so keep that in mind if you wish to hire the best available talent. For example, certain startups and companies offer flexible work schedules and remote work along with perks such as open, customized work spaces to encourage a relaxed, balanced work environment that appeals to the younger generation of talent. It is much harder to change your startup’s ways and environment once it has already been running for a few years, so establishing a clear, strong cultural identity early on is very crucial.

Netflix, besides being one of the most well-known streaming services around, is also famous for another achievement: the culture deck. In 2009 the company’s then-chief talent officer, Patty McCord, and its chief executive officer, Reed Hastings, created an online deck of 125 slides that detailed the company’s philosophy, core values and beliefs. Netflix’s ingenious creation has since been designated as a culture deck, and some have come to regard it as being one of the most significant documents that Silicon Valley has ever produced. Quite simply, as Patty McCord put it, they just wrote it down. By giving form to your startup’s culture in words and phrases, you effectively create a medium that acts as a valuable reference point for your team members and employees to come back to, as well as conveying your organization’s values and beliefs to customers, clients and potential talents alike so they are able to gain a better understanding and insight of what your startup is about.

Besides formulating a set of core values, beliefs and a vision for your startup, you should consider putting in place a system of corporate governance, which is simply the system by which your startup is directed and controlled. For most startups this means establishing a formal board of directors to set the proper structure and framework in place for the company to run in, though some quarters have suggested that a formal board is not required for startups that are newly formed with very little or no funds raised. Having a clear and strong system of corporate governance also boosts investor confidence besides producing a positive impact on your startup’s valuation.

Your startup’s culture will ultimately define its values, work environment and the direction it wants to go. By shaping and defining the culture early on and putting it into words in a culture deck, and establishing a strong and well-defined system of corporate governance, you create a firm and solid foundation for your startup that will enable it to hire the talent that best fits your company as well as to achieve its vision and goals more capably and efficiently.