Startup Stories

“There is no such thing as a perfect culture – that’s known as a cult”

How to, Upscale 4.0, Late Stage, Mid Stage

Orla BrowneOrla Browne, November 21, 2018

Company culture is vital and difficult. And it’s about more than ping-pong and Peroni. In chapter 2 of our new Upscale book, a collection of insights on what it takes to scale a startup, Neil Rimer, co-founder of Index Ventures, alongside key figures from some of the leading VC firm’s portfolio companies, give their insights on scaling values and making culture count.

Let’s take a look at five key takeaways to whet your appetite.

1. Codifying culture

Rimer says it’s more important that a company thinks about, and develops culture, rather than it necessarily having to be written down in values and procedures. “Culture’s something that requires somebody’s real attention. Not just to encapsulate it, but also to nurture it and promote it.” says Rimer. So basically just writing down things like ‘collaboration’ aren’t quite going to cut it.

2. 5 o’clock commitment

“The phone rings and somebody’s about to walk out of the office – do they answer the call or not? If they care about the company, they will; if they don’t care about the company, they won’t.” According to Didier Elzinga, CEO and co-founder of Culture Amp, it’s up to you, as a company, to create a workplace where people care.

3. DIY by design

Neil Rimer from Index Ventures says that people are catching on to the fact that scaling and maintaining company culture is important, and effectively helps your bottom line, but there can still be an inclination that it can be outsourced. ‘It’s not the kind of thing you can just slap on like a tagline or a logo. Or go get somebody to do it for you.” It’s important that culture be created in-house, through organic design and mindful development.

4. Lead by example

Nicole Vanderbilt, Etsy’s London-based VP of International, says culture shouldn’t be top-down, but it should be top-lead. “Even at the earliest stages of a company’s development, the most important thing in establishing a strong culture is the leadership team constantly demonstrating those values through their own behaviours. I firmly believe that nothing replaces that. No amount of posters on the wall or policies can replace that.”

5. Stress test

Andrew Mullinger, co-founder of Funding Circle says that as a company you don’t really know how robust your culture is until you hit rough terrain, and what you stand for is put to the test. “Often a successful culture for a business will be one that’s supportive, and where you all play for the greater good and there’s an element of selflessness about it all. That sort of culture is strong enough to deal with people who are performing poorly.” But if there are flaws and negative traits, they will rise to the surface at moments of crisis, Mullinger explained. But remember, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, as Elzinga says “you’re never going to get it perfect, particularly in large companies. As we like to say, there is no such thing as a perfect culture – that’s known as a cult.”

The Upscale book will be available from 27 November. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon, to read the rest of Chapter 2, and the other 25.

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