Know Your #startupculture: Reduce Your Risk

Posted on May 17, 2014 by Corey

When I originally said that our next event will be on April 1st and the description read: “A lawyer, a VC, and an insurance broker walk into the startup culture scene…” people assumed it was some kind of a joke. Well it’s not! 🙂 My apologies for the delay on posting the podcast.

We had another great startup culture talk with Von Bryant, Associate at Foley Hoag, Julianne Zimmerman, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Vodia Ventures, and Rich Leavitt, Principal and Executive Risk Practice Leader at William Gallagher Associates, discussing their experience with managing risk.

Take a listen to the podcast to hear the whole discussion.

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Don’t forget to RSVP to our next startup culture talk on June 17th which will feature Matt Lauzon, Co-Founder of Dunwello, Michelle Darby, Co-Founder & CEO of Roomzilla, and Allan Telio, Vice President at Startup Institute talking about the future of startup culture and our ever changing workplaces.

How BIG Transitions Affect Your #startupculture

Posted on January 24, 2014 by Corey

Image courtesy of Lia Breunig, swissnex Boston

We had an amazing startup culture talk last week with Ben from Backupify, Susan from Practically Green, and Gary from Raizlabs. Take a listen to the podcast to hear the whole discussion – I’m proud to say I’ve managed to improve the sound quality! Recap and quotes that struck a chord with me are below.

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Some of the BIG Changes that affected our guests’ startup culture, discussed at our latest startup culture talk:

  • Wearing a lot of hats and then switching to a more specialized role;
  • Pivoting your product;
  • Growing with your culture;
  • Moving your startup across the country; and
  • Remote work

Culture is a process, we all have to decide who we want to be as we grow and how we want to innovate because we can’t hold on to our original culture.
-Ben Thomas, VP Security at Backupify

My cautionary tale is that physical walls can create culture walls.
-Susan Hunt-Stevens, CEO & Founder at Practically Green

Nothing makes you appreciate culture more than experience with a really toxic one.
– Gary Fortier, COO at Raizlabs

Update: Greater Boston Startup Culture Meetup is growing steadily, we’re nearly 400 members strong! For February I’m taking the startup culture conversation on the road to NYC – in case you’re in New York City on Feb 6th, check out Sustaining Startup Culture in the Face of Big Changes. I’ll be moderating a panel with folks from Tumblr, Adobe, Etsy, and Behance! Our March event, TBA shortly, is going to be BIG – so stay tuned!

What is the role of office design when it comes to startup culture?

Posted on December 4, 2013 by Corey

Image courtesy of Trish Fontanilla

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The November Greater Boston Startup Culture talk included a lot of great insight on office design from three thought leaders in the field, we had the pleasure of having Jon Frisch, a VP at T3 Advisors, Sidi Gomes, Architecture Designer and Community Leader at CIC’s coworking center C3, and Vince Pan, founder of Analogue Studio join us.

The audience posed questions throughout the evening and the discussion tackled many issues startups face when trying to design their space in light of their culture. Here’s a summary of the talk, check out the podcast for the complete discussion!

When you align the design with your culture and identity, the probability that you’ll attract and retain the right people is higher. – Jon Frisch

If you are looking for a coworking space, tour a few in order to find a place that is a good cultural fit. – Sidi Gomes

Where you put the kitchen is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. – Vince Pan

The evolution of workspaces has become a hot topic because it has become evident they were designed for a different era. Traditionally, offices were very hierarchical and in closed environments, a place where employee expectations and wellbeing weren’t part of the equation of a company’s strategic operations. Today, under the influence and development of workplace culture that sprung from Silicon Valley’s tech industry in the late seventies and early eighties, our startup culture has transformed spaces that are breeding grounds for transparency, collaboration and innovation. Looking at how startup culture and office design fit together and learning how we can maximize our space for our individual needs, it’s important to consider the following points as you grow from early stage to large scale:

1. You need to know who you are and what your needs are as a startup before you consider the type of space that’s going to be right for you. Do you have a mission statement and an established set of values that make the mission actionable?

