Five Keys to a Strong Startup Culture

Do startup companies really have corporate culture, to speak of—or is that something that’s developed over time? My answer probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you: I believe that, from the second you start talking about the launch of your company, every decision you make ultimately impacts its culture. Startups have a culture just as surely as established businesses do, and it’s important that you invest some time and thought into building a strong one.

So what are the elements of a strong startup culture? That’s not really something anyone can answer for you; it all comes down to your own values, and to what kind of company you want to run. With that said, I’ll submit the following five components as important ones to think about as you foster your startup culture.


Time and time again, it has been proven that employees do better, bolder, more creative and effective work when they believe they have autonomy and freedom: when they feel as though they are being trusted to do what they think needs to be done. As such, it is certainly prudent for startup companies to cultivate cultures of trust. Allow your employees to do the things you hired them to do; if you can’t trust them, then why did you hire them in the first place? Also make sure you’re following through on your promises, and enforcing company policies with consistency.


When your startup company faces challenging moments—which it will—you’ll want to have a rock-steady team in place, one that holds together to confront these challenges head-on. Foster teamwork by ensuring that your company is setting communal, team goals; allow your employees to work in pairs or in groups as appropriate; and have some open, common areas in your office where employees can collaborate.


This might seem like an odd word to mention in an article about strong company culture, but it’s important for you to have an environment in which your employees have the freedom to fail. This goes back to the concept of trust, but it’s about more than that: Your employees will never rise to the occasion, or innovate new solutions and problem-solving strategies, unless they first grapple with failures.


If you hog all the credit for your company’s success, you’re only succeeding at fostering a culture of resentment. Make sure you award credit to your employees, whenever credit is due.


Kindness may be too mushy of a word to use, so let me say this: Try to treat employees the way you’d want to be treated. If you don’t like working in a high-stress, highly critical environment, then don’t create one. As the business leader, you’re the one who sets the tone—so get it right in the beginning, when your company is at its most formative.

Again: This is intended more as a set of general principles, not as a specific recipe. You will shape your startup’s culture however you see fit—but rest assured that you will be shaping it, with every decision you make in the daily operation of your business!