Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences on our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: There are many good company cultures and many bad company cultures, but a winning company culture only emerges when every employee feels they personally own the culture. Listen to this week's episode here.
In the early days of a startup, culture pretty much amounts to the founders. If they’re in the office at 8 a.m., count on the rest of the team to follow suit. If they like to joke around and keep things loose, expect that attitude to be reflected in the team. Of course, that can cut both ways. None of us have to scratch our heads too long to think of a few “tech bro” attitudes that have created some pretty glaring problems (and headlines).
In those early stages, founders must take the time to articulate what defines their culture by thinking about what sets their company apart and what makes it unique. These values don’t amount to what entrepreneurs want their values to be, but rather the organic representation of who the company is. Truly authentic values make a strong cultural foundation.
As a company grows, the founders will have less of an immediate impact on culture. But, just like a person’s earliest cells, that “cultural DNA” will replicate and continue to impact the larger worldview of a company. A lot of that comes through recruitment, and it’s about more than an individual’s competency. It’s about thinking of potential candidates not just through a professional lens, but as personalities within the larger organization. Aside from doing a job, does this individual showcase a mentality that’s aligned with the company mindset?
At Fiverr, the company has always been an extension of our community, and we consider the two to be closely intertwined. Everyone within the organization considers community to be a priority in their lives, regardless of how they specifically showcase it.
Recognizing the value of diversity early in an organization’s lifecycle is an important part of creating a sustainable and ultimately positive cultural foundation. It’s a powerful resource, and one that really helps a business as it enters a rapid growth phase. Why? Well, diverse minds create a ton of solutions to the kinds of difficult problems a business encounters. It’s no shock that individuals from different backgrounds, upbringings and geographies will look at the same problem through the lens of their own history and makeup. Those differences create a textured solution, and usually one that resonates with far more customers.
At Fiverr, we couldn’t help but weave diversity into our earliest days. As a company founded in Tel Aviv, we were made up of the diversity that is Israel. Being a relatively young nation, Israel is full of people who emigrated from someplace else, and that talent pool created a unique mix of characters from Day One. As the company grew and our community exploded to a global size, we opened offices across the globe, and again a diverse set of people were entrusted to carry the Fiverr name and attitude. Here are three areas we focus on:
“Transparency breeds legitimacy.” -- John C. Maxwell
While finding the right foundational pieces was important for us, enabling a strong cultural connection to those earliest satellites without stifling their approaches to problem solving was important. It started with transparency. We have long been a company driven by organizationally known goals, ones that permeate each business unit and individual contributor. For a growing company to truly empower those individuals, everyone needs to have an understanding of how the business is doing -- where it’s succeeding, where it’s struggling and where there’s new opportunity. Transparency also flattens an organization and removes layers of bureaucracy that can stifle growth, derail contributions and suppress cultural values in exchange for a rigid chain of command.
“The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” -- Sydney J. Harris
That transparency needs to be tightly tied to communication. Sharing information freely is a good start, but sharing time and dialogue with each other is just as important. There are a lot of tools that can make this easier, but the bottom line is that culture can’t be siloed, and open lines of communication create all kinds of secondary benefits.
For us, this takes all kinds of forms. We spend an ungodly amount of time on video calls as opposed to phone calls, because we see so much value in seeing each other. We’re less likely to dash off to something new, treating an encounter with our colleague like another time slot on the calendar. The result is a more foundational relationship, instead of a transactional one that is all too common in rapidly growing companies.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” -- Albert Einstein
Maintaining culture while preserving diversity for a quickly growing business isn’t without its challenges. It takes time, and there are certainly short-term setbacks in the name of growing the right way. Even with transparency and a ton of communication, individuals and offices will have misunderstandings and disagreements, and with that comes the need for education. As a global business, we certainly recognized the large role education plays in creating a lasting connection, as teams from Israel and the U.S. had to adapt to each other’s cultural differences, all while building a massive horizontal marketplace. Creating cultural education trainings can help team members understand the differences they see and experience, and create a pathway to working through challenges.
This is work that’s truly never done, especially for a global business. Each new office or team member presents new identities and attitudes, but if a company maintains transparency, good communication and invests in education, cultural connectivity can grow right alongside diversity.