2. Why bother with physical office space? Remote working is an option for some, but not everyone. For teams looking to create their own environment separate from their living room or a cafe, you want to consider everything from location, structure, flexibility as you grow, community presence, and whether or not it will help your product/brand get you to where you want to be.

3. Things to think about in the beginning. How do you work best (both individually and as a team)? Where does your team do their best work? Why? Recognize what environments are most productive for your team and support that.

4. Make the most of your space and furniture by trying out different things and getting feedback from everyone on the team. Does your team thrive in a stationery or fluid environment? Somme startups find it useful to switch seats daily, monthly, or quarterly. This can backfire if certain folks arrive extra early in order to snag their favorite spot. Take note of who is interacting and how. If folks are feeling crowded by the collaborative space, look into having dedicated quiet space like a partitioned library area. If folks are seeking more community oriented activity, consider where common areas are placed and if they are in use.

5. As you grow in size, so will your startup’s culture. Take stock of your growth and development. Reflect on your needs, as they will often change.

Join us next time for startup culture conversations from more of Greater Boston’s Culture Enthusiasts!

A Tale of Three Startup Cultures Recap: NextJump, Panjiva, PerkStreet

Posted on October 24, 2013 by Corey

We had a phenomenal fourth Startup Culture Meetup this week. We interviewed Jason Henrichs co-founder of PerkStreet Financial and startup advisor, Greg Kunkel co-founder at NextJump, and Jim Psota co-founder at Panjiva about the highs and the lows of their startup culture experience. Many thanks to our generous host and sponsor swissnex Boston! Enjoy the video above or feel free to grab the podcast below and listen to it on the go.

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How Do You Define Startup Culture?

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Corey

This is an excerpt post, see the full piece as it originally appeared on Wired.

Startup culture wasn’t built in a day… 

Startup culture has received a lot of attention lately – people are looking for ways to improve the overall experience at work and some are even champions of seamlessly integrating work into their life. People don’t necessarily have absolute power to demand a higher salary or more vacation days but they do have high expectations. They’re interested in opportunities to connect with others who will help achieve their goals and find greater satisfaction in the process. How do we begin to reach these goals? By defining our startup culture, we can commit to better supporting the work itself, improve operations, make a more valuable contribution, and gain greater personal satisfaction.

What is Startup Culture? Many first-time startup founders struggle to devote time to define their culture from the beginning, only to come to the painful realization that culture certainly has an impact on the operational side of business. Seasoned founders and CEOs who believe there is room for culture from the beginning experience less culture-related stress as they grow. I often talk to folks at various stages of growth and find that although culture is seen as essential, many are unsure of how to define it for their own purposes. This can be particularly challenging when there are less than a handful of people on the team. I like to define startup culture by examining the company:
• Identity,
• Growth Strategy, and
• Relationships

Know what you value. You probably already have an idea of what you deem important for success. It may be that your values guide your actions in order to best serve the mission. If you don’t know which values to focus on, reflect on your positive and negative experiences with workplace culture in past situations and list relevant concepts and values. Choose values that are actionable and resonate with your company. If you identify your startup culture with values related to being bold but you know that isn’t important to your success or appropriate for your business, perhaps you should take a closer look at what makes your company tick. Values aren’t something that you have to put in writing for public display, that style isn’t for every startup. However, values should be something that most people can relate to and routinely act upon.

Communication is equally important. If you don’t know why you get out of bed each day to go to work, neither will anyone else. Tell everyone what you value, why you value it, and make sure you actively follow through by acting upon it. In return, you will have a company full of people who will be more likely to return the favor. If you value innovation you’ve probably thought often about how to maximize it. Beyond communicating that you view innovation as your road to success, you need to articulate it in a way that will have everyone participating in innovative work, be it through collaboration or providing adequate resources. The steps you take to demonstrate how you foster innovation will confirm that you value it. Collaborative experiences, through success and failure, offer others a chance to participate and take risks. At the end of the day everyone will go home a little more satisfied that their role contributed to the development of the startup.

Relationships are essential. When a candidate passes through your doors they are looking for red flags. Often, these red flags appear in the form of a neglected or misguided culture. Surround yourself with people who identify with your values. Mentor them, learn from them, and recognize them. This guarantees everyone will move in the same direction. An entire company of people who have a clear understanding of the values will know exactly how to proceed when a situation arises in the event of the absence of a key person. People are your greatest asset and have the ability to help your culture thrive or kill it altogether.

