May 17, 2012
Growing a startup is a bit like moving on from flying a tiny turbo-prop to a gigantic jumbo jet. In the beginning it’s just you, a co-pilot, and your sole passenger who hates flying, sitting there screaming in the back of your little Cessna. But at some point you raise funding and you realize that a plane beyond a certain size can’t be flown without the assistance of an excellent crew – which brings me to this week’s Women Innovate Mobile accelerator lesson: corporate culture really does matter, even when you’re an early stage startup.
You can be in your very infancy as an organization, but it’s still worth it to think about the evolution of your corporate culture over time. Consider this example from the animal kingdom: humans start to socialize their young almost from birth. We don’t wait till a child is in adolescence to start inculcating him or her with a core set of beliefs on appropriate conduct or a framework for a value system.
A startup shouldn’t be any different. Realistically speaking, product development may, and should, take top priority when you’re early stage. However, smaller entities only strengthen themselves by taking a day or two to develop a corporate culture growth plan. In fact, there are several advantages to shaping your corporate culture upfront:
• Helps outline an approach to customer service once products are on the market
• Provides investors rationale behind revenue model decisions
• Helps with hiring considerations and talent acquisition at different stages of corporate growth
• Assists in developing a corporate culture action plan for employee retention
One of our WIM mentors, Anne Libby, founder of Anne Libby Management Consulting, cautions startups on waiting too long to define their organizational culture: “Culture dictates how we act at work: how we celebrate, how we address conflict, how we make decisions, and even what we wear. It’s powerful. And it’s inevitable: your startup will have a culture. If you build it from the ground up, with intention, you’ll save yourself the pain of re-engineering.”
Developing a plan early on also helps in determining how to scale culture as your organization grows. For example, Jim Estill, partner at CanRock Ventures and angel investor at Golden Seeds, related to us how he developed the habit of providing his employees with homemade soup every Friday during early days at one entrepreneurial venture.
The challenge is, how do you take a tradition like soup and scale it to the size of Google? It’s a tricky question.
At Appguppy, our priorities are clear. Our goals as an organization are to grow sustainably while ensuring that our future employees share our vision on the democratization of mobile. For now, we’re flying high with our interns on this mission, but rest assured that in the future, you won’t find any screaming on this plane.
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