Building The Right Culture For Your Startup

In the early days of your startup , you may think your biggest priorities are to attract the best talents, search for funders, and launch your product. These are important, but more important is building the right company culture for your startup. According to Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos:

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

Today, Zappos is known for its great customer service. Although it is now under Amazon, Zappos still maintains its own identity and quality. This level of success has only been possible due to its business culture.

So building a great culture is important for your startup to succeed. As Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb says,“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneurs job is to build the foundation.”

In this article, learn what makes a great startup culture and how to make one for your own startup.

Start with defining your values:

What do you think when you think about startup culture? Foosball tables, no cubicles, yoga mats and such? These might make you think startup culture is about fun and play only. However, a startup culture is more than that.

In his book “Zero to One”, Peter Thiel writes : “No company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.”

From Thiel’s word, it is clear that culture comes from within the company. And it starts from the founder(s).  The values and beliefs of the founder(s) form the company culture. For example, at Zappos, Tony Hsieh believes in the power of individual. So he built a culture where personal characteristics and organizational demands went in harmony. He gave employees autonomy in their work roles. Call center employees don’t read any scripted texts. Rather they are empowered to use their own creativity to handle customers. They even don’t need the permission of their managers regarding this. Once a customer had lost her shoes she ordered from Zappos. She called one call centre employee so that she can get another pair of the same shoes. However, Zappos didn’t have that shoe in their stock. So the call center employee went to a rival shoe store, bought the shoe and delivered to the customer free of cost!

Such an empowering culture has been beneficial for Zappos.  As a result, employees don’t only feel motivated, but customers are satisfied by receiving personal and human messages.

So begin building your startup culture by finding out what you value the most. Then instill it in your business. If you value open communication and good relationships , create a culture where employees can directly contact anyone, including the CEO! Be more approachable- greet them, have personal conversations with them, show interest in their personal development and help them when you can.

Find people who will fit in the culture:

By now, you must be convinced that building a startup culture is important. But a culture you envision for your startup will only be realized if everyone at your startup believes and fits in the culture.

Therefore, it is necessary to hire people who will fit in with your culture. Even though an employee might be an expert in their field, they won’t bring value  unless they fit in your company culture. For example, in Zappos’s early days, Tony Hsieh personally led the hiring process . He offered a two part test. The first part tested skills, while the second part assessed how the applicant would fit in at Zappos. This involved some tests or working with the team. According to Hsieh:

“Even if a person is great at their job, even if they’re a superstar at their job if they’re bad for our culture we’ll fire them for that reason alone. And performance reviews are 50% based on whether you’re living and inspiring the Zappos culture in others.”

So try to see whether the characteristics of the person and the values match with the culture of your startup. If it doesn’t you shouldn’t hire that person.

Ofcourse, culture shouldn’t be the only metric to decide whether a person should be hired. But try to see if that person is skillful and at the same time, will be able to work with everyone else in your startup.

Make employees learn the culture

Now that you have hired people who will fit in with your company culture, instill the culture in your employees. A company with a strong culture is the one where employees are aware of and one with the values, beliefs and traditions of the company.

According to Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix:

“A strong culture should be a true articulation of how your employees work at their best. It should be grounded in your shared mission, the thing you are trying to accomplish. It should be understood by everyone and built by everyone, and it should start from your earliest days as a startup.”

So make your team learn and understand the company culture. This way, they will learn to emulate the culture you want to inoculate in your startup.  The way you as a founder can make employees learn your startup’s culture is by your actions. For example: At Styline (a startup focusing on fashion and cosmetics), CEO Khobaib Chowdhury believes in a culture of learning. So he arranges a weekly meeting with all the teams of Styline. Members discuss their progresses and get valuable feedback in return. In this way, Khobaib built a culture of learning at Styline.

Create refresher sessions

Creating refresher sessions is a fun way of instilling your company culture among your employees. Not only do they learn the culture, but also feel they belong to your startup. And that is quite important for you to retain talents.

You can create refresher sessions by hosting some ice breaking sessions or arranging outings or treating your employees to an outside treat. When he ran Next after being ousted from Apple, Steve Jobs would take his employees to an outdoor retreat at a resort. In a relaxed environment, employees would share new ideas to an often light-hearted Jobs.

Even if you can’t afford such entertainments, you can always use simple ways to refresh your employees. Sit with your employees in lunch. Talk with them about work or personal stuffs. Make close relationships with them. This way, you can build a better bond with your employees and can motivate them.

Or, start weekly gatherings where everyone shares something new with others. At Praava (a healthcare startup dealing with family healthcare and diagnostic services), CEO Sylvana Quader Sinha arranges weekly gatherings where every member teach others something new. One might teach meditation, other might teach good posture habits, another brushing!

Now you know the importance of a great company culture for your startup to succeed. So try the steps mentioned and you can create a great culture for your startup.

