Company culture is one of the most nebulous and difficult-to-define business concepts, but it may be one of the most important.
In today’s tech world, many equate culture to perks. Ping pong tables, free meals, and complimentary massages are great benefits but don’t define a company’s culture. It goes much deeper than that.
It’s early days for ribl and we haven’t quite forged a definitive culture yet, but as our team continues to work together in building our product and company, we’re seeing some underlying cultural themes emerge.
The definition of culture
Dictionary.com defines culture as the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.
Management professors Davide Ravasi and Majken Schultz describe organizational culture as a set of shared assumptions that guide what happens in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations.
Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBNB, defines culture simply as “a shared way of doing something with passion.”
Alfred Lin, former COO of Zappos and now venture capitalist, used this Mad Libs-like formula in his How to Start a Startup class presentation to define company culture:
However you choose to define it, a strong organizational culture allows companies to move faster and be better. This is because:
- Workers are aligned around a set of core values that guide them in all they do
- Employees are able to trust each other and have faith that everyone will do the right thing in every situation, with minimal oversight
- Motivation and morale are maximized because everyone’s opinions and contributions are recognized
How this applies to ribl
Company culture should be inextricably tied to our mission. After all, all that we do and believe in should be geared toward executing on and achieving the mission.
Ribl’s mission is to allow our users to go anywhere in the world and find out everything that’s going on around where they are. It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s certainly a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and more easily said than done.
Core values are the beliefs that are important to the success of ribl as a company. Like I mentioned prior, it’s still very early and we aren’t done defining our core values yet, but here are some trends that have arisen.
Communicate openly and transparently
Communication is critical for any organization, but even more so for an early-stage startup team. There are so many decisions that we need to make and because we’re early stage, we don’t have a lot of data to use to make these decisions. The data that we do have is qualitative, so a lot of our decisions are made with gut feel and intuition. That’s why open and honest communication is so important to us.
Because of the lack of data, each product and marketing decision we make has to be discussed and debated, as we may not agree on every decision. The ability to be honest with each other and to provide and accept constructive criticism is extremely important.
But that doesn’t stop with our internal team. We’ve been very open and honest in communicating with our users, and we speak with riblers multiple times a week to obtain their honest feedback on how to improve our product.
If we communicate openly internally and externally, we’ll make the right decisions and build the best product to achieve our mission.
We are respectful of everyone’s time, opinions and ideas, whether it’s those of ribl employees or users. Everyone who is involved matters.
With regards to time, when you’re an early stage startup, it may seem like you’re never getting enough done and never moving fast enough. It’s easy to work until you burn out and get mad at yourself and your teammates when you’re not making enough progress.
That way of thinking is disrespectful to yourself and your team.
Achieving our mission is going to take a long time, and we need to be patient and make sure we’re prepared for the long haul. That means finding a balance between work and life. All of the ribl team members have families and a lot of things going on outside of the office. I know it may be taboo to say, but life and family comes before work.
Former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor is building his startup Quip with a similar mindset. Though everyone needs to work hard, there is a work-life balance that can be achieved while being productive. Not every employee needs to be in the office for 12 hours a day in order to build a great company. Rather, allowing employees the flexibility to be with their families and enjoy their life outside of the office will result in a happier workforce and increased productivity and loyalty.
And with the core value of open and honest communication, we are respectful of everyone’s ideas and opinions. Of course we have to filter through and prioritize which opinions will impact change, but everyone has a voice, and we respect that voice.
Building a business is a serious endeavor but you have to enjoy the ride, or else it won’t be worth it.
Whenever we get together online or in person, we have lots of fun. We crack jokes, poke fun at each other, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Whenever time allows, we try to grab beers and continue our relationships outside of the office.
We believe that the fun we have together boils over to our product and brand. Our mascot is a fun little frog and we try to interject humor into our app whenever possible.
We hope that every interaction with the ribl app and its employees is an enjoyable one.
Never stop learning
There’s a lot that we don’t know, whether its regarding how to implement a new feature in our app or which marketing channels will drive the most downloads.
So we’ll never stop learning. We constantly research new approaches to solve problems that we face. We experiment with different methods and measure what works best. And we’re always reading content from other experts so we can learn through their experiences.
We have an ambitious mission, which is to let our users go anywhere in the world and find out what’s happening right around them.
It’s going to take a while to achieve this mission, and the only way we’ll get there is if we follow our core values and create a strong company culture. This will allow us to move faster, develop an amazing product, recruit the best talent, and build a great company.
While it’s still early, I think we’re on our way.
What is the culture at your company like and what are its core values? We’d love to hear your thoughts on company culture in the comments.