Don’t Try to Be Zappos When Your Startup Is Young

October 7, 2014

7:45 pm

Shane Green of Resort Rescue and Jenn Lim came to our Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference this afternoon to talk about one thing: company culture. Lim spends her time working for Delivering Happiness, a company that is directly spun off from Tony Hsieh’s book of the same name, and it’s been an interesting journey into companies and how they build their own brand of company culture.

According to Lim, her work with the Zappos Culture Book – an annual, grassroots documentation of the company’s culture – has been enlightening because she can look and see how the culture has actually grown or scaled. While Zappos has used the same verbiage and values to promote their culture both in and outside of the company, the fact that it has been sustained for the past years proves that culture is both sustainable and scalable.

For startups who want a strong company culture, the essentials are the same but the execution is different.

“When you’re a startup, don’t try to be Zappos on your first day,” said Green. “Try to be small. Have a simple story that talks about the alignment of your company. Tell us the story of your product.”

However, if you don’t have a good company culture, starting up or maintaining a company is difficult. Zappos didn’t start developing their own sense of company culture until they were 5-6 years on their way, but they were able to really focus on serving the customer, align a congruent company culture, and then reinforce it with their hires.

“You think: ‘I’ll get to the culture when I’m above the water and sleeping more than two hours a day,'” said Lim. “You cling to the belief that I’ll get to it when…but you have to start now. The good news is that it’s never too late to start.”

It’s important that you don’t put it off, though, because a culture will happen regardless of whether you want it to or not: it starts developing from day 1. The question is, are you in control of it? You can’t just assume that you’re in control of your company culture, and thus your company, unless you formalize and organize it.

“Get ideas down on paper,” said Green. “It’s a great test of your business partnership. Check in every month or so with each other, even if you have a small team.”

You have to analyze what makes you unique, what you want to be known for, and what your ideal employee looks like. The company will evolve over time – that’s inescapable – but if you have a frame of reference to refer back to with regard to your culture, the alignment will hold true and steer you right.

From there, if you can turn the focus onto the customer, it’s easier to grow and compete in your niche. That’s because you’ll have employees who love what they do and love the company they work for. At Zappos, there are literally employees who say they deliver happiness to others and love every minute of it.

It’s a crucial first step to starting up, and even if you’ve been in business for years, starting and sustaining a culture can happen at any minute. Just keep it simple, start small, and hold people accountable – even yourself. At the end of the day it will only help your vision, goal, and team to have a well-laid-out cultural plan: that way you can avoid hiring the wrong person who may mess your company up some day down the line.

“I fundamentally believe that, at Zappos, we hire the people who smile and feel like they’re delivering happiness to the world,” said Lim.

On October 6-7, Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference is gathering hundreds of attendees, industry leaders, and inspiring speakers in downtown Vegas to meet the hottest startups and investors from around the country, learn and collaborate with others turning their communities into startup cities, and enjoy music, parties, and llama spotting. Check out more Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference coverage here.

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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America's Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He's the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he's off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing...or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach. Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988

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