📺 Stream EntrepreneurTV for Free 📺

6 Ways to Build a Happy Startup Culture the Scrappy Way Founders are the ones who set the stage, as culture usually mirrors their beliefs. Because of that, it's important to set the values and tone right at the beginning.

By Aihui Ong Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Company culture can make or break an organization, and a common misconception is that it's expensive to foster. Building culture should be viewed as a practice, not an expenditure.

As a startup founder, I'm no stranger to doing things the "scrappy" way and through a combination of the best parts of my previous corporate cultures with trial and error. I was first exposed to the benefits of a happy corporate culture during my time at PeopleSoft (which has been deservedly honored as one of the best places to work in America numerous times). Prior to this I had worked at two other large corporations and I simply assumed happy culture didn't exist.

Related: How to Build Meaningful Relationships in the Workplace

Founders are the ones who set the stage, as culture usually mirrors their beliefs. Because of that, it's important to set the values and tone right at the beginning. Here are some of the tips and tricks that have worked for me along the way:

1. Be a compassionate leader and hands-on with everything.

As the founder, I'm also the one person in the company who has done everyone's job. When you understand the challenges of each job, it's easier to set reasonable, yet demanding, expectations and goals for everyone. When issues happen, you are able to walk in their shoes and try to solve the problem together. When things happen, and I'm not just talking about work, but life events too, be understanding, caring and flexible because that's the first step to building a great culture.

2. Bring new hires on as contractors first.

Almost everyone at Love With Food is hired as a contractor for three months before being brought on board full time. Three months is a good time frame to test a new hire's job performance and also a good period to see if the new hire fits the company culture. Sometimes a person just doesn't fit culturally and you have to make a tough decision to remove him or her. It only takes one wrong fit to unravel what was previously a great environment.

3. Traveling as a team? Share a room.

Traveling to conferences can be expensive, especially when three to five team members attend together. To save money, we usually have three to four people share a room, and the upside is team building because it enables them to bond outside of work.

When I was invited to speak at the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival in 2012, I decided to bring the team with me. Everyone worked really hard to get the company up and running, and the team deserved a break. At that time, we were a team of six. The six of us shared a tiny two-bedroom condo for four days. We cooked and hiked together. It was a memorable experience for all of us.

Related: 5 Traits of the Most Productive Startup Teams

4. Establish traditions.

Every April Fool's Day, it's Love With Food's tradition to launch something ridiculous, such as LoveWithWeed.com. It's great for publicity, but the main reason why it's a tradition is because it's great for team building. This is the one event during which everyone in the company will stop doing "real" work and go crazy with their ideas for four days.

Trust me, it's worth halting real work for a bit because the hilarious ideas, laughter and humor is a great startup stress reliever!

The real sentiment here is tradition. Maybe it's giving back at the holidays with everyone working in a soup kitchen or collecting gifts for underprivileged kids. Maybe it's an annual camping trip. Whatever it is, separate yourselves from the day-to-day minutiae and bond over other activities.

5. Do something together.

Plan to do something together every six to eight weeks. At Love With Food, we love to eat. One of our favorite things is a potluck. We'll agree on a common ingredient or theme and everyone will whip up their favorite dish regardless of culinary skills. The outcome is usually more amusing than appetizing. We also love cards, beer and pizza night. Cards Against Humanity is our go-to game. If your team members are into sports, plan a trip to support your local sports franchise. Not only does this help bonding it gives your team something to look forward to.

6. Encourage laughter.

Whether we are in the office or working from home, everyone is always on HipChat. There's no rules about what can be said in the chat room, as long as it's legal and not obscene. Our conversations are definitely about work, but there's no shortage of GIF wars either. Humor is such an important part of our culture -- any culture really -- so finding ways to encourage and promote laughter goes a long way toward a happy team.

There are many ways to start planting the seeds for building a great culture in a startup that won't break the budget. I would love to hear how you are building your culture at your startup.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Take a Vacation With Your Entire Company

Aihui Ong

Founder and CEO of LoveWithFood.com

Aihui Ong is founder and CEO of LoveWithFood.com, a new product sampling platform that helps food companies build online and offline brand awareness and collects product intelligence data for consumer food brands. 

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

Side Hustle

These Coworkers-Turned-Friends Started a Side Hustle on Amazon — Now It's a 'Full Hustle' Earning Over $20 Million a Year: 'Jump in With Both Feet'

Achal Patel and Russell Gong met at a large consulting firm and "bonded over a shared vision to create a mission-led company."


Want to Be More Productive? Here's How Google Executives Structure Their Schedules

These five tactics from inside Google will help you focus and protect your time.

Side Hustle

How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Successful Business

A hobby, interest or charity project can turn into a money-making business if you know the right steps to take.

Business News

These Are the 10 Most Profitable Cities for Airbnb Hosts, According to a New Report

Here's where Airbnb property owners and hosts are making the most money.

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.