Get All Access for $5/mo

5 Ways Startups Build Priceless Cultures Without Spending a Cent Showing genuine appreciation for the people working for you doesn't cost much at all.

By Heather R. Huhman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Andrew Rich Photography

In the job search market, employees have the upper hand -- and they know it. In a 2015 survey of U.S. job seekers conducted by Jobvite, 45 percent of respondents were satisfied with their current jobs but were open to a new one.

Employees are on the lookout for better opportunities, and much of how they decide is based on company culture. Employees don't want to leave workplaces with awesome cultures and will stay in a job that satisfies them professionally and personally.

Startups have some of the best and most innovative ideas when it comes to company culture. Here are some of the most interesting culture hacks to adopt from creative startups:

1. Celebrate creatively.

A major part of employee satisfaction is recognizing and celebrating employee achievements. Yet, a 2014 survey of employees from more than 500 U.S. organizations conducted by TinyPulse found that 79 percent of employees don't feel valued at work.

Startups without a lot of extra cash have to find creative non-financial ways to appreciate and motivate their employees.

Experticity, the startup that created GoToMeeting and was sold to Citrix in 2003, built employee recognition into their culture with a large iron bell. The bell was installed in their kitchen, and anyone could ring it at anytime. The bell was meant to be rung for victories, large and small. An employee who rang it without a good reason had to buy breakfast for the whole team the next morning.

After ringing the bell for a valid reason, the employee would send an email to everyone in the company to explain why they rang it and announce the accomplishment. Although some feared the employees would see the bell as a cheesy gimmick, the bell brought genuine excitement to the office. The employees would rush back to their desks to read about and celebrate the achievement.

Creating a culture that celebrates wins, big and small, boosts morale and keep employees motivated and engaged without spending money.

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

2. Exciting rewards.

At the end of a long project, employees aren't left with much. They move on to the next one with little fanfare. But at Palantir, a software company that specializes in data analytics, the end of each project is celebrated with a unique memento: a t-shirt.

Every month, the company releases a new version of their software. To commemorate the release, they produce a t-shirt with a unique design featuring the name of the new software. Employees treat these shirts as collectibles. They show how long an employee has been with the company, and allow everyone to remember and look proudly at their past work.

Employees know that, at the end of the month, their hard work will be rewarded. Small tokens of appreciation can be a big deal. Get employees excited about their own work and the overall accomplishments of the organization.

3. Build supportive teams.

An employee's first day is overwhelming. There's the stress of learning new information, and the awkwardness of meeting and getting to know a new set of coworkers.

Commerce Sciences, an A/B testing platform, eases the nerves of new employees with a welcoming tradition. The last employee who joined the team is responsible for creating a starter kit for the next new employee. There are no rules, and they use their creativity to fill the kit with jokes, books, coffee, nerf guns, and anything else.

The starter kits gets employees involved in the welcoming process and helps new employees feel connected and supported by the team from day one.

Great employees don't magically translate to great teams. Create a culture where employees collaborate and support each other. Make employees feel welcome from their first day to better integrate them to the team and keep the team strong.

Related: 4 Ways to Establish a Strong Culture Without Sacrificing Startup Success

4. Integrate culture and mission.

Company culture is a direct reflection of the brand, and workplace values should relate to the company mission. For Maptia, a storytelling platform for travelers, creating a culture that reflected their mission meant moving their headquarters to another continent.

When the startup couldn't afford to set up shop in the team's hometown of London, they moved to a small beach town in Morocco. The move allowed them to better live the company's mission to explore the world and share their stories.

The location was the perfect place to blend the startup culture with their everyday lives. During stressful times, they could easily relax by surfing, doing yoga on their rooftop, or cliff jumping. These fun activities became a routine part of their days, allowing them to live their mission and work hard at the same time.

There's a lot of work that needs to be done at startups, so focus on a work-life blend, not balance. Achieving this blend requires startups to focus on what's most important to their brand and their culture. Tools like The Good Jobs can help companies discover which cultural values are most important so they can focus their values.

Make those values central to the company culture -- the company should live and breathe them.

5. Focus on communication.

Employees value transparent workplaces. In fact, a survey of 1,000 U.S. employees published in March by 15Five found that 81 percent of respondents would rather join a company that values open communication than trendy perks like gym memberships and free food.

Enplug, a digital display software startup, offers their employees open communication reddit-style. Every few weeks, the company holds an ask me anything session with company leadership. Employees submit their questions before the meeting and each one is answered and discussed in detail in a presentation.

Encourage employees to ask questions and share their thoughts, and make them feel comfortable doing so. Welcome new ideas and value their feedback to build a culture of communication.

Related: 3 Truths You Must Embrace to Lead Your Team to the Summit

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Business News

You Can Now Apply to Renew Your U.S. Passport Online — But There's a Catch

The U.S. State Department officially launched the beta program this week.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.