“What kind of culture are you building at your company?” I asked an entrepreneur. “It’s a team, not a family,” he responded. “And I mean that on every level.” This  concise, powerful and clear statement of a culture stuck with me. Culture, after all, is a critical component to a startup’s success.

I was on the crew team in college. It was a team in the purest sense – whoever rowed the fastest, made the boat. We all knew our scores and where we stood relative to each other. We were friends and competitors. For some it was a great place; for others the culture and the demands were too much (like a startup might be) and we saw 93% attrition over the first year (only 7 of the original 100 stayed for freshman year).  But the culture set the tone for every decision we made, how we approached each practice and how we worked together.

I think about the crew team when I ask other companies about their culture. Culture tells you a lot about the leadership of a company – what they value and how they express those values to their teams.

Each startup needs a different kind of culture – etsy’s whimsy resonates with their community of makers. Expensify’s straightforwardness attracts sales people and accountants. The culture of a team not a family is one that rewards performance, while still building a community. It’s great for sales driven organizations.

Building a culture, defining your values and hiring people who thrive in such an environment is a key to success. Take the time to think through it.

What cultures have you seen that should be emulated?



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