Chapter 9. Startup Culture

Actions, not words

Culture isn’t a foosball table or trust falls. It isn’t policy. It isn’t the Christmas party or the company picnic. Those are objects and events, not culture. And it’s not a slogan, either. Culture is action, not words.

[Fried and Hansson 2010, 249], Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Rework

A startup’s culture consists of the beliefs, assumptions, and principles shared by the employees as expressed through their behaviors and actions. Why does culture matter? Because culture beats strategy [Merchant 2011]. To succeed as a startup, it’s not enough to have a great idea or a brilliant plan, or even to build a great product, because even the best ideas, plans, and products will fail eventually. Instead, you have to build a great company. And at the core of every great company is a great culture—an environment that allows you to come up with new ideas, new plans, and new products.

Some developers shy away from a “soft” topic like culture but then complain when they don’t get recognition for their work, find themselves working on meaningless projects, or are unable to get any work done at all because the office is too loud and the pointy-haired boss keeps interrupting them for useless meetings. Culture isn’t a soft topic; it’s the very core of what it means to be a company. Remember, startups are about people, and nothing will have a bigger impact on the people at your company than the culture.

In this chapter, I’ll discuss how ...

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