Don’t create another cookie-cutter culture, or how to be sustainable. In an attempt to build something that reflects your values, there are pitfalls to avoid. It’s true that tangible perks can lure new hires, but without an established culture that defines the character of a company, that new hire might not be so impressed to work there after the initial excitement of an onsite kegerator and free housekeeping wears off. The best way to hire based on so-called ‘culture fit’ is communicating the culture by reflecting your values through your actions. It is imperative that everyone, especially those involved in the hiring process have a good grasp of the culture and how to evaluate for culture fit without discriminating.

Every once in awhile I spot a cookie-cutter culture, that is to say, a company that has been founded on the basis of ‘everyone here is awesome – and we’re all alike’. You may indeed be awesome and have a profitable business but eventually a lack of diversity is going to be an issue in the face of growth, an impending IPO, or when you hit that innovation wall. That said, culture fit can’t be ignored either. It’s important to keep in mind that you can share the same values with people different from you. Coworkers can surely be a good cultural fit in a company and share the same values without having to be the same age, color, gender, size, or having the same education and experience. It’s great to see coworkers who enjoy each other’s company but diversity is one of those secret ingredients that lend a fresh perspective.

The real trouble is, many companies believe that hiring for cultural fit translates to finding someone just like all the other employees. This is a lazy way to focus on culture. Let’s take a step back and think about what is wrong with this reasoning. When I ask people to tell me about their culture, I sometimes receive a litany of events the company hosts or how well-stocked the kitchen is. I push and ask them to describe the company values. Many can’t answer this question and express concern that this is really what their culture is missing: the ability to articulate their identity. Then I ask them what their companies are doing to communicate their values. The result is inconsistency and an overall feeling of disjointed leadership. For companies struggling with product hiccups, high turnover, and public image blunders, the culprit may be a culture that is not sustainable. Pay attention to your culture alongside the growth of your business and it will pay off in the long run.

Culture wasn’t built in a day – whether a growing company is defining its culture or an established company is redefining its culture – the important thing to remember is that workplace culture consists of the values, people and communication of a company; essentially, it forms a community that thrives on the participation of all parties.

If the culture is a train wreck, do you abandon it or make efforts to improve it?

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Corey

I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day who was telling me about his frustration with the startup culture where he works. He was initially attracted to the lead developer role for the work but also for an unspoken challenge – the obviously struggling culture. Among all the folks who have been subjected to a wayward company culture and as a result view it as the ultimate distraction from work, I know there are others who relish the opportunity to perform beyond the aspect of pure work and actually enhance the overall experience (which just so happens to boost performance). These people are as excited about the company’s product as they are passionate about participating in the culture. Although my friend hasn’t managed to infiltrate his enthusiasm for the culture through the entire company, he has raised morale on his own team and likes to point to the fact that there’s been absolutely no turnover within his team since his arrival. Here are some tips for taking initiative in your lackluster startup culture:

Be Accountable
Don’t lose hope if you find yourself to be part of a startup culture that leaves much to be desired. An overwhelming majority of people claim that culture played a role in their decision to join their company. If things aren’t what they seemed (or have since changed) it’s still partially your responsibility to shape the direction of the culture. Everyone should take ownership of their culture. Giving up or reacting negatively to others’ efforts to strengthen the culture tells your team that you don’t think they’re worth the effort.

Make a Contribution
If your startup’s mission was partly the reason you decided to join the team in the first place, is it still an active part of your decision making? How often do you think, ‘in the long run, it’s best if I do this because it’s aligned with the values but if I choose to do this another way it would be a conflict of interest’? Know how to best serve your startup by understanding the purpose of the company and how your role adds value to the mission. Acting according to the mission and applying the values to guide your decisions will help to ensure the startup’s goals are met.

Lead by Example
If others see you making a genuine attempt at participating in the culture they will likely want to make their own contribution as well. Everyone knows that a team that can communicate freely and collaborate will accomplish much more than they could individually. The fact is that those who authentically contribute to their culture are more valuable to their company. Effective startup cultures experience lower turnover, offer better customer service, and maximize their problem-solving skills during crises.

