Startup Cultures are not an Automatic Success

People assume that startups have a certain type of culture. It’s fast-paced. Lots of caffeine is involved. Personal hygiene is optional. And the culture is automatically ingrained from day one. But none of those things are (necessarily) true.

Too many startups – and specifically startup founders – ignore their internal culture or don’t maintain a consistent one. They don’t create a strong set of consistent values. It’s not easy; after all founders are insanely busy and their company’s culture probably doesn’t rank overly high on the priority list (next to releasing products, raising financing, closing deals, etc.)

But it doesn’t take much for founders to adversely affect their team without even realizing it.

It might be a bad word or two about a frustrating prospect or customer. Or (dare I say it!) harsh words about your investors. Badmouthing customers is particularly troublesome, because that will very quickly give employees the perception that they can treat troublesome customers (and eventually all customers) in a negative way.

Founders have to consistently set the tone for their startups and be cognizant of how they’re doing it. If you want to go negative, so be it. If you want to be ultra-aggressive, OK. If you want to be more passive, that’s your call. But however you’re going to act and respond to things, you want to make sure that your team understands the motivation and intent. Otherwise they’ll pick up cues (even subtle ones) and run with them, probably without you realizing what’s going on. And all of a sudden what seemed like a strong, cohesive, motivated team is falling apart at the seams.

Founders: Think long and hard about the type of company you want to build. Imagine the company with 100+ employees, where the first few employees are now running significant areas within the company. What values, goals, personality and culture will they be driving through the people they work with and manage?

February 11, 2010 Posted in Startups by

  • http://vbsinsight.visionsbiz-online.com/ keith

    Great information. It is something that is over-looked, most of the time (I venture to say). The culture of your business can effect company moral, customer interactions, the general 'feel' of your business and ultimately, your bottom line. Most business owners, particularly small business owners, don't consider their company culture until it causes a problem. Once a problem occurs owners become reactive in the approach to fixing the culture issue and can cause more problems; loss of talented employees, loss of valuable customers and loss of solid business partners.

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • http://vbsinsight.visionsbiz-online.com/ keith

    Great information. It is something that is over-looked, most of the time (I venture to say). The culture of your business can effect company moral, customer interactions, the general 'feel' of your business and ultimately, your bottom line. Most business owners, particularly small business owners, don't consider their company culture until it causes a problem. Once a problem occurs owners become reactive in the approach to fixing the culture issue and can cause more problems; loss of talented employees, loss of valuable customers and loss of solid business partners.

  • Pingback: Solid Startups

  • http://dotseo.org/ Paw Hellegaard

    Hey Ben! Thanks for sharing this great Information..

  • http://startupcfo.ca startupcfo

    Culture and values start from the top. And startups are small and usually populated by smart people. You can`t fool them by saying 1 thing and doing another. You must be consistent and have values that are focused around customer success. Period.

  • josephlogan

    The same is often true of people in large companies, but the smart people in startups have more choices and fewer constraints to calling bullshit. Weber's “Iron Cage” is still being built in the startup.

  • http://simplicityengineer.com/ Georges

    “Culture and values start from the top.” Not always though — sometimes it grows from the bottom in which case you better embrace it for the sake of your company.

  • josephlogan

    Good points, Keith. I would add that investors, through years of wins and losses, seem to be able to smell this better than founders.

  • josephlogan

    That can be true in the positive sense–employees develop an esprit d'corps that absolutely works–and it can also be true in the negative, when employees or exec team form a coalition against a bad boss. I've seen it work both ways.

  • http://www.marketingmergenetwork.com/internet-network-marketing/2010/1/26/do-you-have-your-own-field-general-to-quarterback-your-busin.html Samantha

    Entrepreneurs and their ability of forecast along with values are the key to success. Focus and drive do come from the top but it has to be motivated thru.

  • http://www.hariombalhara.blog.com/ india

    I think its not because we believe in our culture, many people in india are much inclined to the western culture.many people like the indian culture that my be a reason for its success but only a few people strictly follow it.

