WeWork Labs Members on How to Create and Maintain Company Culture at a Startup

Establishing a company culture is a critical step for any early-stage startup. It influences hiring, leadership strategies, and even the overall trajectory of the company. But actually creating that culture, and maintaining it as your company grows, can be challenging. WeWork Labs asked members who have created a culture at their startup or are working on creating it to share their best advice on the topic.

Don’t try to copy/paste another company’s culture onto yours

“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received about culture is that people can tell you a lot of things that work and don’t work, but they only apply to their company. I’ve tried to take advice about what worked elsewhere and very few of those things have worked here. But if you make it a little bit different and customize it to your startup, then it can work.” - Dawid Kotur, founder and CEO at Curvestone and Labs member at WeWork 70 Wilson St., London

Learn what you don’t want from your past workplaces

“I’m very conscious of the experiences I had in big corporations. There’s so much attention paid to promotions and titles, allocation of credit, who’ll be invited to which meeting and who’ll get to present—it wastes so much energy. I try not to have that in my startup. I didn’t sit down and design a plan but it starts from decisions like choosing your workplace. We don’t have an office for me, the CEO, or the VP of R&D. People can see what we’re working on and everyone has access to most of the information. It’s part of our larger culture of transparency. Even if people aren’t participating in decisions, they know what decisions we’re making and what discussions we’re having. We don’t hoard information or have separation of classes between management and employees.” - Hanadi Said, CEO at 3Techs and Labs member at WeWork Derech Ha'atzmaut 45, Haifa, Israel

Focus on impact over formal structure in the early stages

“We’re still small. So rather than creating a really structured approach—setting a mission and a vision and values—we focus on defining our culture by our behavior as the cofounders and by the DNA of the company. We focus on setting an example as cofounders and what we want to look for in employees and creating an environment where people can explore what’s important to them. I see that as a great tool for building a great culture—making employees happy.” - Breanna Yen, cofounder and CDO at Curvestone and Labs member at WeWork 70 Wilson St., London

Know where your company is headed and match your culture to your goals

“You need to decide where you see the company in 10 years and build accordingly. If you want to be a big company, start to build a big company culture, the kind that will get you hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. If you want to be a bootstrap company, your culture will be completely different.” - Elisha Sterngold, founder and CEO at ShipBook and Labs member at WeWork Derech Ha'atzmaut 45, Haifa, Israel

Extend the culture to remote employees

“There are companies that we derive inspiration from, especially on remote working. At Trello, they say that if you want to make people who work remotely feel more included on video calls, the people that are located together should sit in separate booths during the call. So if there are four of us in London and one person who’s remote on a call, the four of us will separate so that we aren’t all sitting next to each other during the call. Because when everyone else is together, that one person who’s remote feels like they’re missing out.” - Dawid Kotur

Be aware of how new team members can impact culture

“The starting team we hired was from a certain generation. They’re in their early to mid thirties and they’re used to a certain culture at the company now. The new, more experienced hires, who’ll become the anchors of the team, are of another generation. They’re in their late forties to early fifties and they come from a different school of thought. I need to be conscious of not creating a generational gap where my managers are old fashioned and expect hierarchical decision-making and my younger dev team wants freedom, transparency, and work-life balance.” - Hanadi Said

Be willing to pivot if culture initiatives aren’t working

“We never commit ourselves to one way of doing things. We say that we’ll try it out for two or three weeks and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll try to find another way so people don’t feel locked into unreasonable things. When companies grow, they have to be dynamic. What’s going on now will be totally different in four weeks. So you need a culture where you can be flexible and build that into your DNA.” - Dawid Kotur

Think about culture early and often

“Culture shouldn’t be an afterthought because if it is, you might be stuck with a culture you didn’t intend to create. And then you have to undo it and start again. Culture cannot be a goal in itself, but it needs to be done along the way. And there’s an opportunity to embed cultural intentions as you go. Never miss an opportunity to instill the culture you want.” - Hanadi Said

Learn more about people operations for early-stage startups.

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