5 Prompts to Help You Define Core Values at Your Early-Stage Startup

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@Iba

Building things at Tara AI. YCombinator W15 Alum. Forbes 30 under 30 Enterprise Tech. #legolife

The Tara founding team at San Jose HQ
At Tara AI, we just went through a company core values exercise at our 2020 kick-off. In the last year, we've grown from 4 to 20 folks (!) so, we decided it was high time to set up our values and culture.

Here's a quick debrief of my take on how to set up core values to steer successful company culture at a startup, specifically for teams coming in at a <40 headcount.

1. Values shouldn't be aspirational; rather, they should be a true reflection your team today.

To start, everyone in the company (fifteen people at the time) took the time to write a few words to describe the team, and which of our existing values, habits, and behaviours we each admire.
Once we mapped the keywords out on post-its, patterns started to emerge.

2. Your Core Values are the habits and mindsets you'll collectively agree to work harder to cultivate than "any other company in the world."

Once we had the team's feedback, my co-founder and I started to think about the journey so far, and the values that would enable our company to make a dent in the world.
We wanted the core values to be a clear reflection of our goals.

One really good example of this is Airbnb: They work harder than anyone on the "Be a Host" core value, which is significant persona for their entire business.
Airbnb has carefully developed their company culture around the idea and practice of hosting, which also enables teams to be thoughtful about a "sense of belonging".

3) Core Values will guide your product, your company and your brand.

Good core values should outlast the founders. We thought hard about what would we want Tara to embody 5, 10, 20 years from now.

4) Core Values should contribute to and be a key driver of company's success.

As we drafted our values, we asked ourselves, if we were to embody these paradigms, habits and behaviours daily, would that lead to significant and sustainable success for the company in the long run?

5) You hire and fire by your company values.

We also found it useful to ask "As a team, what are we not, and what do we not do"?
A few words and phrases that came up through this exercise were hierarchical, egotistical, fearing change, vanity metrics, complexity and doing things for the sake of doing them.
Most companies at early product market fit stage have around 3-4 core values that are easy to remember. These usually evolve to 5 or 7 over time.
Through this exercise, we came up with four:
1. Team-First Mindset
Not only internally, but also externally: we build software to help product teams. We prioritize those teams and their experiences with our platform. The team is seen as the most important decision-making unit in the company (whether internal or external).
2. Ambitious, Never Arrogant
We continue to push boundaries while remaining humble and true to our mission. We do not rest on our laurels.
3. Real Value Over Perceived Value, Every Time
We build real value for our users and for ourselves. We continue to ask ourselves if we're building what teams truly want.
4. Artisans In Everything We Do
Care and craftsmanship in our work. We are thoughtful with design in every pixel, and we ship production code with quality over quantity.
Did you spot the acronym? That's right, our correlate to our name: TARA.
This makes them easy to remember, and enables our organization to see how embodying these values is now, quite literally, baked into our name.

Now for the real challenge: Operationalizing these core values, and truly embodying them in our day-to-day activities.

To start, we announced our core values at our 2020 kick-off, and since then we've also added them to our "welcome pack" for on-boarding new team members.
As a team, we are now working through internalizing these core values. It will be interesting to see how we start to rely on our values as a decision-making matrix, and continue to evaluate how we embody these values as we grow.
I'll keep you updated...
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Building things at Tara AI. YCombinator W15 Alum. Forbes 30 under 30 Enterprise Tech. #legolife

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