How long is a startup a startup? How many employees, how much funding, how many offices before you graduate from startuphood? You are going to hear a thousand different answers for these questions: 3 years, 80 employees, 2 offices or more, more than 20M in revenues.
But for us, a startup is a startup for as long as they maintain a startup culture.
There is something special about working in a startup. There is something special about the small team, the even smaller spaces, and the uncertainty of whether or not it’s going to make it.
That something special is the startup culture. And not every startup has it. Actually, a lot of first-time entrepreneurs neglect to dedicate enough time to truly define the culture of their organization from the very beginning; and that decision will come back to bite them.
Why? Because you should not underestimate the huge power that comes from motivating your team through a shared vision and the morale boost that comes along with having a “strong” culture. It’s simply more fun and enjoyable to work for a company with a deeper purpose and a good work culture. Naturally this translates to increased productivity but also stronger loyalty with your employees who are much more likely to fight alongside the company once things get tough.
Startups grow at a faster rate than other companies, and because of it they are more vulnerable to losing their culture.
Here are the 3 main things to focus on in order to keep your unique startup culture for one hundred years.
- A good aim (Purpose)
Nothing inspires like purpose.
Purpose is probably the main reason why in the last decade so many people have left big companies in order to become part of a startup team.
Purpose often comes from the founders’ passions and personality, but it is important to take time and translate that into your own unique culture. When your purpose is in your culture, then you will create a passion-driven team; one whose work feels meaningful and important. And you can’t beat that feeling; not in terms of morale, and not in terms of productivity and innovation.
Startups are known for their entrepreneurial attitude, meaning they have a fresh and innovative approach to problem solving. A purpose-driven culture generates employees that want to push the startup forward; because of their shared purpose, they will want to take risks and innovate as much as needed in order to come closer to their purpose.
For startups, every team member’s energy, and commitment will heavily influence the productivity of the team. That’s why it’s important to create spaces for innovation and creativity. Allowing employees to be risk-takers will create an ownership mentality; which will bring a sense of loyalty not to the company, but to the company’s purpose.
A culture that promotes high engagement, enables for the team to make decisions –no matter how big or small– aligned with the startup purpose. At the end of the day, strong purpose-driven culture can impact your bottom line severely, reducing employee turnover by 28%, and also reducing costs-per-hire by 50%. Therefore, the team can make better decisions and there is less overhead.
2. A good ear (Listening)
It’s all about listening. Actively listening to employees and customers is quintessential startup culture. Their newness on the market forces them to create a culture where they listen in order to learn. In a startup everyone can learn from anyone.
Nonetheless, in order to keep listening, it is important to create spaces where team members are encouraged to speak and encouraged to listen. A listening culture promotes an “anything is possible” mindset, because people are encouraged to share their wildest ideas, and more often than not, it is in those ideas where the solution and the innovation lies.
Nick Woodman, CEO of GoPro advised companies to “never let yourself stop being a startup”, and emphasizes the importance of constantly listening to new ideas, and repeatedly using these ideas to reinvent yourself.
Startups’ small spaces have its perks. Open floor plans usually mean that founders and employees are also sharing the same spaces, therefore, they are always reachable for questions, advice, and to share a cup of coffee. With leaders being easy to reach and an open-doors policy; startup culture promotes flat-hierarchy, problem solving and open communication.
Many startups also have a “sharing is caring” culture, meaning that they will be transparent with their teams in all aspects of the company, they have a sense of confidence and trust in their teams, and they have a plan to solve problems by helping each other to communicate and interact in a smooth and effective manner.
With listening comes accountability. Knowing what everyone is currently working on, and also being open and transparent with the goals and challenges of the company allows for accountability to always be present. Both self-accountability and mission-accountability: holding every action accountable for matching the purpose and mission of the startup.
There are many ways startups encourage active listening and speaking, but one of the most successful is through recognition. When a good idea is shared and implemented make sure to give a round of applause, ring a bell, send a shout-out email, or whatever works for your own unique culture, is an amazing and fun way to show that you are paying attention.
3. A good time (Experiences)
Considering the amount of time we spend at work, it’s only natural that we expect it to be a nice place where we have a good time. Now, by a “good time” we mean that the time invested by the team needs to be meaningful, and enable personal and professional growth.
The space teams share needs to be comfortable. A place that encourages creativity and teamwork will promote a work-smart culture. Startups are known for their fast growth, which means that they are constantly hiring. A good talent strategy is a must for any startup; when bringing new people to the team, you need to be sure that they are not only adding in terms of work, but also that they are enriching your culture.
Startup culture is agile, they have mastered the ability to react, modify, and move rapidly. But just as much as the company needs constant growth and adaptability so do their employees. Startup culture should be all about training.
Teams in startups tend to wear multiple hats at the same time depending on what the organization needs at that moment. This will create a team that is constantly learning new skills, and that’s why it is important to see training as an investment for any startup.
Employees perceive training time as time well spent, and increases work contentment. According to Linkedin’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees said they would stay at their companies longer if provided with adequate training. Team members want to improve their skills both for their personal growth but also it motivates them to outperform themselves in their positions.
A good time is also about your traditions and habits, whether it is going for a drink once a month, having an idea circle at the beginning of a new project, going on a yearly retreat, or whatever works in your unique culture, what you do to keep your team happy and motivated matters.
Nonetheless, keeping these traditions alive once the startup grows can be a huge challenge. Here is where leadership takes center stage. Startups need people in leadership roles that are trained in the culture, and that can replicate it in their teams, even if they are in another city or continent.
Remaining a startup depends on how committed you are to maintaining your original culture.
Startup culture is “we” culture. The team is everything when it comes to the success of a startup, ultimately they are the ones that will experience and replicate the culture in everything they do.
According to research by Deloitte 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success., This study also shows a high correlation between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by [their] company” and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture.
One of the biggest responsibilities leaders have is to create and protect a strong and positive culture. That’s why they have to be careful of how and at what rate they grow, where and at what cost they find funding, and who they hire. These decisions will dictate if you can commit long term to your culture.
Remember that remaining true to your culture will not only mean growth for your startup, but is the key to a hundred years of success.