The importance of culture in startups

Man wearing glasses, bow tie and braces typing on a typewriter.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Peter Van Sabben from Startupbootcamp. Naturally, the conversation turned to startups, and one of the first things that he mentioned is that startups forget the importance of culture. I was not fully convinced by Peter but agreed that it was something that most startups are not concerned about in the early days.

Don’t fuck up the culture

After reading a blog post by Brian Chesky about the culture at AirBnB, I understood what Peter Van Sabben was talking about. The reason for this was Peter Thiel, who had just invested $150m in the company and his single most important piece of advice was, “don’t fuck up the culture”. Brian Chesky sums up the importance of culture as follows: “Culture is the thing that will endure for 100 years, if you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products”.

Invest in people, not ideas

This is also the reason that great investors never invest in the idea, but in the people behind it. Because one single idea doesn’t bring you success, it is the machine that creates a constant flow of ideas and great products that bring success. It’s the machine that drives on a company’s culture that is defined by the founders.

Culture is defined in the early days

In the early days of a startup, the influence one person can have on the overall culture of a company is much bigger than they can have on a company that already consists of hundreds of people. That is why especially in the beginning you not only have to find people that have the right skill but also have a personality that fits your team.

Culture is in all the small things

From your business ethic and dealing with customers to how team members interact, culture trickles into every crevice of your business. Making team members feel valued and teaching them the core values of your company can help promote a sense of community in your business and promote higher esteem and productivity.

Start creating your company culture

Now you understand the importance of culture in your startup it’s important to actually get started. Good examples to take a look at are these slides from Netflix and this article about Google for some inspiration. Furthermore, Ricardo Semler wrote an awesome book about company culture, and on Mashable you can find a great step-by-step plan. But it’s important to keep in mind that culture is just like your ideas and vision, it is unique, and it will take time and effort to get it right.

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