Startup Culture: What is it?

July 21, 2021

What first comes to our mind when you think about working at a startup?

  • Cool offices instead of corporate cubicles?
  • Coding at the beach and never-ending snacks?

For me, it's a job you love like crazy but paid like sh&t. But what is beneath that all? We can endlessly discuss innovation-oriented teams with entrepreneurial spirit and ideas. No, hell! A startup business is the most commonly failed type of business, with almost all of the companies failing in one year.

Meanwhile, according to Glassdoor 2019 Mission and Culture Research, 77% of all adults review company culture while job applications; 65% said it's a culture that makes them stay at the company.

What is so sacred about the startup culture? Firstly, culture is not something you can create whenever you want. Culture is an organic reflection of communication, behavior, relations, and values inside the team. As the startup is generally a group of cross-functional people with small teams, this is mainly related to the concerns and behavior between founders. What founders are passionate about; how do they treat each other. But the most important thing is sustainability and 'climate' inside of the team. As a boss, you should analyze what motivates and disappoints your team. If anyone makes others unhappy, cut cancer immediately, even though it can be your best salesperson or coder. Talk to people, each of them. Try to learn what they value most; for some people, it is money; for the rest, flexible schedule and time they can spend with their families. But you will never know until you talk to them.

Do you remember we were talking about cool offices with everyone walking flip-flops? So, one small thing. Office is not a culture. Simply adding free snacks to the office doesn't create a culture or solve the culture problem. While the office is not the same as a culture, still it's essential as an energy of the environment you spend most of your time in. Think about where you work: Is the light ok for you? Does AC work properly? Can you easily engage the people you need to?

All companies are going through 3 stages:

-Idea Stage: when you meet your co-founder and start creating a team

-Product Market Fit Stage: you start to think more & more about values and the right team fit

-Scaling Stage: requires hiring a lot of people who will absorb your cultural DNA

5 Points for Culture

1. Everything Starts with Idea

But do you have enough passion to go for it?

Because you should be proud of your product and solve a problem that creates real value for real people, please reread it. I'm talking about being proud but not fallen in love with your product. Falling in love sometimes might be ridiculous. And it's so hard to accept the critics when you are in love; even though sometimes they are coming from investors.

2. North Star

Long-term Vision

As a startup, the "anything is possible" mentality is a must-have. And you as a founder should manage to inspire people that they can do it. North Star makes it more accessible. The KPI you select and follow as a lifetime goal. Why do you think investors are asking about your exit strategy even if you are raising a pre-seed. To learn your vision.

3. Values List

Make it short

Take a piece of paper and write at least five things that will help you during the hiring to understand whether these candidates can fit the team. And what's most important, apply it with the first-ever person you are trying to hire. Because if it stays only on paper, it will die together with your startup.

Hackquarters list of values

- Dependability

- Structure & clarity

- Meaning & Impact

- Psychological Safety

- Growth Mindset

- Knowledge Hungry

- Inspire, be inspired

4.Customer Connection

Customer — the center of anything you do

Anything you or your team does should have only one goal bring more customers. When I say 'anything,'; I mean both internally and externally. Customers prefer to work with happy, supporting, and caring companies. Even if they will never see these employees, knowing that people care about what they do for a living is essential. And the best way to start it is through empathy. Empathy helps designers better understand their users, improve UI / UX, and produce solutions to real problems. This method is both applicable for B2B and B2C. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback. It's not a time for defense or to justify yourself; you don't have to prove that your point of view is the only truth. Just listen.

5. Diversity

Not just gender but mindset diversity

Usually, companies that encourage diversity are more creative and agile. The power of 'YES' is very strong. For me, it is a sign of positivity and efficiency. But imagine if you live in a 'YESWorld', surrounded by people who say YES to everything. Even positivity and efficiency can become toxic. A culture that prevents people from speaking openly has no future and ultimately fails. There is no innovation without diversity of ideas and mindsets. Start collecting feedback and motivate your team to speak out their thoughts because it will be late when you wake up having 100 employees in your group.

How? Hiring, Onboarding & Continuous Training

At Hackquarters we do several rounds of interviews for all candidates, separately, with a team, including technical discussions. Rule #1 is the case for every candidate; because everyone has to go through the same fair hiring process. There are no right or wrong answers; vision and way of thinking are essential.

And of course, what matters for me is a light in the candidate's eyes, especially when they are talking about the previous experience or project.

'What is the project/ product you are proud of?' among my favorite questions. Usually, it helps to see the 'light'.

When possible, I prefer to meet the candidates personally to feel the vibe and energy coming from the person. I'm confident and trust my feelings. Rule#2 if there is a hint of 'hire or not to hire' — then don't. This is applicable to small teams. Honestly, we've said 'no' to so many talented candidates who, as we believed, could bring disbalance to the team.

The next thing after hiring is training. The first month is always the onboarding period all new hires should go through. Training and learning new things never stop, but at least after 1st month, it becomes clear whether the employee believes in our North Star and clearly sees their role in achieving it.


Empathize. Take care of your people. Your team is watching you.

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