Creating Your Ethos: The Building Blocks of Startup Company Culture

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Working for a startup is a lifestyle, and long hours blur the line between work and play. That's why a strong company culture is necessary.

Working for a startup is a lifestyle, and the fast-paced schedule and long hours can make the lines between work and recreation pretty messy.

In these situations, creating a balance between the two is vital to running a successful company.

As I grew my company, Rukkus, from four to 24 employees in just a year, creating and implementing a comfortable, scalabe work culure was a high priority.

In the early stages of my startup, I often found it hard to distinguish what work was and was not.

Even getting coffee with a friend, for instance, could easily turn from a social visit to a potential business meeting.

Related Article: Smiles Are Free: How a Positive Business Culture Inspires Employees

Coming from the corporate banking world where everything was much more black and white, this took some getting used to.

Working for Goldman Sachs, I knew I was on the clock if I was behind my desk or meeting with clients. Now that there's no "clock," however, things are much messier. 

Founding an exciting startup has changed by mindset from putting in the right number of hours a week to making my work my lifestyle.

I'll Rest When I'm Dead... or When I Make It

Early on, when Rukkus was just a handful of people, the work was non-stop, day and night.

There were a hundred design and tech desicions to go through every day as we prepared for launch.

I eventually began to think that I'd only be able to sleep once we got the company off the ground.

Even if I forced myself to go home at a semi-reasonable hour, there were countless nights I didn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how to solve any number of issues we were facing.

I just couldn’t help it. Everyone who cares about their job thinks about it off the clock, but when your livelihood rests on a product you're developing yourself, it's all you can think about.

When we made our first non-founder hires,  I focused on recruiting like-minded people who were willing to burn the midnight oil with me.

Being upfront about the hours you expect your employees to work before making them an offer is crucial.

If employees come into a startup with a nine-to-five mindset, they are going to be in for a rude awakening, and you're going to be faced with a high turnover rate.

Finding people who are just as excited to grow your business as you are is key. It’s easy to work long hours when you really believe in what you are doing.

Related Article: Is Your Culture Toxic? Tell-Tale Signs That Your Company Culture Needs a Re-Boot

Make the Company Culture Yours 

One of the most gratifying aspects about founding a business is that you can truly make the company culture yours. From the beginning, I've always made sure my employees know what I value and why.

This puts a necessary pressure on me to make sure I actively following through on implementing these values into our company culture.

In return, I have been fortunate enough to have a company full of people who are more likely to go above and beyond for us.

Like most startups, we have a "work hard, then play hard" mentality. I make it a priority to have monthly team outings where we can all go out together and blow off steam.

So far, our outings have all been the sort of thing a pre-teen might do for his birthday, including laser tag, bowling, and arcades.

Next month, we might try to act our age a bit and go out to a nice restaurant, but shooting your coworker or boss with a laser gun is just as gratifying after a long week in the office.

All Hands on Deck

In the startup world, the thought “this isn’t part of my job description” should never cross your mind.

Being an entrepreneur is never a singular job. When we started Rukkus, I immediately found my self-wearing the many hats of a founder.

As in any entrepreneurial venture, the less people you employ, the more hats you will have to put on. As we continue to grow our team, I look for people who don’t mind having their hands dipped in many jars.

Employees who won’t get siloed into one task will ultimately add the most value to your company

Another aspect to the “all hands on deck” mentality is that in startups there is no red tape.

If you have a good idea you have the power to take the necessary steps to get it done. Giving employees this power will take your company to the next level.

Related Article: Why Company Culture Matters More to Employee Than Pay

You can have a treasure trove of great minds working for you, but if good thoughts and ideas aren’t quickly acted upon you will not grow at a necessary rate for success.

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