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

YYTALKS: Tete-a-tete with Mr. Nazmul Islam

Mr. Nazmul Islam is the founder of Avijatrik, a community tourism platform in Bangladesh. Avijatrik has been active in this sector for last couple of years and is one of the very first incubated business from YY Goshti. Currently, Avijatrik is impacting more than 41 communities and aims to create change in the tourism industry of Bangladesh.

We talked to him at the EMK center with a cup of coffee.

Q1. How did you first conceive the idea of starting AVIJATRIK? What inspired you?

Nazmul: My friends and I used to travel a lot right after HSC. We visited about 13-14 districts at that time. Later on, we decided to open a travel agency since we knew a lot about travelling. But it did not sustain in the market. Then I submitted this idea for Social Business Champ to solve a social problem – Low Rural Development. Although our villages are poor, we have one great asset – Nature, So I came up with the concept of community tourism, which is very popular in countries like Thailand. So I did some research; read blogs, talked to people and finally decided that it is a good idea. That’s how we started AVIJATRIK.

Q2. We would like to hear more about your team.

Nazmul: There were four co-founders including me. Our team is divided into three departments – Marketing, Operations and Content. We mostly handle Digital Marketing. We have three people who oversee Operations that mainly deals with Guiding. And then there is Content.

Q3.Why did you choose social business specifically?

Nazmul: Our plan is to help the society and sustain our business in the future. Under the social business model, we have some additional benefits like investors. Besides, I am a huge fan of Prof. Dr. Yunus – and that is why I was more attracted to the concept of social business.

Q4.What impact has AVIJATRIK created so far?

Nazmul: Whatever the hosts earn through our business – that is what we consider as our impact. Moreover, we aim to involve local tourism in this business. We already have 41 local communities with at least 10 families in each community. Apart from that, we have at least 30 single families who host our tourists. Only in Sundarbans, our local hosts have earned almost 7 lac taka last year. Our hosts all over Bangladesh earned a total over 19, 50,000 taka in 2017. This includes areas like Bandarban, Khulna, Shatkhira etc.

Q5.What are the challenges that you have faced in your journey?

Nazmul: Unlike many start-ups, we did not face funding problems. But our first challenge was validating our concept. We launched a pilot project at Lauacchara, Srimangal in a Khashia village. For the first 4-5 days, they kept stalling us and then they finally refused our offer. The same happened in Nijhum Dip and also in a place near Dhaka. Nobody liked the institutionalized form. So we decided to go door-to-door and approach families we were acquainted with. This change helped us more. The main problem we faced in our growth stage is communication*.

Q6.Where do you see AVIJATRIK in the next 10 years?

Nazmul:  Within the next five years, we are aiming to have 200 hosts in Bangladesh, which means more than 1000 families. Our market is a seasonal fluctuating one. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation helps us a lot though there is no proper structure in Bangladesh. We aim to expand both in the outbound and the domestic market. We want to turn AVIJATRIK into the biggest community tourism platform within the next 10 years and operate in at least 5 countries. We want to shape the industry.

Q7.Tell us about your journey with YY Goshti. How did YYG help you grow?

Nazmul: Our journey with YY Goshti has been life changing. Since our incubation in 2016, YY Goshti team has helped us with training, mentoring, prototyping funding and a lot of resources. Whenever we have a problem, I just call Shazeeb bhai (Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, CEO of YY Goshti). After we attended the 7-day long bootcamp at YY Goshti incubator in 2016, we started realizing our dream and started to go forward with our business. It also helped us come up with a proper framework for our business. YY Goshti is holding our hands in every step for the last two years.

Q8.How important is it to have incubation and mentorship in the first few years of a social business?

Nazmul: I believe that it is way too important especially since we are currently having new scopes of venture capital in Bangladesh. Startups are coming from the young people, and we also have a budding entrepreneurship ecosystem blooming in our country. Ours is a third world country and we have a lot of problems. But most of the time, business ideas fail due to the lack of mentoring. I believe that finding a mentor is more important than finding investors. In a business, money is not everything. The time for these incubation programs should be more than 7 months. Social business startups need this even more because their field is more challenging.

Q9. How is the social business environment in Bangladesh?

Nazmul: The social business ecosystem in Bangladesh is growing. Currently YY Goshti is the only one operating in this field. We need more organizations to come forward. Since the concept of social business grew from our country, we need more organizations like YY Goshti here.

Q10. What is your message for new social business entrepreneurs?

Nazmul: We have so many ideas and we put too much value on it. And then, some of us do not want to share these ideas because we are scared that others may steal them. I find it odd. You should share your idea because even if the idea is good, the implementation should be better. They should focus more on implementation. Take our case in the villages for instance. We had to change the model repeatedly till we found a feasible one. So new entrepreneurs should not focus too much on funding, but on implementation. They must have good plans, proper prototypes and suitable investors.

Interview: Kaniz Ahmed