This is my mind on culture: values and evolutions
culture is a reflection
I used to think that having an awesome culture at a startup meant that there was a keg, bean bag chairs, and pool table in the office.
Today, some remote companies try to shape the same culture with those experiences and items, offsite. Offsites are at a cadence consistent enough to prevent Zoom burnout—I hope.
The reality is that culture is a reflection of the founder(s). It can’t be faked with material things. It can’t be built with offsites.
Culture is more important than ever, because I believe the single biggest problem to growth for a startup is finding A players.
At the time of writing this, the Nebullam (rebranding to Clayton Farms) team is at 12, with 7 full-time. By next month, we’ll have welcomed up to 5 more team members.
Here are my thoughts on culture:
1. Title matters. Not from a hierarchical view, but from an ownership perspective.
That’s why our #1 value is “There are no employees or interns. We’re all teammates.”
2. You can be direct without being an asshole. Throw that Iowa nice out the window.
That’s why our #2 value is “Direct transparency among teammates provides all of us with more time. That’s how we make it to the playoffs.”
3. If you talk about competition—especially internally—it creates an irrational fear. Trust me when I say this. Competition won’t be one of the first reasons your startup fails.
That’s why our #3 value is “There is no competition, because we spend our energy on and with subscribers. That’s how we win a championship, season after season.”
4. You as the founder need to see the writing on the wall, to determine what metrics matter. Then you let the market decide—AKA, your customers and users. Then you listen and improve.
That’s why our #4 value is “Data drives our decisions. That’s why we’ll become a dynasty.”
I think the sports analogy simplifies and aligns people, because most individuals have played and/or been a fan of sports before.
That’s the culture and values of today, and I look forward to allowing them to evolve, as Danen and I age and continue to learn what works and doesn’t work in leadership.
But what about the evolution of culture, tomorrow?
Here are a few thoughts:
Over the recent years in recruiting, we spend A LOT of time on finding the perfect team member. Hiring slow for us = about 100 days from first contact. How can we keep this level of thorough recruiting, making sure we continue to find A players?
1. Your network is your net worth. It took me about 5 years of being in the startup space in Iowa, before compounding efforts started to show. Get started today and keep finding the right pockets of doers.
2. Build funnels to welcome individuals to learn more at any time—and not just a job board.
a. We offer tours. Informal tours are our first in-person step to recruiting.
b. We’re establishing new office space in the Iowa State University Research Park. We’ll grow into it over the coming years, but until then, we want the rest of the space filled with doers. ¼ the space will be dedicated coworking for tech startups. Either those startups can outgrow the space (which will be awesome to see), or as those startups wind down, we’ll know how awesome the team is and be able to talk about opportunities with them joining us (which is healthy and needed for a startup community).
c. We’re going to host in-person hackathons. We’ll pose our actual company problems on software, data science, and business development. We’ll award cash to the winners, and they’ll instantly move up our list for future potential team members.
What is culture to you?
PS, if you’re in Ames and interested in joining our coworking space this October, reach out. It will fill up quickly.