How to keep company culture thriving in a growing business

5 min read
How to keep company culture thriving in a growing business
Jonas Gyalokay
June 25th, 2018

How do you maintain the startup company culture as you grow and scale? We have a few ideas

The startup company culture is a unique mindset, often regarded as a coveted thing. It’s the lifeblood of the company defined by core values such as transparency, openness and high risk-taking turned into innovation. What sets smaller startups apart from big corporations is not just their size, but the focus on an organic team structure and creative problem-solving rather than a rigid hierarchy.

In the beginning, startups come with no set identity, no legacy or predetermined understanding of what the company is. Airtame started as a 4-man mission in 2014. Since then, we’ve grown both in manpower, size and capacity.

We are now over 80 people across several offices in different countries, we employ people from all nationalities and backgrounds, and in all of that, we try to maintain the mindset we started out with.

We’re acutely aware that some of the adaptability gets lost if the company culture isn’t built to withstand the transition from small startup to scale-up and beyond. In essence, we should never forget where we came from to stay on the right path. That’s why we keep these core values in mind as we go forward.

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Care deeply for the people you bring onboard

The cultural fit is and will always be the defining factor when bringing new people onboard. We would rather cultivate a particular set of skills than try to establish the right, cultural fit after employment. But recruitment is one thing, maintaining and developing talents is another.

We’ve developed a rigorous onboarding process that ensures all employees are aligned around a unified set of goals and company culture values.

New employees are encouraged to draft out their job descriptions and tasks for the job, and that creates a certain sense of autonomy from the very beginning.

Part of our onboarding process includes mandatory customer success training as well as a thorough technical walkthrough of the product.

It ensures a general understanding of where we come from, the challenges that lie ahead and what we should focus on to reach our goals.

But besides a practical upside, it helps employees understand other areas of expertise and knowledge they may then apply or rely on. Should their knowledge not suffice, team members know that there are other employees ready to aid them.

Over-invest in relationships

What does “over-invest in relationships” mean? In short, it means that Airtame cares. You often hear that startups see themselves as “one big family”. We aren’t that. We consider ourselves a sports team. The best sports teams in the world have warmth between them, but focus on performance and winning together.

Families fight. We don’t have time for that.

Having well-established relationships with the team allows for better relationship-building with customers. Every employee is encouraged to take time out and chat with customers that might be having troubleshooting issues, or potential customers that want to figure out if Airtame is right for them. We wouldn’t be able to do this so effectively if it weren’t for the open and supportive approach we build our internal team on.

If you care about your colleagues (and your customers), you are more inclined to listen, cooperate, and say the truth. We always want the whole truth, because, without it, we can’t succeed.

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We’re incredibly focused on building strong relationships, both internally and externally. Transparency is a vital part of any startup, and something we rely on daily. Even more so though, we rely on trust.

We need to trust that we can depend on each other internally and get the right work done, meaning in turn that customers can trust that we will support them and provide them with the product they need. If the communicative barrier is small or non-existing, providing an open flow of information, trust and transparency become easy.

We rely on a flexible organizational structure that allows ideas to move freely across teams. It’s crucial to productivity, but also for keeping everyone in the loop. Bi-weekly all-hands meetings, team meetings, and revenue reviews ensure no one is kept in the dark about the product, mission, and position of growth.

No information should get lost, but ideas and suggestions shouldn’t either. The open forums encourage everyone to make suggestions on how we can improve. It heightens a sense of trust, and with trust comes more creative thinking and positivity.

Focus on the outcome and not time spent

Top talent won’t stay for long if working conditions aren’t to their liking. We offer fluid work hours and remote working, and we set aside time for hobby projects. Overall, we spent a lot of time and engagement on socializing. We host hackathons once per quarter and encourage time spent on other things not company-related.

We also arrange a workathon every year in a different (preferably sunny) location for a change of scenery and the chance to bring everyone together.

We currently have people permanently located in 8 places all over the world. The different time zones and perspectives help drive our global focus and keep us on our toes with development work.

Work should be inspiring, both regarding internal projects and creative freedom. If we’re missing anything, each employee is encouraged to speak their mind and pitch a new way of working together.

To optimize our working environment, we are in the process of reconsidering our whole employee package and ask upon the wider team for input on what we can do to better their experience working at Airtame, and continued loyalty.

Be ambitious without sacrificing the culture

We want to maximize growth, but only as long as our culture can withstand it. The obvious objective for us is to continue to sell more Airtame solutions, but for us, success is not only measured by the number of products sold. We set aggressive growth goals, but only if we can use it to drive employees.

Last year, we doubled our revenue, and our strategy for 2018 is to do the same. It will be tough to accomplish, but that sets the bar high for our ambitions and keeps the team motivated. We never lose sight of the cultural fit to keep churn rate low and ensure that the company culture is still able to absorb new team members.

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There is no correct answer to how fast-scaling startups stay nimble and agile while staying true to their roots and company culture. We find that staying open to change, and helping shape it, keeps us prepared for the challenges ahead.

Where to next? Discover how we establish our unique “customer success” approach. If you’re interested in joining the team then let us know – we’re hiring!

Interested? Let’s talk.

Jonas Gyalokay
Jonas is an entrepreneur at heart. He's the co-CEO & co-founder at Airtame. And he's the co-founder of two sons with his wife, Amanda. When he's not building, he's probably playing with his kids, eating great food with his wife, listening to an audiobook, out running or watching either basketball or comedy.

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