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Scaling a startup? Why culture needs to be part of your plan – StartupSmart

People meeting brainstorming over coffee

Culture is less about glow-in-the-dark ping pong tables and free pizza than it is about “enduring values”, and despite what many founders believe, it won’t just happen naturally, says Digithos founder Dinesh Tantri.

The assumption that culture will develop on its own is a costly one for scaling startups, Tantri says in Tech in Asia.

“You have a product to build, markets to get into, and numerous operational issues to take care of that you have no time to think proactively about culture,” he says.

Recently, Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins told StartupSmart that culture has played a critical role in the startup’s success.

“We had the same culture when we were in my mum’s living room with my first company with no budget at all,” she said.

“Culture is about how you treat people, which doesn’t cost a thing.”

But without conscious effort, negative behaviour can go unchecked, anxiety around hitting targets may rise, and engagement between team members and the startup’s overarching mission will unravel.

“Every time you compromise on your values, you allow culture debt to accrue,” says Tantri.

“Every time you are silent with jerks and dysfunctional [behaviour] in your startup, you are sending implicit messages on what is [okay] and what is not.

“Wriggling out of this when you are a 100-person company will be a nightmare.”

To prevent this from happening, Tantri says founders should understand the a difference between perks and values, and put actions in place to ensure things like “mission statements” aren’t left on a worn-out poster somewhere but are actually brought to life with day-to-day practices.

“The founding team needs to keep telling stories over and over again to reinforce the mission and values,” he says.

“GitHub, for example, used to have a three-point agenda for their weekly all-hands meetings. First, new hires get introduced, then they celebrate the releases that happened the previous week and the people responsible for that, and the final agenda is about their values and the philosophy behind them.”

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