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?