Start-Up Culture: What Makes It Great And Vibrant?

It is often the case that when people bring up the topic of “start-up culture,” it’s done with more than a little bit of eye rolling, knowing nods and winks. There’s a good reason for that.

“Start-Up Culture” is one of those squishy, hard-to-quantify concepts. Because business is so often all about the numbers, things which are difficult to quantify are put in an almost “magical” category.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Like everything else, start-up culture is created by conscious effort and force of will. It’s not something that magically falls from the sky, blessing some companies with good cultures and cursing others with dysfunctional cultures.

As leader of a start-up, can CHOOSE the kind of culture your new enterprise has and develops. You can guide and direct the development of your company’s culture one day and one decision at a time.

Whether or not you intended it when you founded your new start-up and employed a few to take the journey, you became the leader. The tone setter.  The beating heart of the company.  The people working with and for you will take their cues from you.

You plant the seeds that your new company’s culture will ultimately sprout from.

The single most important responsibility you have as the leader? To guide the development of your company’s culture.  Every move you make and every action you take in the view of your employees should be made with that in mind.  Those actions will reverberate through your company for years to come.  Those actions will shape the culture that begins to emerge.

Before you start your new enterprise, think very carefully about the kind of culture you’d like to see emerge. Then plan your actions accordingly.  But, if you already have begun your journey, it’s not too late.  There is still time to think about where your culture is today.  About where you’d like it to be.  And again, act accordingly.

So, what makes a great, vibrant start-up culture?

The answer is probably different for everyone, but there are a number of common factors.

A Lack Of Politics

Companies with great cultures don’t thrive on political games. Most entrepreneurs can’t stand company politics.  Because it ultimately leads them away from the mainstream corporate world and puts them on the path of independence.

How can you nurture this change?

Refuse to make the business of your business political. Be open, transparent and non-political.  Lead by example and your people will follow.

Evangelists, Not Employees

Apple is the company most people immediately think of when thinking of this dimension of start-up culture. It has often been said that Apple doesn’t have customers.  It has fans!

Exactly how did that happen?

It happened because of Apple’s culture so powerful a force that its effects can be felt, even today, and even going so far as to affect those who buy their products.

In the early days, the people Steve Jobs gathered around him could have worked pretty much anywhere they wanted to. They CHOSE to work at Apple.  Apple was on a mission.  Apple’s vision was a thing of beauty.  Everybody wanted to be a part of making the magic happen.  They all wanted to be able to say “I was THERE when the magic was born!”

To develop that attribute in your company culture, you’ve got to be open. Wide open.  Credit everyone around you so that they take your cue and do likewise.  You’ve got to be absolutely intolerant of “good enough.”  “Good enough” never is!

You must focus. Before you even have a prototype of your product, must focus on what the CUSTOMER wants. They’re the reason you’ve come together.  You’re making the vision a reality for them.  Live the vision. Breathe the vision.  And own the vision.  And your employees will live, breathe and own the vision too!

Cauldron Of Innovation

We all know that start-ups tend to be more fleet-footed and innovative than established corporations. But, that trait doesn’t manifest itself just in the arena of product ideas.

Start-ups know they can’t compete with the big companies on salary. So, they innovate and find other ways of attracting talent.

You see their innovation in the way start-ups often treat their employees. Most companies give equity stakes to their initial employees so that when the company succeeds, everyone succeeds.

Most start-ups have no firm, set rules about workday schedules, or dress codes or other hallmarks of stuffy, established corporations. All that stuff may be bolted on later but it doesn’t have to.  You can simply decide to be different.  This is one of the things that makes working for a start-up so much fun!

With these three implementations and action every day to make them a reality, you will be amazed at the results!

“Your culture is your brand.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO