Company Culture · Engagement

Can you be too small to think seriously about your company's culture?

Dominic Head Chief Executive Officer & Founder at ABi

June 12th, 2015

I'm seeing a lot of articles at the moment by small businesses on the subject of building a specific 'culture' within their organisation. Given this is the area my business focuses on, I'd like to hear from other entrepreneurs on a) how you've thought about and shaped your company culture, b) why it is or is not important and/or c) whether you think a company can be too small to consider 'culture' important.


June 12th, 2015

Hello Dominic, My two cents is culture is everything. The minute you have one employee, you’re crafting a culture that will likely determine whether you succeed or fail. My advice is to think about the type of company you want to be and start laying the foundation now. As an example, I co-founded Shaw + Scott because I believed an agency did not have to be a non-stop mad house with no work/life balance. I wanted somewhere that was fun, supportive, flexible and nurturing. I want my team to be happy as happy employees mean happy clients. Could I offer everything I wanted to from day one? No, of course not, but over time we continue to evolve to become the company we initially envisioned ourselves to be. Five years later, we’ve grown from five to fifty with almost zero turnover. Why, because we foster a great culture that’s supportive, flexible and empowering. People want to work with us and do great work because we’re breaking the mold on what it means to be an agency and doing things are way. Anyway, when starting something new, there are no shortage of things to think about, but definitely don’t sell culture short. It can make all the difference in the world, especially when getting started. I hope this was helpful. Good luck! Best, Julian Julian S. Scott | Partner Shaw + Scott | | 604.396.2248 | Vancouver

Christophe Lassuyt co-founder at Moneytis, avoiding fees on cross-border money transfers, using Blockchain

June 14th, 2015

I just founded a startup with a friend, a the culture is the first thing we spoke about 4 years ago, just to be sure that we are on the same line

Our main points have been the following ones:
  • know why we come at work everyday, what is the real goal
  • make it fun and have a nice day
  • learn to learn and learn to teach

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

June 12th, 2015

Culture comes from the existing people in a company (especially you). Shaping it is largely a matter of hiring people who already fit the culture you want to build, and acting by that culture yourself. Changing it after the fact is much harder, and in my experience often involves turnover.

Chia Taing Entrepreneur at Your Global Venture

June 13th, 2015

Hi Dominic, congratulations for taking the opportunity to start something. I may be stating what has been said before me. As a solo-entrepreneur working on founding team, I face the same challenges - doing things fast, or doing things right, and potentially slowing progress.  Each time I work backwards from the big picture vision;

* the mission to accomplish,
* the desirable core values to achieve that mission,
* the culture encompassing those core values, guiding decision making.

The best time to start is at the beginning when you care enough to start a start-up shaping it for success.  I think the one thing you want to instill is a steadfast culture, while you remain nimble and flexible with strategies and tactics in starting your start-up.

Greg Sherwin vp engineering + it • singularity university

June 13th, 2015

Culture is too important to put off for later. It's the core of why and how you get things done, the way you get things done. It's how you recruit, hire, reward, promote, and fire within the company. It's the blueprint for how you go about achieving your goals. So as soon as you have a couple people on the team with the aspirations for any more, you had better start thinking about culture.

Culture is much harder to alter and steer once your team has built scale and momentum. Habits and behaviors that you overlook when you're busy bringing on early hires can metastasize and cripple your growth and your organizational ability to deliver. Only through much more painful decisions and changes can you correct those ills later on ... and in a small, budding start-up the extent can even prove fatal.

I don't know of a single successful entrepreneur who has built a company and felt they thought long and hard about culture too early.

Bernardo Lagos Economic Award Rome 2015 at Sciacca Foundation

June 13th, 2015

you just have to understand that principles mean (point of origin), virtue (making things happen), values (importance given to things and its priorities), moral (points of view), ethics (rule that applies to moral depending on the culture) and vices (defects).

Rob Stevenson Social Technology Engineer at Society3

June 14th, 2015

Great question,
I feel we have a great culture in our company but we never really talked about it. We have no plaque that states what our culture is. - it looks like we just live it. I guess it's more the way our boss runs things and how he deals with us and customers. The only thing we discuss once in a while are things like business ethics.

Julie Bishop Social Recruiting | Social Media | Social Recruitment | Social Media Trainer | Social Media Speaker

June 14th, 2015

Culture can be positive or negative .. From day 1 you need to be creating a contagious company culture and when you start hiring, you hire for culture first. The culture is the heart, the personality of the company.. make sure both are good! 

Dan Nicollet Sales & Client Success Director at SVDS - Data Science, Big Data, Data-Driven Business Transformation

June 14th, 2015

My two cents:
Of course not.  Never too small, unless you want to stay small.  Great cultures attract the right people and make management easier.  Just watch this if you want the basics:


Dominic Head Chief Executive Officer & Founder at ABi

June 15th, 2015

Hi All,
Some fantastic answers so far, so thanks all of you for contributing!

Dan, the point about culture linking to growth is a very poignant one and the video shares some very exciting ideas around culture helping in the hiring and firing of staff who do and do not share the same values.

JC, some great points; the SEF chart is very interesting and I loved the point about culture changing over time from passion towards feeding something practical.

Greg, again, some wonderful points here. The idea that culture for a start-up is a way of harnessing and communicating aspiration in a founding team is very important. Likewise, I feel it's a very valid point that a lack of focus on culture can have a crippling effect on success and growth later on.

So, to add to my first questions, and would love to hear any insights you may have, have there been any moments where you or your CEO has sat down with the team and openly discussed issues around culture? How did these meetings play out? And what actions and outcomes have come from this?

Keep the comments flowing everyone and thanks for all your answers so far!