Best Practices for Developing a Strong Startup Culture

Completing a values exercise with your team can help raise important trade-off questions.

Last Updated: November 17, 2020

Published: August 20, 2020


Setting the culture for your company starts on Day One and for good reasons. When you invest the time to focus on culture at the onset, you will improve productivity, employee satisfaction and engagement, and scale your business more quickly.

As a founder, you shouldn’t wait until a future point in time (like your Series A or hiring your first head of HR) to work on culture. Rather, you should be thinking about culture the second you start the company so you set yourself up for success.

Every time you hire anybody who isn’t you, you’re building and changing the culture of your organization. Culture begins with the very first people on the team and builds from there. Developing this plan for hiring is critical and as important as developing your go-to-market strategy or your next fundraising deck.

What is culture?

Culture doesn’t mean what you’re going to do for a happy hour or how you interact socially, but rather demonstrate to your company what kind of behaviors get rewarded and what type of behaviors you promote.

This is critical as you build your team it’s important to align talent to your cultural values. For example, if you’re an organization that encourages working quickly, making mistakes, failing fast and testing, then don’t hire someone who takes forever to make decisions to ensure they’re getting it 99% right. Be intentional about this by hiring for cultural alignments as much as technical expertise.

As you hire your first layer of leaders and executives, your role as a founder changes. You’re delegating, you’re focused on external relationships, customers, press, etc. This is a good thing. But because you’re doing that you need to make sure you trust your executive/founding team to make decisions the way you would since you’re not there. This allows you to reduce management and oversight and positively maximize getting the best out of your team. Again, technical expertise is as important as cultural alignment and will allow you to scale quickly.

What are the benefits of a strong startup culture?

This goes beyond hiring and manifests itself in employee retention and productivity a top driver of regrettable attrition is when there is cultural misalignment. Set your team up to do their best work! Focus on this early on and understand the best ways of working. People, especially talented ones, are most productive when they feel trusted and empowered. How do you get trust? Align up front.

Whether you’ve invested in this since Day One and are looking to expand or are prioritizing this for the first time later in the game, at M13 we encourage founders to go through a values intention exercise.

The goal of the exercise is to learn what’s important to you and why it is important to you? It will force trade-off questions. Having those real conversations on trade-offs is the right exercise for any company. You can then create the baseline for the type of people you want to add and how to set them up to be successful at your company.

You can find the exercise here:

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