As a founder or an operator, it's easy to get caught up in the hype of company culture. You see articles and hear success stories about companies with "great cultures" and how it's the key to their success. But what does that really mean?
We constantly come across blog posts listing the top 5 characteristics of a "great culture" - typically open communication, work-life balance, innovation, trust, and so on. These sound like desirable traits for any organisation but it's important to recognise that they are just generic pieces of advice and can’t be broadly applied to every start-up.
Frankly, a "great culture" is highly subjective and varies from organisation-to-organisation and person-to-person. What may be a positive, productive culture for one may not work for the other.
When we invest at Square Peg, we often get excited by founders who are passionate about building for culture, but that doesn’t mean they are homogenous. That becomes even more evident when gathering all our founders together, such as at our recent Founder Summit in Israel.
On the one hand, we have founders who spoke about radical transparency and its importance to great culture - some going to the extent of revealing firm-wide salaries to everyone. Others organise around a small but critical team, who are materially rewarded as the absolute top performers in their organisations. And others did not appoint any C-levels until after Series B so they could focus on being meritocratic in the early days.
These approaches lead to very different cultures, but equally can all be successful in their own right. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Rather than commonality of culture, what instead stood out in these conversations was the level of authenticity and thoughtfulness that founders and their leadership teams brought to their organisations.
If you’re a founder reading this - our generic piece of advice is: don't get caught up in the hype of trying to emulate the ‘great culture’ of other successful companies. Instead, be thoughtful as to what you’re trying to build and be authentic to you and your founding team. You can’t be all things to all people, and that’s okay.
If you’re an operator reading this - it’s vital to identify what you value and in which culture you thrive best, and optimise for that. Working in a culture that doesn’t align with your values is like swimming upstream - it’s possible, but quickly tires you out.