Russell Rothstein

@RussellRothstein

Can We Stay Warm and Fuzzy As We Grow?

My first job out of college was working for Oracle. Today I am the CEO of a growing startup of 41 employees. First-hand, I’ve experienced the benefits and drawbacks of working in different companies, both big and small. Now that I have my own, I’ve thought a lot about the following question: How can startups maintain their cultures during periods of rapid growth?

Before starting at Oracle, I traveled to the company headquarters for a three week training session. I lived in a hotel with other college grads and we had no real responsibilities. In other words, I felt like I was starting college all over again. Oracle proved that it had the resources to invest in my professional development, and I was excited to work for such a large company. Yet after finishing my training, the real world slammed into me like a wave. Say goodbye to name games and team building exercises! I had to put my head down, work hard, and generate value. Everything functioned efficiently and resources abounded. But at the same time, management seemed distant and I felt removed from the greater company vision.

How can we keep our great culture as we grow to larger offices?

In contrast, when I created IT Central Station three years ago, there were only five total employees and everyone worked in the same room. I had regular, constant interaction with each member of the team throughout the day. Since then, we’ve expanded to thirty-five employees and we’ve bought a new office space — which will soon double in size. So obviously the model that worked when we were a team of five (frequent interaction with each and every employee) doesn’t work well today, and what works well today won’t work a year from now as we continue to grow.

Whenever the team hires someone new, we hold a company-wide meeting and we introduce ourselves. We’ve created our own intranet with instructions that range from using the coffee machine to accessing password protected accounts. Our office has an open-door policy and we eat lunch together every day. What we lack in hotel training spaces, we make up for in accessibility and warmth. Our size makes this easy to do.

As IT Central Station keeps expanding, how can we maintain our culture of accessibility and warmth?

While we welcome tangible additions to our company, we also fear losing the intangible. For example, IT Central Station prioritizes fast decision-making. As a startup, fast decision-making is natural. For large companies, on the other hand, there is more inertia that must be overcome. In order to maintain our company’s spirit, we will be relentless in defining and reinforcing our cultural values, while continuing to invest in the processes and people that make it all happen.

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