Startup Culture

A great startup culture is important. It's not uncommon to hear that a specific culture to was a key factor for success. Zappos, Amazon, Google, Apple, Uber, each have started and grew on the heels of powerful, sometimes bruising, cultures [1][2]. In all of them there are strong figures, outspoken people, struggles, some fights. When you love something, you fight for it!

Your business values are important, as are your principles. This is a collection of things I like to revisit.

  • be there. Show up, be on time, be there for your team, be proactive.
  • breathe startup. If you're in charge of social networks, you should be active in them. If you are in charge of ops, people should feel your energy. Make it a personal priority to show how much you love your area of work. It adds credibility and makes you an advocate for growth.
  • be a family. I consider all my colleagues to be like friends and family. (Conversely, I treat friends requests for feedback with subjective curiosity and objective skepticism that I apply in business). I am genuinely interested in everyone’s hobbies. All this adds incredible color to the workplace. Some people are gym addicts, other are part-time DJs, some are fashionistas or barbecue lovers. No one has to share but it's a hell of a better place if they do, and those things may come in handy, even if it's only at the next summer party.
  • quantity matters as much of quality. There will be good days where things go smoothly, and there will be days where you will be at odds with others. Make sure the nice days are near 99%. People should feel good.
  • lead by example. If you don't want a behavior to spread, don't do it. Often when I started showing up late for meetings, other team members did the same. The same happens with starting hours, leaving hours, having an active life outside work, checking social networks during the work day, etc. It's hard.
  • be brutally honest. If someone failed, point that out with a clear example, and as soon as it happens. Having a formal performance review is fine, but it doesn't replace doing it "there and then". If you feel something was a major screwup, tell it like that. Good people stomach criticism. Call out bad ideas, and bullshit too. Get technical on your criticisms.
  • feelings matter. Even if it isn't your intention, your words can cause other people to think you are against them, or that you don't care. Clarify if it's that's the case. You can be defensive: always re-read your emails before sending, scan for potentially misunderstandings: how may the recipient read this?
  • apologize. Maybe you didn't mean it that way, maybe the form or the substance weren't adequate, maybe you were just silly or juvenile. Apologizing is more useful than not.
  • moving along. Sometimes you need to fire people. Or you need someone to change their performance significantly. Sometimes you get really pissed at something. Or you screwed up. Talk about it, learn from it, and move along. There's nothing like a novela to bring your startup to a halt. Be actionable and quick. The team too must learn to move along.
  • no gossip. "He said she said" is not a nice way to start a conversation. I usually avoid reacting to hearsay. The counterpart of this argument is that people should be open to talking with you at all times, about anything. This prevents gossip from happening in the first place.
  • Limit cursing. Cursing is somewhat inevitable in hard environments. Calling something shit is perhaps rough and unclassy, but it's part of the lexico of IT for example. As long as it's not used to describe people, it's a behavior to avoid but which is at this moment woven into the conversations in startups

[1] The demand of Jeff Bezos http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html

[2] Some stories on Bill Gates http://www.businessinsider.in/4-Great-Stories-About-Bill-Gates-That-Show-What-It-Was-REALLY-Like-To-Work-With-Him/articleshow/40812220.cms