Building an Undisputed Startup Culture

How does startup culture differ from venture investing, a local plumber shop, and a Fortune 50 company?

It doesn't matter if you’re building a company that rents portable toilets or the next flying car patents, you are going to have a team, and a successful team requires a strong internal culture that continues to foster the symbiotic relationship it finds itself in. While we work with Venture Capital and Private Equity firms across the globe, we are also, by definition, a startup - and while the core functionality of startups and investment firms are wildly different, one thing remains the same, building a quality team is crucial to success.

One of the core characteristics of a founding team that venture capitalists look for is balance. If one founder is a dreamer, the other must be a realist. If one is the ‘idea guy’, the other must be the executioner. Life is about yin and yang, and balancing strengths and weaknesses within a startup culture is a necessity. Something Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel famously mentions is “A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.”

If you’re a founder not knowing where to look, YCombinator (the world’s largest startup accelerator) has a founder matching tool that pairs founders with one another based on their strengths and weaknesses.

The core capabilities that we find essential when looking at the long term value of a company is grit, company ethos, and background. Note that these principals can be applied to not only startups, but also investors, the mom and pop plumber shop down the street, and the next Fortune 50 company you’re looking at buying call options on.

Why these three characteristics specifically?

Grit is essential because, regardless of how good an idea is, how smart a person is, or how cohesive a team is, nothing will be accomplished without long hours of high cortisol levels, working on the projects that are mind-numbing and soul crushing, because they know that it is the exact work that needs to be finished to directly attribute to the growth of the company. Nothing else is relevant if there is no execution, and no feeling of purpose or servitude to the greater good.

Company ethos can be defined in many ways, but there is no shortage of a strong culture in any great company, be it a startup, a dinosaur, or an investor. Identifying and implementing it early is essential as the first hires will adopt and exacerbate it, so the first handful of hires in a startup are absolutely key in creating the culture that will stick with the startup for its entirety. Just as Thiel mentioned earlier, “A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.”

Background differentiation within founders, early employees, and lower level staff is essential for giving new perspectives, approaching problems differently, and giving a wider set of skill specialization that helps grow production and fulfillment output higher than hiring and participating in a localized echo chamber.

In summary, culture is just as, or more important than the actual product and execution once the initial MVP is proven with traction. Building a company from the ground up with culture in mind can be the deciding factor between deca-corn status and bankruptcy, and it should be treated as such. Whether you’re building a startup, hiring for your company, starting an investment fund, or taking over your parents’ restaurant, focus on these principals and you will have no trouble in building out a healthy culture.

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