Return Path has a very distinct culture, and I'm not going to prescribe it as the culture you should build for your own company. Any number of cultures can lead to success. The essential point is to realize that every company has a culture, whether it's a deliberate enactment of the company's values or an accidental accretion of behaviors and vibes. Don't let the latter creep up on you. Whatever you do, be deliberate!


I always draw on great business books to become a better CEO, but it was in a book on evolutionary biology, Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins, that I found a rich metaphor that is applicable to business in many ways.

There are over 900 kinds of fig trees in the world. Who knew? I was dimly aware there was such a thing as a fig tree, although quite frankly I'm most familiar with the fig in its Newton format.

Some species reproduce wildly inefficiently—like wild grasses, whose pollen is spread through the air; with a lot of luck, one in a billion (with a “b”) lands in the right place at the right time and propagates. At the opposite end of the spectrum stands the fig tree. Not only do fig trees reproduce by relying on the collaboration of fig wasps to transport their pollen from one to the next, but there are over 900 different kinds of fig wasps—one per tree species. Only the right kind of fig wasp can successfully help pollinate a given fig tree (fig wasp 879 is a distinct species: somewhere ...

Get Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, + Website now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.