  • http://www.abcey.com/ Event Planner San Francisco

    Small companies do not have much of a hierarchical structure and most of the poeple switch hats, in that scenario the culture that they adopt is what I say as practical culture. This is so strong that it is difficult to lure them into something which is just a buff or full of just words.

  • http://www.cheaper-auto-insurance.net/ Cheaper Auto Insurance

    I agree with this article. The general feel in your business can determine many things with your employees and the flow of everything

  • http://www.allergyfreeshop.com/ Allergy Free Shop

    I always say follow Google's philosophy: a happy worker is a productive worker.

  • http://www.stratosjets.com/ Stratos Jets

    How does this statement even make any sense at all?

  • http://dsgp.blogspot.com/ rogerdv

    The last paragraph gives an interesting mental excercise and I have surprised myself doing it several times, even when I dont have even the most remote chance to create an startup.

  • michaelpingree

    Thinking about how the “here and now” will effect the future is very important. For founders, it is too easy to get tunnel vision on the present that we tend to ignore how the decisions we make today will determine the company we have tomorrow.

  • http://www.terapi-psykoterapeut.dk/ psykoterapeut

    Thats right…The dreaming of today is the reality of tomorrow.

  • bestgiftsfor

    Great post and very relevant to the company I work for. We were a fairly small company, until we were bought out by Honeywell, and the CEO was a real stand up kind of guy. He knew everybody's name, treated everyone with the utmost respect and was well liked by all. Everybody was always trying to act just like him. Best company leader I've ever seen.

    Then we were bought out by Honeywell and he retired…it has been a very rough transition for all involved. Those small companies are getting harder and harder to find now-a-days.

  • freeemail

    Keren nih, kunjungi saya juga ya free email account (click here)

  • http://www.nearsoft.com/ Roberto Martinez

    Founders are key to set the pace on culture values. Consistent actions and over communication are important. After six months or a year I invite you to really call everyone to name the values you are living in the startup and the ones people think you must get rid of. Then after you have a list, ask people to set priorities and only choose half of them. I have done it before and it has worked just fine. As a result we have won two consecutive years, the top 20 best places to work.

  • http://www.nearsoft.com/ Roberto Martinez

    Follow me on twitter @yobelto

  • http://7yamakasi.blogspot.com/ havis

    Nice, keep posting such stuff in the future as well. We will be looking at you. :) Thanks :mrgreen:

  • http://www.pajeczyna.pl/ Praca

    Really great information. I didn't know that it doesn’t take much for founders to adversely affect their team without even realizing it.

  • http://www.scooter-shoppen.dk/ scooter

    leadership inspires his followers whether he likes it or not. it not a matter of choice but rather a collateral. a very thoughtful article.

  • http://www.getridofclutter.net/ Chris

    If the founders aren't living and breathing the values they want to project, then they may as well not bother. Words are not enough these days

  • nikkil

    You hit the nail on the head here! Founders often ignore the fact that their percetions and attitudes directly correlate between the atmosphere the employee to employee or more importantly, the employee to customer, relationship. I have seen many mangement types go a little power-crazy, suddenly things are beneath them to do, so all good quality training to employees stops, and the employees stop caring. Getting a team to understand the difference between motivation and mismangement is often overlooked.

  • salomgea

    the key to success is hard work, success can not be provided free of charge.

  • http://www.flex-finance.co.uk/ Cash Loans

    Another thing is an exit strategy. I have recent experience of this! You need one based on whether things go well and whether they dont.

  • http://www.healthgrades.com/directory_search/physician/profiles/dr-md-reports/Dr-Howard-Bellin-MD-6B005FA4.cfm Dr. Howard Bellin

    Interesting article! It is funny just last week (i think), I saw an article on Chicago Wiener's Circle.. a hotdog stand that has built it's reputation on slandering the customers. The culture was started by one of the founders and supposedly business is booming.

