How to build a strong company culture from day one
You’ll often hear VCs say that they’re investing not just into ideas, but into people. So why are people so important? It may sting your ego as an entrepreneur, but your idea probably isn’t unique and VCs have often seen your pitch many times before, albeit just by different teams. So ultimately what they are actually trying to pick is not the best idea that will win, but the best team that will win.
So how do you build a winning team? After being fortunate enough to have built several teams across a few businesses I have finally realised (it took me this long!) that your company culture is absolutely core to the success of your business, and it starts from day one.
Here are a few tips that we’re using to build a great working culture at our proptech startup Soho.
Everyone should know what your mission is.
Yes, that means you need to have a mission statement! If anyone in your team doesn’t believe in your mission then they really shouldn’t be there in the first place. That may sound direct, but realistically if a team member doesn’t believe in the mission then they won’t be fulfilled by the job or pushing the boundaries.
It’s best for everyone that they find somewhere that they will enjoy working better, as until the mission changes it will always be your north star. So make sure to write down your mission statement, communicate it frequently and aim to keep it short and concise. It may even just be the simple reason why you started your startup in the first place
Build your company culture from day one
Building a business is tough but creating a successful one is even tougher. So, for a startup to succeed and be able to adapt to complex challenges, you and your team need to bring your absolute best to the playing field, every single day.
So now that your team knows your mission, they then need to know how you are going to achieve it. Start by writing down the 3 or 4 values that will define how your team will work together, which should generally outline what you think it takes to become a successful startup.
It’s important that these values are clearly written down and conveyed, but keep in mind that as a founder you need to follow these too! Culture will always start with the founder(s) but will last well beyond your time at the company.
For example, one of our values is “Enjoy the challenge”. With this value we are setting the expectation for everyone that startups are challenging, but it will be an incredibly rewarding experience that you should make the most of while you have the opportunity. Push hard as the more you put in, the more you will learn from your successes and/or failures.
Everyone must know the company values from their very first day
When your core values are transparently communicated this will make it clear to everyone on who is kicking ass and who needs an extra hand. When the values are being worked to every day, your team themselves will celebrate those who are crushing it, but also know who is lagging behind.
If you’re doing it right you’ll be investing heavily into your team, who will then help to build each team members’ game up to scratch, or help you make any decisions on when to look for someone new. Your culture effectively becomes the “line in the sand” and your team will leverage it to identify the right new-hires for the team as your business grows.
Your board/investors must also believe in your mission and share your values
For those who are in the amazing position of being able to choose from a pool of potential investors, often the question is how do you decide on who’s money to accept? Most investors will often say (and will also deliver) that they have the right contacts, they’re the smart money and your best choice.
These are all fantastic reasons on their own to accept an investor but if you can, use your best judgement to select investors who truly believe in your mission and share your core values, no matter how“blue sky” it may be. This will help you see eye-to-eye on strategy and ensure your compasses are pointing in the same direction.
For Soho we were very lucky to have met an investor like Found Ventures who believed in our team and invested into our vision before we even had our product launched in market.
At Soho our company values are incredibly important as it defines how we work and motivates us to enjoy the opportunity we have been given to succeed or fail together.
Once the right culture is set, your team will be able to focus their attention on the problems at hand and create amazing solutions to solve them.
Try to instil your values as early as you can, as once your startup is wildly successful, it will make that infamous question of “how to scale your team” so much easier once you start experiencing that mythical J-curve like growth.
Jonathan is an entrepreneur who has built several teams across both Australia and Singapore, raising $100M+ across multiple startups. He cofounded Airtasker, Tank Stream Labs and Tank Stream Ventures in Australia, and has now launched his latest venture Soho; a proptech startup aimed at becoming the LinkedIn for real estate.