In your startup, the goals and culture must become a mantra

Edited excerpt from 5 Leadership Lessons Learned from Jeff Weiner by Sachin Rekhi:

The typical marketing wisdom is that it takes exposing someone to your marketing message 7 times before they respond to it. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner believes the same is true for any key message you want to ensure is broadly understood within the organization. So it’s important to constantly repeat the team’s top objectives, the decisions that are being made, the culture you are trying to establish, and anything else you want the broad team to truly internalize. It’s equally important to drive consistency in the message, even using the exact same words to really ensure it sticks. It’s then important to ensure you have frequent opportunities to broadly share these key messages.

(1) Cf. To build a great culture for your startup, be explicit.
(2) Cf. Moments that clarify what your values really are.

Startup = blood, sweat and tears

Edited excerpt from Playing Startup by Lee Hower:

My first startup job was as an early employee at PayPal. When I first started working there, I only made it home for dinner 3-5 times a month. I worked, usually at the office not remotely, at least part of every weekend for the first year or so. There were frequently late nights. One of my fellow PMs did sleep routinely under his desk in a sleeping bag he kept there for that purpose. On multiple occasions I’d get in to the office in the morning and find our CEO (Elon Musk at the time) asleep on the couch.

I fear a meaningful number of people are “playing startup” today.

What I mean is that people are joining startups because working in a startup seems cool or lucrative, not because they want to change the world and they’re fundamentally committed to putting in all the blood, sweat, and tears that entails. We’re hearing more about people new to startups asking their seed stage company how many months of severance is included in their package. We see co-working spaces where the ratio of work to non-work (ping pong, beer, startup talks, etc) is pretty low. Entire startups exude a rah-rah environment during the all hands, and then at 5:15pm the office is a ghost town (even though everybody rolled in after 10am).

To build a great culture for your startup, be explicit

Edited excerpt from Happy Birthday HubSpot! 9 Lessons From Our First 9 Years by Dharmesh Shah:

In our early years, we didn’t talk about culture much. We hadn’t documented it all. We just built a business that we wanted to work in. But the real return on culture happened when we started getting more deliberate about it. By writing it down. By debating it. By taking it apart, polishing the pieces and putting it back together. Iterating. Again. And again. And again.

Make some small investments. For starters, have some conversations about the who. What kind of people do you want on the team? Try to avoid platitudes. Make a list of attributes and traits that other companies avoid, but tend to work for you. And vice versa. Write this list down, even if it’s just a simple email to the team. Once you start writing your culture down, a couple of surprising things will happen: 1) You’ll realize you got parts of it wrong (because people will tell you). 2) You’ll increase the chances of hiring for “culture fit” without falling into the trap of toxic homogeneity where you just hire people like yourself under the guise of “culture fit”. Short rant on that topic: No company should be able to skip over candidates for lack of “culture fit” unless it has at least a minimal clue of what that culture is.

One of my regrets about culture at HubSpot is that we didn’t wake up to the value of diversity until much later in our evolution. If you’re just getting started, take my advice: Be mindful of diversity super-early and beware the homogenity traps.

Dick Costolo on company culture

Sara Lacy describes the advice Twitter CEO Dick Costolo gave Evernote CEO Phil Libin:

Costolo and Libin have talked a lot about how to manage company culture when you scale a business. Libin was concerned about preserving startup culture at Evernote, but Costolo gave him an unexpected response. “You can’t preserve the culture, if you try to preserve it then you’re locking it into place, it starts to stagnate,” Libin said Costolo told him. Costolo explained that the CEO’s job is not to preserve the culture, it’s to evolve it intentionally in a certain direction.

Moments that clarify what your values really are

In his remarkable formulation of Netflix’ values, Reed Hastings argues that you can identify a company’s values from what it actually does, not from the values it claims to have. So here’s an interesting exercise: Instead of making a list of the values you’d like your company to have, make a list of the 5 core values you observe in practice.

For Seeking Alpha, I think our 5 observed values are:

  1. Be rational. We put a lot of time and effort into thinking things through.
  2. Be good. We treat everyone with respect, honesty and fairness.
  3. Be transparent. If we’re rational and good, there’s nothing to hide, no need for spin, and we welcome input and discussion.
  4. Get things done. We value people who are “managers of one“.
  5. Be excellent. We identify the top priorities, and try to get them done really well.

Reed Hastings adds that “actual company values are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go.” If your hiring, firing and promotions reflect your true values, then these events become values clarifying moments for people in your company.