Trending Stories on Startup Culture from Around the World

Posted on August 12, 2013 by Corey

As you know, I’m a startup culture enthusiast. I study, breathe, and dream this stuff. A good friend of mine recently showed me how to use a tool he built (Infomous), it pulls and presents trending articles on any topic of interest. Naturally, I decided to apply the #startupculture angle to see if it beat Google News filtering the same topic. Below is the resulting word cloud – I wanted to share this with you, my fellow culture enthusiasts. The stories will auto-update as the culture develops. Enjoy!

Signs of Gratitude

Posted on August 9, 2013 by Corey
gratitude photo 550pixels
Inspiration: I couldn’t ignore the signs any longer!

Gratitude has been a popular theme this summer. Recently, I’ve seen it everywhere: at startups I’ve visited, among employees at larger companies, and even on a message board in a café in the West Village (see photo below)! It’s been an impressive season for giving thanks!

Whether it is front and center and declared as a value or a subtler element of strategic operations, many of the companies I’ve befriended benefit from gratitude’s lasting effects. A culture that personally gives thanks and recognizes hard work impresses folks because it is a genuine mark of relationship building. The ability to form authentic relationships is a highly prized competitive advantage among small teams and becomes ever more valuable as a team expands.

How One Value Can Communicate Your Company Culture
The culture at Life is good centers on optimism. The belief of leading with purpose alongside a generous serving of gratitude embodies the mission and vision of the company. When interviewing a candidate, the folks at Life is good have focused their search on one question – ‘What are you grateful for?’ The response immediately indicates whether or not the person is a good fit. Your company may not have a quality that singularly defines your existence; or perhaps you haven’t discovered it yet. For folks at Life is good, their decisions and practices are deeply connected to gratitude. Articulating this at the hiring stage helps them find people whose values are aligned without limiting the diversity of their team.

Inspiring Gratitude
I had the good fortune of hearing Simon Sinek speak recently; his talk touched upon studies of how happiness is linked to biochemical reactions in our brain. Hormones are released when people experience kindness, pride, and self-confidence (among many other things) and the result is often a feeling of gratitude. There are varying levels of appreciation for the actions of others; it all depends on the quality of the interactions. For example, when someone is thanked by their boss via email for a job well done, a bit of serotonin is released. When someone is thanked by a handshake, eye contact, and a smile, even more serotonin is released. The happiness we derive from relationships have a long lasting effect. If you are facing a workplace culture crisis and looking to revive a bit of happiness among your team, take a cue from Simon and start with why you want to inspire stronger relationships and foster happiness.

Peer Appreciation
Leaders who foster happiness and emphasize the importance of relationship building have a team uniquely bound by personal experiences and connections. It sounds very warm and fuzzy but when quantitatively examined it has also proven to drive success and growth.

Next Jump is a humble organization that has cultivated gratitude without sacrificing authenticity despite growing to a company of over 200 and having four offices. They recently held their Avengers Award Ceremony, which gives employees the opportunity to recognize Next Jumpers who “most exemplify steward-leadership and create an environment that helps others succeed by caring for and serving those around them”. The peer nomination process spans a few months, recommendations are carefully vetted through an interview process, and the grand-prize winner is rewarded with a family vacation. The gratitude Next Jumpers experience when working with each other is reflected in their shared enthusiasm and excitement. Their mission is Better Me + Better You = Better Us and it inherently guides them along a continuous path of gratitude.

Barrel is a digital creative agency in New York City and their regular practice of peer appreciation is a prime example of how to motivate a team. Bourbon in hand, the team convenes on Friday afternoons to give thanks to others for their help and for getting stuff done. With a tight group of folks buried in project deadlines, taking this timeout to pause and recognize others keeps the team inspired and informed.

