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How to Define and Build Your Startup's Company Culture

Updated: May 9

Experienced entrepreneurs know that one of the secrets to long-term success is building a company culture that solidifies the team and connects them to one another.

Building a Startup Culture

Why is company culture so important?

Even a highly-skilled team with ample experience can flounder in a dysfunctional environment. On the other hand, with the right type of company culture, every team member is inspired to collaborate and do their best work.

The best company culture for each and every organization will be different, but it should align with the core values and goals of the company as a whole. The ideal company culture is often described as one that promotes growth at both the company level and individual level by empowering and motivating employees in an inclusive and collaborative environment.

Here are three tips for shaping a startup culture that ensures your dream team is poised to reach its goals — and won’t fall apart during times of crisis.

1. When it comes to creating a startup culture, don’t delay

When you first launch your company, you’ll likely feel so overwhelmed day-to-day that you’ll be tempted to delay things that feel less tangible or immediate, such as building the company culture you desire. The reality, however, is that it’s much easier to figure out what you want — and implement a plan to get there — while your business is still small. The larger you get, the harder it will be to dramatically shift your company culture.

Ideally, you should start focusing on building your company culture before you have 50 employees, if not earlier. Here are some questions to guide you in thinking through the kind of company culture you want to build:

  1. What core values do you want your company to embody?

  2. How do you want your team to approach their work?

  3. How will you inspire your team to innovate and collaborate?

To make your vision a reality, you’ll need to work actively and intentionally early on to put your own personal stamp on your company culture, and win 100 percent buy-in from your core team. Once you’ve succeeded with that, your company culture will spread naturally as you welcome new members onto your team.

2. Make cultural fit part of the hiring process

When it's time to hire, it’s easy to focus solely on finding talent that have the specific skills and experience required for the job. If you aren’t also thinking about cultural fit, you’re forgetting about one of the most important components of building a team that will endure.

This is where being clear about your company’s values will pay off. If you approach potential hires with this clarity, you can assess not only their skillset but also their cultural fit.

When focusing on cultural fit, be sure to keep diversity in mind. Yes, you want a team that shares your core values of how you innovate, collaborate, and collectively solve problems. But you don’t want to build a team that’s made up only of people who look like you and share a similar background. A diverse team will help you build a product that serves the needs of all of your customers — not just the ones who are just like you.

3. Don’t forget cultural fit when looking for investors

Equity investors can play a significant role in shaping your company’s future. Once you sign that term sheet, your investors immediately become part owners of your company.

The potential problem: they may or may not share your goals and vision for your business. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate culture fit not just when you hire new talent, but also when you choose your investors.

As part of your board of directors, investors can help strengthen your company if you’re all on the same page — or they can foster confusion, fear, and mistrust if their vision and style differs substantially from yours.

A culture-clash between investors and founders can dramatically lower your team’s productivity and may tip the scales between success and failure for your business. That’s why turning down a potential investor who lacks cultural fit can be the best long-term choice for your business — even if it means leaving money on the table.

How do yo know if you’ve built the right company culture?

A successful team is not unlike a tight-knit family. The goal is not to have a bunch of individuals doing their jobs. Rather, the goal is for all those individuals to become part of a team that struggles, problem-solves, and triumphs together. While you can’t choose your family, you can choose the people that you’ll be collaborating with every day to build the most successful company you can. That’s why it pays to think through your company culture early on — and choose your team wisely.


Listen to Boostrapped: The Lighter Side, featuring TicketSocket's founders, Mark Miller and Kai Blache

TicketSocket's culture of happiness helped them persevere when the entire world shut down

When Mark Miller and Kai Blache founded TicketSocket, a white-label event ticketing and registration startup, they never expected they'd have to figure out how to navigate a global pandemic that shut down events worldwide. Overnight, revenue dropped more than 85% and stayed that way for more than a year. Mark and Kai share how their company culture, tribal leadership, and revenue-based financing helped the startup through tough times. The zombie apocalypse survival experience from a prior company offsite may have also given the team an advantage.


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