As a career start-up marketer, I’ve been through the gauntlet of start-ups – fast and furious, stubborn and old school – pivot-friendly and fail-fast environments – and I’ve learned quite a few things from them. For example, the failure rate for new start-ups is 90%, and 10% don’t even make it out of the first year.
Yet, in 2022, there will be almost 900 unicorn startups globally, valued at more than $3.5 trillion combined. It’s even led to new start-up goals of being a Decacorn (valued at more than $10 billing) and Hectacorns (valued at more than $100 billion).
What Startups Need to Get Right About Culture
Clearly, many companies (and their stellar hires) have gotten a few things right.
However, as you’re looking to grow your start-up, there are a few things outside of the tech and finances you need to make sure stay on the top of your mind because they quickly can become the things that make or break your business.
Hint: it’s the main reason why people join start-ups: Culture.
Here are the top things startups must get right about their culture.
1. Who You Hire Is Everything
Hiring can be a dilemma for start-ups. There is often a struggle between wanting the top talent and knowing how much to spend on critical roles. A central theme among failed start-ups includes looking for the cheapest way out, including their talent and hires.
We all love a success story for junior employees; however, spending time and energy training employees not qualified for a start-up role often leads to high turnover and, as a result, a time burn of valuable training resources. Therefore, rather than focusing on junior talent in the early stages of the start-up, organizations should look for talent that provides valuable input in multiple business areas. This means hiring individuals with extensive knowledge of the start-up space, a jack of all trades, motivation for success, and someone who can provide valuable input in multiple business areas.
2. Be Transparent With Your Hires
In the start-up world, there are two types of strategic roles. This includes a ‘player’ role, someone who will roll up their sleeves and work alongside a team to accomplish goals, and a ‘coach’ role, someone looking to manage people strategically but won’t help your company exceed goals. While both parts are critical to the overall functionality of an organization, a candidate looking to contribute as a ‘player’ will be the person to drive change and results.
How do you attract and hire the right people for your startup? It starts in the early stages of recruitment. It’s important to be clear about company expectations and agility. If candidates are aware of the needs in the organization and the gaps needed to be filled, they will be more receptive to a changing company landscape. For example, while hiring, there might be insufficient resources for a customer success team. However, a good marketer and a support engineer will have the skills, knowledge, and experience to fill that gap and build a foundation for the program and a product story to showcase to clients.
3. Learning and Development Never Stops
One of the most common themes when conducting annual reviews is the opportunity for advancement. Whether it be tool/system training, speaking engagements, or mentorship programs, having standard practices for professional development in your organization is extremely important.
Learning and development opportunities ensure employees feel valued while contributing to the organization’s overall success. Employees excited to expand their knowledge and companies open to professional advancement are the perfect matches, contributing to a talented workforce and successful company.
4. Coming Together is Key
We’ve seen a shift in the workforce, moving from face-to-face office interactions to digital communication. While slack is excellent for building camaraderie, it is no denying that working remotely has changed the dynamic of office/team relationships.
Face-to-face interactions with team members and executives, whether quarterly or bi-annually, is crucial to building the company culture and strong team dynamics. In addition, having teams meet with their peers will only contribute to more communication and employee/company success.
5. Goal Planning and Checkpoints Are Frequent
Setting goals is one of the essential things startups can do. However, goals for startups, especially with cutting-edge technology that solves complex problems, can often be challenging. As a result, there is a lot of ambiguity in the goals set for early-stage startups that rely on sales, product development, employees, and more.
So, while it is important to have checkpoints and goals, it is also critical to understand that pivoting is key. The goal/metrics you set for your organization in Q1 might be completely different by the end of Q4. Revisiting them with your team on a more regular (than annual) basis is a necessary temperature check to reflect on the actions, deliverables, and accomplishments (or misses) of where you are.
For example, I once had a goal to generate two flagship reviews/case studies in each vertical. However, we soon found out that many companies (and specific verticals that were more private) weren’t willing to publicly address their name or problems (think large pharma and financial institutions especially). So we had to pivot on that goal to figure out the best way to still attract customers in that vertical, knowing we were successful but needed a different way to showcase success.
Culture is Everything
Culture is everything in startup companies. It’s the personality, beliefs, and values of an organization. It affects how employees perform and trickles down to the company’s success. From the people hired, goals set, development opportunities, and team-building events, culture is what sets successful startups apart.
So, spend time on your culture, hire the right people, psychically bring teams together, and invest in your employees. Taking care of these things early on will lay the foundation for the core values that affect your brand, clients, and success.
I proudly stand by the actions, education and awareness that The Cyber Guild has provided to the DC area and the greater cyber community. Their vision of ensuring security professionals access to an inclusive space where they can grow, learn, lead, and succeed establishes a great foundation for a group of all backgrounds and talents to come together and make the online (and in person!) world a better and safer place for all.
Courtney Brady is a tech start-up wiz with a focus in marketing and operations for high-growth companies. She is known for building strong brands, demand gen and establishing product category leadership. At ThreatBlockr, she oversees the global marketing team which includes product marketing, demand generation, communications, digital and brand strategy. She is passionate about marketing complex technology in a crowded marketplace and is fascinated by the latest cyberattacks believing research should never stay on paper. Courtney was employee number 2 at Distil Networks where she led marketing and drove the creation of the Bot Mitigation category, leading to their acquisition by Imperva. She received her bachelor’s from North Carolina State University and enjoys cheering on the Wolfpack with her husband, 3 children and 2 dogs (as well as instigating some inter-office ACC rivalry).