Every startup company has different culture factors. Mostly the culture is built based on what the founders establish during the early days with the founding team members. Every new member from there will be influenced by such culture.
From your experience, what are the elements of those companies that create fantastic cultures and what should be the key elements to keep in mind?
Company culture has become increasingly important over the last several years especially. Companies like Netflix offer unlimited maternity time to employees, for example, something that has never really done before. The most important thing you can do is listen to your employees--they'll tell you what kind of culture you want. At the same time, you shouldn't give employees things that could ruin your operation. In some small businesses that I have spent time with, doing things like letting people wear jeans to work, or having unlimited free Starbucks, makes culture better. Lifestyle brands like Hydroflask and REI have done a good job of creating an workplace culture that its employees relish because they thrive on outdoor/adventurous activities.
I'm happy to agree that is is only about the customers. However, who are your customers? The customer base is something selected to match the products that founders can and want to deliver. This is an iterative process and many companies have multiple pivots before achieving a successful match. Additionally, both products and the customer base change over time. This poses a challenge for the culture and for the employees who have to work in it.
I'm putting together a company to feature industrially focused, ultra-reliable systems. These are intended to be used in cases where human lives may be at stake. Not surprisingly, I am focusing on creating a culture where people are rewarded for ensuring that everything that goes out the door is as failure free as humans can produce.
At the same time, the customer base is going to push for things like increased speed and power, for getting this things sooner rather than later and as cheap as possible. This requires a culture that is as agile as possible.
This kind of contradiction is exactly what a corporate culture is about--resolving the conflicts that occur on a day to day basis and doing so in a way that delivers a successful product today and tomorrow.
Building a culture like this is not something that can simply be imposed from the top. It has to be built from the top, the bottom, and everything in between. This discussion is not unstructured, rather, the broad shape has to come from the founders. Then, the founders have to listen and talk. It is that give and take, a continual process, that creates the actual culture.
The companies that have a culture focused around their care for people are always the most attractive to me as an employee AND as a customer. This doesn't always manifest in the form of unlimited vacation or unlimited coffee on tap, but respect for my time and life outside of work and for my career growth. When the company cares about people, and your manager cares about people, and your teammates care about people, it's easier to make decisions that feel like the right thing to do. As an employee, there's a very good feeling to know you're able to make the good decisions and have it line up with the company values.
This extrapolates to being customer-centered, as well. If you're a tech startup, you should be focused on solving problems for your customers, not on your tech stack (unless that somehow is key in the problem solving). Love and understand people, and your culture will grow organically from there!
It is not all about the customers. It is only about the customers.
Lets keep it simple. Culture is basically the work environment that you need for your employees to work in. It depends on several factors like number of people who are working, available infrastructure, sensitivity of data and also available funds. To make it simple if it is an app development organization you will have to implement an open culture where projects are executed in an agile fashion and developers are given enough freedom to work from home. Similarly if it a financial organization you need to have a closed network so that you finance critical data doesn't leak due to excessive freedom. Regarding work life balance in your work culture, everyone wants to do a Google but do you have funds to do one? There are different factors that go in in designing your own office culture and I don't think there is one correct answer to your question but I wanted to make you aware of the factors that go in while deciding a culture that is suitable for your organization