What first comes to our mind when you think about working at a startup?
- Cool offices instead of corporate cubicles?
- Coding at the beach and never-ending snacks?
For me, it’s a job you love like crazy but paid like sh&t. But what is beneath that all? We can discuss endlessly about innovation-oriented teams with entrepreneurial spirit and ideas. No, hell! A startup business is the most commonly failed type of business with almost all of the companies failing in one year.
Meanwhile, according to Glassdoor 2019 Mission and Culture Research 77% of all adults review company culture while job applications; while 65% said it’s a culture that makes them stay at the company.
What is so sacred about the startup culture? Firstly, culture is not something you can create whenever you want. Culture is an organic reflection of communication, behavior, relations and values inside the team. As the startup is generally a group of cross-functional people with small teams, this is mostly related to the relations and behavior between founders. What founders are passionate about; how do they treat each other. But the most important thing is sustainability and ‘climate’ inside of the team. As a boss, you should analyze what motivates and disappoints your team. If there is anyone who makes others unhappy, cut cancer immediately; even though it can be your best salesperson or coder. Talk to people; each of them. Try to learn what they value most; for some people it is money; for the rest flexible schedule and time they can spend with their families. But you will never know until you talk to them.
Do you remember we were talking about cool offices with everyone walking flip-flops? So, one small thing. Office is not a culture. Simply adding free snacks to the office doesn’t create a culture or solve the culture problem. While the office is not the same as a culture, still it’s very important as an energy of the environment you spend most of your time in. Think about where you work: Is the light ok for you? Does AC work properly? Can you easily engage the people you need to?
All companies are going through 3 stages:
-Idea Stage: when you meet your co-founder and start creating a team
-Product Market Fit Stage: you start to think more & more about values and right team fit
-Scaling Stage: requires hiring a lot of people who will absorb your cultural DNA
5 Points for Culture
1. Everything Starts with Idea
But do you have enough passion to go for it?
Because you should be proud with your product and the fact that you are solving a problem that creates a real value for real people. Please read it again. I’m talking about being proud but not fallen in love with your product. Falling in love sometimes might be ridiculous. And it’s so hard to accept the critics when you are in love; even though sometimes they are coming from investors.
2. North Star
As a startup, the “anything is possible” mentality is a must-have. And you as a founder should manage to inspire people that they can do it. North Star makes it easier. The KPI you select and follow as a lifetime goal. Why do you think investors are asking about your exit strategy even if you are raising a pre-seed. To learn your vision.
3. Values List
Make it short
Take a list of paper and write at least 5 things that will help you during the hiring to understand whether these candidates can fit the team. And what’s most important, apply it with the first-ever person you are trying to hire. Because if it stays only on paper it will die together with your startup.
Hackquarters list of values
- Structure & clarity
- Meaning & Impact
- Psychological Safety
- Growth Mindset
- Knowledge Hungry
- Inspire, be inspired
Customer — the center of anything you do
Anything you or your team does should have only one goal bring more customers. When I say ‘anything’; I mean both internally and externally. Customers prefer to work with happy, supporting, and caring companies. Even if they will never see these employees; knowing that people care about what they do for a living is essential. And the best way to start it is through empathy. Empathy not only helps designers better understand their users; improving UI / UX; but to produce solutions to real problems. This method is both applicable for B2B and B2C. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. It’s not a time for defense or to justify yourself; you don’t have to prove that your point of view is the only truth. Just listen.
Not just gender but mindset diversity
Usually companies that encourage diversity are more creative and agile. The power of ‘YES’ is very strong. For me, it is a sign of positivity and efficiency. But just imagine if you live in a ‘YESWorld’, surrounded by people who just say YES to everything. Even positivity and efficiency can become toxic. A culture that prevents people from speaking openly has no future and ultimately fails. There is no innovation without diversity of ideas and mindsets. Start collecting feedback and motivate your team to speak out their ideas. Because it will be late when you wake up having 100 employees in your team.
How? Hiring, Onboarding & Continuous Training
At Hackquarters we do several rounds of interviews for all candidates; separately; with a team; including technical interviews. Rule #1 is the case for every candidate; because everyone has to go through the same fair hiring process. There are no right or wrong answers, vision and way of thinking are important.
And of course, what matters for me personally is a light in the eyes of the candidate; especially when she/he is talking about the previous experience or project.
‘What is the project/ product you are really proud of?’ among my favourite questions. Usually it helps to see the ‘light’.
When possible I prefer to meet the candidates personally to feel the vibe and energy coming from the person. I’m confident and trust my feelings. Rule#2 if there is a hint of ‘hire or not to hire’ — then don’t. This is applicable for small teams. Honestly, we’ve said ‘no’ to so many talented candidates who, as we believed, could bring disbalance to the team.
The next thing after hiring is training. The first month is always the onboarding period all new hires should go through. Training and learning new things never stop but at least after 1st month, it becomes clear whether the employee believes in our North Star and clearly sees her/his role in achieving it.