Societal Shift?
Are trends in gratitude more than just a startup or workplace culture phenomenon? Before the advent of the techie mecca, Silicon Valley, previous generations sought to shake up the status quo. The opportunity to express gratitude has presented itself very prominently in the easily pivoting world of technology. The pursuit of happiness isn’t new, nor is it limited to startup culture. However, with the influx of Millennials in the workforce today, demands for making a contribution to something greater while reaping the benefits of such satisfaction are on the rise. Most Millennials change jobs due to a poor culture fit. Now more than ever before, a larger percentage of the workforce is holding companies accountable for happiness and companies who understand this invest in creating authentic relationships with people, increasing the happiness factor. This isn’t a startup culture phenomenon but elements of gratitude and happiness are easily observed from this quickly evolving ecosystem.

trombone photo 1k pixels
As seen on a message board in a neighborhood coffee shop.


Startup Culture Within Our Coworking Spaces

Posted on July 25, 2013 by Corey

Photo courtesy of Charles Starrett, The OmniCulturalist

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Ever think about where early-stage startups got their first taste of culture? For entrepreneurs in Greater Boston’s coworking spaces, much of the cultural influence originates from the unique environment and diverse group of people at places like C3 at Cambridge Innovation Center, Collaboratory 4.0, Greentown Labs and various other coworking destinations. Unprecedented resources, events, and networks are a product of startup culture and are available to the community via coworking spaces!

Not all coworking spaces in Greater Boston are limited exclusively to dues-paying-members, on the contrary many serve to bring together the population of talented entrepreneurs and a vast support network. Earlier this week Greater Boston Startup Culture Meetup hosted a conversation with Kit Maloney, Founder of Collaboratory 4.0Geoff Mamlet, Managing Director at CIC and President and Founder at HUB Boston, and Emily Reichert, CEO and Executive Director at Greentown Labs to hear about how to best contribute and benefit from the area’s coworking spaces.

The conversation was intense and even mentioned the evolving nature of corporate culture. Large corporations like Amazon are housing a portion of their companies at CIC to become immersed in the startup culture. Corporations are often vying for tours through these coworking spaces, just to get a glimpse of startups at work. This routinely results in the zoo effect.

There’s a lot of exciting things happening with local coworking spaces! Greentown Labs will be moving to their new digs in Somerville this fall (you can support their expansion here!). HUB Boston is a new coworking space that will soon be home to entrepreneurs fueling social change and is a part of CIC. Collaboratory 4.0 has weekly programs open to the community: lunches on Wednesdays and pitch sessions on Saturdays and is also offering Collaboratory Living, guest rooms for entrepreneurs visiting Boston on business.

Our discussion touched on components of startup culture in coworking spaces; the importance of natural light, having the accountability and presence of others to motivate you, trust, respect, and the value of collaboration. We ended the discussion with this advice to folks in coworking spaces:

“Take out your earbuds.” – Kit Maloney

“Hang out in the kitchen.” – Emily Reichert

“Have lunch with a new person everyday.” – Geoff Mamlet

Join us next time for a discussion on more startup culture stories from more of Greater Boston’s Founders and CEOs!

How To Communicate Your Culture

Posted on June 24, 2013 by Corey

Photo courtesy of Amy Crawford, NuoDB

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Last week the Greater Boston Startup Culture Meetup organized a discussion on startup culture featuring Chris Savage, Founder & CEO of Wistia, Max Summit, Marketing Brand Manager at NuoDB, and Chris Widner, Director of Culture at Dyn! We had a lot of fun and for those of you who were unable to attend, you can hear the talk via podcast!

Allow me to highlight a few gems from our talk…

Chris Savage on adopting culture hacks from Wistia’s How They Work series:

Back when we had around 10 people I was talking to Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and I was asking him Have you ever fired someone because of culture? and he’s like uh-huh, that’s pretty much the best reason to fire them!

Max Summit commenting on the manifestation of culture at NuoDB:

It was important from day one to set a tone and our culture would be brand transparent….[You have to ask yourself] what is it that you truly believe in and can actually act upon.

Chris Widner explaining how Dyn made a more conscious decision to make their culture more welcoming:

Dyn used to be a bunch of dudes but then we finally started getting women working for us and that’s when we realized some of the language we used wasn’t as inclusive as it probably should be…one of the phrases we used a lot was baller….It’s about being intentional with the words we use and that’s something that we’ve really been trying to improve.