Originally posted by Matthew Gliccen on Venture Café Studio Blog on 1/14/14
Third culture event hosted at Swissnex: big transitions & how they affect your startup culture
Annual startup event hosted by Swissnex
Global Pitchfest at Mass Challenge (1 min and 1 slide) against American competition
Ongoing series of Swiss startups visiting Boston to explore American market (300 have already visited)
Gary Fortier of Raizlabs: “Nothing makes you appreciate good culture like working in a toxic one.”
Ben Thomas, VP Security at Backupify: Joined as first employee in Louisville, KY. Love planning fun things,
Susan Hunt Stevens, founder & CEO of Practically Green: There’s an element of our culture about social mission to ave energy and water and so forth. That’s a huge thing that influences culture, but don’t forget that we’re a tech company. We want to be a great place to work, too. How do we make sure we’re a great company an good for the environment?
Q: What do you think when you think “startup culture?”
Gary: While we don’t think of ourselves as a startup, we do think of ourselves as flexible. Fluidity and response says “startup” to me.
Ben: Startups can mean making the right decision without needing to meet and discuss it. How do you feel at the company? Are you working toward a greater goal?
Susan: I first talked about the startup stereotype, the 20yos who run around with NERF guns and goof off between starting billion dollar companies. My bias has always been to focus on the customer: how will solve their problem? What steps will you take to get there? How does what worked for 5 people work for 15 or 35 people?
Gary on “Awesome” : that’s a little hard to scale to new employees and products and something concrete. You need a shared set of assumptions that people can point to. When you articulate your goals and values, it makes them more possible.
Ben: Culture is a process, not something you do or change one time. Culture is what you do as day-to-day work. At every transition point, people will ask how to keep the old culture with familiar dynamics and you need to accept that that culture is past and be ready to look for what’s next.
Gary: when the new culture is not what it used to be, people tend to gloss over the bad parts, and leave out the negatives that changed for the better.
Susan: We’ve been deliberate about talking and agreeing what level of trust we keep with each other and our clients. As we’ve grown and changed, we consider this sacrosanct. We don’t have a vacation policy or official days we’re open or closed. We need to hire people for success in a high-trust environment and are ready to remove people who can’t work with that situation.
Korey: What lessons have you learned in growing?
Gary: We removed vacation, sick time, and other policies that reflect a lack of total trust. Let the teams self-police and follow up after when something impacts the team negatively. (Don’t scar on the first cut.)
Ben: We have a very liberal holiday policy, including Groundhog Day, first days of the NCAA tournament, Evacuation Day, and so forth. As we grow in other areas, this presses unique policy changes like that, but it doesn’t mean you throw away their spirit.
Susan: Last year we did a green scavenger hunt, like “find the nearest green dry cleaner.” We productized the employee engagement part of our culture in a way we couldn’t have predicted.
Gary: when we closed our biggest new client deal, we agreed on cross-group measurements, and they agreed to check against our team’s core values. That’s a compliment to our focus on culture.
Korey: what have you cross-applied from your culture to your business?
Susan: we learned that great software people aren’t great conservationists! We did find a blogger who went for a year without consuming plastic, a perfect match for what we want to do. The values fun and team aren’t conversation, but they mean a lot to both our working group and our products.
Ben: We want to hire people who like to learn. Our interview ask people to tell us about projects outside of work. What do they dabble in? What pushes their interest and ideas forward?