James Stewart


How to Build an Amazing Startup Culture

Tips and tricks on how to foster an amazing startup culture in your company.

A great company culture is one that helps you recruit the best people, retain employees, and motivate employees which increases their productivity. This is very hard to build, and even harder to maintain, especially when you start to grow quickly. Contrary to the name, startups don’t actually have specific cultures, they just have a company culture.

Startup founders are usually so busy building their companies that they forget about creating a strong company culture. Company cultures are more than just free snacks, coffee on tap, and gyms. It’s about the synergy your team has and how you collaborate. Your culture is what makes employees proud to work at your company, and is what your team believes in and what they value above all else. If you want to increase productivity and motivation in your company, you need to build a strong company culture.

In this post I am going to cover a few key tips on how you can build an amazing company culture.

  1. Define company values, and do it collaboratively

Define your company’s values as soon as you can, and talk about them frequently. Think about what matters most to your company (your vision is definitely a key part of). You should ask your team members to write down the company values they feel are related to your company. These values can include anything from your approach to flexible working and remote working, to how frequently you host standup.

Define your values based not only on what your company aspires to be, but also what your employees value, the impact they want to have on the world, and what they are looking for in an employer. This is great for two reasons. Firstly, it allows your employees to feel like they have a say in the governance of your company. Secondly, it allows employees to craft a workplace they want to work in, and believe others will want to work in too, thus increasing productivity.

The best way to share your values and keep employees motivated is by showing off these values in everything you do. If you believe in producing a high-quality product, talk to the product team and give them feedback about the current quality of the product. Let them have all of the time and resources they need to ensure the product is bug-free and meets all the standards. Ask the questions “What’s missing?” and “How can we improve our product?” constantly, and ask the team for their input as they are the ones most qualified to answer the question. Keep your standards high across the board, and high quality should be evident across every single customer exposure-point.

It’s important to remember that these values should be retained for the lifetime of your company, not just for the first few months. Make sure that you are always practicing and preaching your company values, and understand the importance of them to the employees, and the company itself.

The amount of time you spend with your team on an activity is one of the best ways that you can show your employees what your vision for the company is, and how they can become better workers.

2. Create an awesome working space

You can let your imagination go wild on this one. There is so much you can do to create an amazing working space that employees want to work in. Provide a room for employees to relax and provide ample refreshments and snacks for your employees. Create an in-house gym or provide things like standing desks and treadmill desks to your employees. Put whiteboards in every department for your employees to use. Provide a small desk budget for employees so they can get what they need in terms of equipment and seating. That was far from an itemized list, but rather a few ideas that you can start implementing now.

This will not only help improve their productivity, but will also help them enjoy their time at work and feel more comfortable when working. It also shows that employees don’t have to be hands-on all of the time, and that talking a break is fine. In fact, it helps show employees that the working environment is based on purely results, not processes.

Everybody wants to work in a great working environment. So by providing the aforementioned amenities, like having a nice space for them to relax and communicate with other employees is critical. Remember that by providing a strong company culture, you are investing in your employees, and your return is increased productivity and longevity in employees.

3. Host non-work team events

Another great way to boost your company culture is to host company retreats and activities to help build team-working and communication skills, which may include things like monthly dinners and weekend resort retreats. Many companies like Stripe and Github host frequent team events for all employees, and Udacity even hosts an annual summer picnic amongst many other events for their employees. Company cultures become stronger when people are happy working with their peers and get to know them.

4. Communicate frequently

A startup has a lot going on, from raising capital, all the way to developing their product. All of this cannot be done without a team coming together to grow an idea. Allow your employees to easily connect in-person which will allow them to develop better relationships with co-workers and cultivate a friendly culture in the office. Make sure your employees are also in the loop about big-picture stuff, as well as the short-term projects they are working on, which helps keep them in touch with the mission of the company.

5. Hire the people you feel have your company’s values

‘Culture fit’ is a heavily debated upon item when talking about hiring employees. Personally, I believe that you should take into account whether a candidate would be a good fit with your company culture when hiring, instead of just hiring them because of a good interview. You can get to know your candidates better by asking them to lunch, allowing them to mix with some of your company’s team, or even asking a few extra questions in the interview like “What are the main things you look for in an employer’s working environment?”. This will allow you to further understand if the individual will integrate well with your current culture and is a good fit for your team.

On this note, it’s important to remember about diversity in your company. Other than the legal requirements to hire diverse people, you should be hiring them anyway as it helps make your team more creative. Diversity means that you can bring people from different backgrounds who may have different perspectives, and allow them to contribute to your company, which may open up new opportunities like expansion into new markets, or net product ideas for a certain set of people. Diversity is more than just saying “Our company is equally men and women”, it’s about saying that a wide range of viewpoints are used in order to develop your product.

6. Show integrity to your employees and be transparent

You should be clear and transparent when talking with your employees. Startups generally have complete transparency due to the small nature of the company, and it’s hard to keep things secret when you are all in the same room. However, you need to ensure that your employees are made aware of everything officially, such as if the company is growing, the company’s hiring and firing policies, when the company issues bonuses, and how the company supports promotions. This is equally important for the bad news. Don’t hide any negative news, instead tell your team right away and explain the impact it will have on them clearly.

One easy way to do this is to have a company-wide bulletin email from the CEO or upper-management which shows key company statistics, and mentions any updates employees need to be aware of, which is sent daily or weekly.

Another thing you can do is make it easy for employees to come to you with their concerns. Create an ‘open door policy’ and keep a clear channel of communication with your employees, allowing them to give your their thoughts when they want to.

You can also spend time hosting 1:1 meetings with your employees and follow a structure like: 5 minutes of checking-in, 10 minutes of discussing the week’s accomplishments, followed by 15 minutes of discussing what the startup can do to improve, and what they are doing well. Keep the meetings brief, effective, and on-task, as well as detailed to ensure both the employee and you, the startup get the most out of the meeting.

7. Provide additional benefits to employees

Benefits matter when it comes to culture. In addition to supplying private medical insurance and a 401(k) program, you should also consider offering additional benefits to help motivate your employees and allow them to better integrate with your company. DigitalOcean leads by example in this space, as they provide all of their employees with an education stipend, custom workstations, free meals every day, commuter benefits, gym reimbursement, amongst other things.

Moreover, DigitalOcean offers “flexible vacation time” which is a great addition to any startup culture. This concept allows employees to take whatever time they need to balance their personal and work life, and makes it easy for them in times of trouble. This concept not only serves to increase morale and productivity, but ensures that employees are always working hard in the office, and shows the company cares about the wellbeing of their employees.

8. Focus on what you are good at

Your corporate culture starts as soon as your company starts. Build a culture based on your specific expertise and insights. If you are an engineer, prioritize having a strong and motivated engineering team which is based on the latest web technologies. This will also allow you to easily hire the best engineers, and leave the other hiring to other more qualified co-founders (at the early stages). If you are a salesperson, then you should prioritize building a strong sales team and refining your pitches.

Building a culture based on your knowledge is critical as you have a unique perspective and an inside-edge in that specific area, which allows you to be more in-tune with what employees want. Your culture should also be you, not someone else. Build a culture based on your thoughts, expertise, and your vision for the company, instead of mimicking another company’s culture. By building a culture based on what you know, you will do well.

In conclusion, building an amazing company culture is a long process that starts as soon as your company is founded. Cultivating a strong culture based on your expertise will allow you to lead your company into the future, support scalability, and ensure that your employees are dedicated to your company, thus increasing productivity. So go now and start working on improving your company culture!

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