To begin with, it is important to mention that a lot of startups just don’t bother to define their cultures from the beginning. And everything comes well. During the first stages, you can’t even tell the difference between a startup that has developed its culture and the one that hasn’t.
Moreover, it is almost impossible to articulate a comprehensive startup culture when there are a few people in your team.
However, when it comes to the scaling stage, a well-developed culture is exactly what enables teams to go through the toughest challenges of this stage. Startup culture is the backbone that keeps your team together during the periods of peaking stress.
Even after the scaling stage, the culture gains value as your team grows. We are all well aware that it is much harder to maintain big teams. Even when you have your processes streamlined, it is not enough to have a clear structure to be sure that your teams are well orchestrated.
That is why you would need to rely on personal motivation, that drives each and every member of your team. As soon as there is an unhappy teammate — the team slowly starts to care less about the results.
Having a strong startup culture has a lot to do with employees’ retention, which has become a great issue in Tech. Free sushi, branded hoodies, and even competitive salary do not work if your team members do not feel united with the team.
There is one core thing: VALUES. And when I say it — I really mean it. Values that represent what is important for each and every team member, across the whole vertical.
Here’s a brilliant comment by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos:
“Many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day one of orientation, but after that, it’s just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby.”
If it’s about you — there’s no culture in your company. Values are something that lays on the back of the head of every part of your team. You don’t need to study them, they are programmed in your personality.
If your startup sticks to those values — you will attract the right people and you will do the right thing.
The short answer - It’s hard and it costs.
The only way to preserve the unique culture founders have brought in while setting up the first pillars of the company - is to transfer VALUES you pursue to your Leadership team and then the Leadership team should project them on all levels of the company, top to bottom. It takes lots and lots of time spent with your Leaders in various situations in every area of operations and it’s possible only while being totally transparent with your top managers.
It’s important to validate and be ready to refuse people with great hard-skills but not fitting the culture even before they enter your doors which seriously increases your hiring time and cost for pretty much any position if you want to keep your culture healthy.
We happened to refuse great professionals because we felt their soft-skills are not fitting the company culture and environment we shaped through the years. You should be ready to sacrifice revenue and possibly even lose customers if you really want to preserve your culture because the market will always test it.