How 10 CEOs Keep Company Culture Alive, Even as Their Startups Expand
The companies in this article were included in the Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index.
For Olga Vidisheva, founder and CEO of Shoptiques, approving each hire ensures that all staffers represent the ecommerce business’s mission to promote boutique brands.
Joe Coleman, co-founder and CEO at marketing platform Contently, echoes this mentality: “I think it’s down to defining the company values and hiring people that embody those values.”
But both CEOs add that screening for talent and "cultural fit" is just the first step to building an effective -- and enthusiastic -- startup team. Keeping morale high is an ongoing effort. The challenge to preserve culture becomes greater when your company is growing rapidly, and adding people becomes a weekly thing. Contently, for instance, grew from three people at a single desk to 100 full-time employees in just five years.
Despite the changes, Coleman says he’s “amazed” at how Contently has managed to maintain culture, which centers on the mantra: Own it; Be a giver; and Be awesome. ”They are kind of cheesy, but they’ve really worked so far,” he admits.
But how should founders formulate their own principles? Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely, a human-resources software startup, says, “I did this by talking with early employees, clients and partners to get a sense of what really makes our company special.”
There are a number of ways to keep a culture vibrant, even when it seems to switch from startup to sprawling tech firm overnight. We asked some founders featured in the Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index their secrets to keeping morale high on a day-to-day basis.
1. Hold your current team accountable to upholding the core values.
“Building a great culture starts with the first few employees, but it gets solidified through every additional hire thereafter. That's why I've instilled a sense of responsibility into current employees: It is up to them to help us maintain our positive can-do attitude as we scale.”
-- Olga Vidisheva, founder and CEO of Shoptiques, an ecommerce business that sells goods from local boutiques
2. Make it a C-level priority.
“Recently, my co-founder Ken Chen and I decided to prioritize his focus around building and strengthening culture -- from developing employee training programs to hiring to retaining the best talent.”
-- Gautam Gupta, co-founder and CEO of NatureBox, a monthly subscription service that delivers healthy snacks
3. Make sure your hiring process tests potential hires' values.
“The best way to keep your culture intact is to add people who already embody it. At Namely, we seek ‘humble heroes’: people who’ve done incredible things, yet speak in terms of ‘we’ and not ‘me.’
"We also reinforce our values through real actions. For instance, we value personal growth, so we celebrate promotions in our monthly company meeting. We value diversity, so we’ve built an executive team that’s 50 percent female, setting a new standard for the HR and technology industries.”
-- Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely, a cloud-based platform that helps businesses manage payroll, benefits and other HR needs
4. Give employees a sense of ownership.
“First, transparency helps everyone feel invested in the company. We also give every single employee stock in the company, because we want them to feel as invested in its success as we are.”
-- Joe Coleman, co-founder and CEO of Contently, a software business that helps companies build audiences by managing the workflow of marketing content
5. Tie it back to mission.
“It all goes back to Ring’s long-term mission to reduce crime in communities. We constantly drive everything around that message. For example, in product meetings we always ask ‘how does this feature help to reduce crime in communities?’ Belief in our mission isn't something you can necessarily produce, it's just something that you have to protect and reinforce.”
-- Jamie Siminoff, CEO and chief inventor of Ring, the maker of the Ring Video Doorbell, which allows users to answer the door via a smartphone
6. Strive to keep that personal touch around the office.
“The more employees we take on, the more important it becomes to keep BucketFeet one big, happy family by keeping an open line of communication within the office. My co-founder Raaja and I must also stay accessible by keeping hands-on roles within the company.”
-- Aaron Firestein, co-founder and chief artist of BucketFeet, an online retailer that collaborates with artists to design and create footwear
7. Make cultural growth a daily habit.
“I have taken to blogging internally daily, which I think has been the most effective tactic. The blogging topics vary but the goal is to promote openness in our objectives and think about some big-picture concepts. Beyond that, I focus on onboarding, explicit definition of vision and values, and creating scalable company processes (like holding post-mortems often).”
-- Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that focuses on user privacy and doesn’t track searches
8. Shindigs can be helpful.
“As we grow, it becomes harder and harder for new employees to be infected by the enthusiasm at the top. We are putting more focus on training new hires to really understand what Birds Barbershop is all about. Transparency is key. Parties don’t hurt either.”
-- Jayson Rapaport, co-founder and co-owner of Birds Barbershop, a brand of salons that markets affordable, high-quality cuts and color services. The company recently launched a line of hair-care products.
9. Shake up the hiring process.
“When we hire someone new, first they go through me and Dan, but then we always have a full team interview and the team has the last say on hiring them, and it's always unanimous. If they can keep up with all of us in our tiny conference room as we hit them with questions and we're all having fun talking with them, then it's obvious to all of us that we've found the person. If not, no matter how qualified they are, we move on.”
-- David Simnick, co-founder and CEO of SoapBox Soaps, a maker of all-natural handmade soaps that donates soap products to children in need
10. Reward those who keep company culture more vibrant.
“We believe in testing and experimenting with new ideas. I try to ‘catch’ workers who take the initiative to practice that methodology. I love to celebrate those moments publicly to communicate to our news hires that we don’t mind learning something interesting from a well thought-out test, even if it fails miserably.”
-- Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter, which lets employers post jobs to hundreds of job boards with one submission and sends job seekers postings via tailored email alerts