12 Ways to Keep Company Culture Alive at Your Startup

Young entrepreneurs give their advice on maintaining values and company culture as your startup begins to grow
Founder, The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)
April 12, 2012

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.

How do you maintain values and company culture as your startup begins to grow? The YEC members had the following to say.

1. Hold all feet to the fire

Values and culture are only as strong as the Kool-Aid. If you make exceptions or continuously act, live or lead outside of the parameters you've set for your brand, it gets diluted. Develop values with leader buy-in and employee feedback. Hold yourself and the team accountable for not living or demonstrating them. Create a litmus test to say, "Does this fit with our culture?" If not, don't do it. — Susan Strayer, founder of Exaqueo

2. Enforce the penalty

To ensure that company values and culture are maintained and never compromised, develop a system that penalizes and faults people for failing to adhere to core principles the company holds. — Danny Wong, co-founder of Blank Label Group, Inc.

3. Remember where you came from

As you grow and become more successful, never, ever forget what values and ideals got you to where you are. Embrace your roots and don't forget why you started your company—and why you instilled those values in the first place. Being consistent with the identity of your business throughout its growth is critically important. — Matt Cheuvront, co-founder of Proof Branding

4. Hire with heart

If you instill the culture into all of the new team members as early as the hiring process, it will become automatic. Stress the importance of company culture and make sure the new hire is the right fit. — Logan Lenz, founder and president of Endagon

5. Culture must be universal

Culture should be the guiding principle behind all new hires. Second, empower other leaders in your organization to think about culture in their own way and to reinforce it within their own teams. Culture should not flow from the top-down—it's everybody's responsibility to reflect upon and talk about your culture. — Arjun Arora, founder and CEO of ReTargeter

6. Build and maintain

I've always felt that no startup truly has their culture figured out, and that the goal should not be to maintain culture but rather to continue building it. I've tried hard to ask myself, in what ways could our culture be better, and what kinds of hires are likely to help us improve in those dimensions? — Garrett Neiman, co-founder and CEO of CollegeSpring

7. Don't compromise

As companies begin to scale new opportunities to forge new business partnerships, make sure everyone knows exactly what you stand for. The team also needs to adopt an uncompromising attitude towards their beliefs. If the core team embodies these values, it's easier for a thriving culture to grow. — Brenton Gieser, co-founder of JoynIn

8. Don't poison the well

Be vigilant about the people you hire. Make it clear which characteristics you expect, and be ruthless in making sure those get fulfilled. One bad hire not only hurts your productivity and growth, but it can also "poison the well" and create a sour environment for the rest of your team. — Brent Beshore, owner and CEO of AdVentures

9. Lead by example

For instance, if your startup places primary importance on lifestyle balance, lead by example. Instead of taking tons of money out for your new Ferrari, give it back to the team for gym memberships, retreats or beer on Friday afternoons. Set rigid hours for yourself, and stick to them. Whatever values you want to instill, embrace them yourself, and the rest will follow suit. — Sean Ogle, chief adventurer of Location 180, LLC

Image by OPEN Forum

Founder, The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)