  • http://www.forumlike.org/ forumlike

    For founders, it is too easy to get tunnel vision on the present that we tend to ignore how the decisions we make today will determine the company we have tomorrow.

  • http://www.logodesignconsultant.com/ Logo Design Company

    Startups usually ignore organizational culture due to a common running belief that it does not apply to their business size.

  • http://blogforbuilder.ru/ slavabog

    Thanks – really helpful. Gets me thinking ….

  • sameguide

    it is almost true in my case and i also believe that hard work is also key to success but some times in life luck also play an important role because people wont success even they do hard work in their whole life.

  • http://www.work-from-home-dot-com.com/ Work From Home

    Wow, nice post! I agree with you about companies needing a strong set of values these days, when there is not a lot of that to go around.

  • http://phonegenic.com/ Arya

    wow, i want to be a founder. so i can built my company . i think everyone need an enterpreneurship if want to be a founder.

    Thanks for the sharing

  • http://www.sayang-balita.com/ Julian

    Your analysis correct and occur in many home, small to medium company. Company culture should be written by the owner and explain with example to new employee or even regulary such every 2 years to be re-train to all employees. This will ensure everyone know how to behave to achive company aim. Company culture is must other wise everyone will do it what they think right.

  • http://facebook.sagehowto.com/ How to Hack Facebook

    Having started a few companies myself, I think taht the most important thing in terms of “startup culture” is that the founder really have a solid and well defined vision for the company.

    Without a concrete vision of the company's future, it will be difficult for the founder to lead his team to success.

  • kooora2day

    thanx ya man

    ??????? ??? ?? ???
    http://?forums.?x2day.?com/?

    kooora2day
    http://?kooora2day.?blogspot.?com/?

    ???????
    http://?mazecaty.?blogspot.?com/?

    youtub2day
    http://?youtub2day.?blogspot.?com/?

    x2day
    http://?x2day.?com/?

  • http://www.realbusinessanswers.com/ Eric Saylor

    So much tone can be set by non-verbal actions as well.
    - How you conduct yourself on break or lunch
    - Your gestures can create a tone
    - How organized you are
    - How you react to certain situations
    - How well you hold YOURSELF accountable

    So many things go into cultures. The important concept in developing a culture is to develop a culture you like and are comfortable in. Don't develop a culture you wish you were like. It is so subjective. Great highlights though.
    thanks

  • http://www.norfolkhome.net/ Norfolk Home

    Hey, thanks for sharing. An excellent article with some great points.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Artemis-Ephesus/100000688697130 Artemis Ephesus
  • http://www.cocooncorporate.co.uk/ Amanda

    Very perceptive – I used to work for a guy (who eventually went bust) who wanted the culture to be fun – which it was, but at the expense of any real progress. He'd worked really hard to get the company to a promising state, but then was more interested in running a 'cool' company than conitnuing with the ard work. Plus is attitude turned from one of true endeavor to one where he 'had people to do that for him now'. Needless to say iut all collapsed around him rather quickly. Very sad really, such a waste of the intital hard work.

  • http://caricowater.com/ Carico

    Its so important to build trust among your employees as well as your customers. So great article on the culture. It is tough not to get caught up in the startup of your business and not to have long term goals or think long term

  • http://duniabisnisindonesia.blogspot.com/ Dinarni Efta

    “But it doesn’t take much for founders to adversely affect their team without even realizing it.”

    hmm…i agree with this sir….

  • http://www.otoemlak.com/ umuts

    Thank you very much

  • Pingback: 10 Startup To-Dos: Things To Think About When Starting a Company

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at GoInstant (acq. by Salesforce).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

My bio »

or

Follow me on Twitter

Get updates and special content
When I publish new content, get it directly in your inbox. Subscribers will get special stuff as well not available on the blog (but I promise it will be infrequent + high quality.)
Get the Lean Analytics Book!
Awesome Jobs
Check out the job opportunities at my portfolio companies.
Startup & Investor Resources
Find Stuff
My Photos