As a Co-founder of a software company and as a mentor for Google Launchpad, I often get asked on how to build a great culture in a startup. Most entrepreneurs are so busy building a product that they miss building a company.
It doesn’t have to be so hard. At Agrahyah Technologies, we have organically grown from three to 32 members in our team in a year’s time, and there’s more coming! These are some of the principles we follow and have a conversation about with potential employees who are considering us:
When Google founders Larry and Sergey were creating Google Books, they were scanning books manually and Marissa Meyer, then product manager, was turning pages. No one could have predicted that she would become Yahoo’s CEO, nor how big Google would be.
The ultimate purpose of any startup is to create something that’s novel and innovative with high potential to disrupt and bring down a category built on the old testament. Being part of such a team and working towards creating a new product is a privilege for strong-willed individuals risking it all to work in a startup.
When Infosys was listed on Nasdaq, it catapulted founders like Narayan Murthy into the billionaire club, and the faithful who took the leap of faith with him, including drivers and peons, were added into the millionaire club, even if it was in rupees. Risk has its rewards, only if you stop worrying about the dark side and start believing in the power of ideas.
If you see something broken, you are expected to fix it – doesn’t matter if it’s a bug in the new product release or the office microwave. Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure at Google, was known for picking up the crumpled paper on the carpet and dropping it in the trash bin inside Google’s office. Bringing order to chaos is a state of mind, not a ticket in the CRM system – a startup teaches you that.
‘This sucks’ superimposed on a screenshot taken from an app being built is the most common forward we get on Slack or WhatsApp. A swift reply by a fellow team member citing the reason for ‘the bug’ will follow, and someone will point out a hack or fix. If no one has a solution, it’s time to huddle around the whiteboard and look for a solution. That’s typically the entire team taking ownership to solve a problem in the interest of the startup. There are no CYA emails, no politics, no crap. If you enjoy such a heightened sense of shared responsibility, come on in.
I’ve never had a set of office keys to my own office because there’s always someone who comes in earlier than I do and someone else who leaves after I do. I don’t even have to instruct them to stay late. There’s a sacred, unsigned, covenant amongst all of us – don’t be a jerk, and treat the office like you own it. Till date, we haven’t lost as much as a post-it note or any other intellectual property. At a startup, freedom is not a privilege, it’s a fundamental right.
Entrepreneurs are visionaries and believers – they usually jump off the cliff with a belief that they’ll grow wings on the way down. If you get to work with such mavericks, be blessed, because the journey may be rough, but the destination is elegant. Creating something new and disruptive may cause abrasiveness not just in the market, but inside the office too, but it’s never personal.
“Between Steve Jobs and ice, I’d choose the ice for warmth” is an infamous quote by an ex-Apple employee who worked with Jobs. He used those words to describe how Jobs would give rash feedback about work. Entrepreneurs are both restless and ruthless – they don’t have time for mincing words with a 300-word email wrapped in sarcasm and marking 12 irrelevant people on cc before getting to the point. Startups are powerhouses of innovation due to the casual, free, and open environment they enjoy.
Flickr’s Founder Stewart Butterfield and the team were trying to build a new video game for more than two years, and getting nowhere. But in the course of the project, their internal communication tool built to interact with teams working across time zones and regions was spun off as ‘Slack’. Had they not failed in building the game, we would have never had a wonderful collaboration tool at work.
If there’s one thing common across every startup, it is the series of tiny heart attacks we get when we realise we don’t always know what the heck we are doing! But there’s beauty in this ambiguity, an opportunity to be a student of life, learning from one’s own mistakes, learning from customers, and learning from the industry, all leading to a trove of invaluable experience.
The now ubiquitous Gmail and Like button on Facebook were both born out of intrapreneurship, or the art of creating more entrepreneurs within a startup by encouraging people to try something new. By their very nature, startups are tech-heavy, and the cost for trying something new is fairly low in monetary value. People are limited only by their imagination and efforts to innovate.
If you despise pushing paper or constantly question the status quo to make things better, then startups are the place to be. Ensure you pick one with the right ambience to experiment consistently.
A startup is not a great place to work just because of the cool swag and lazy couches, but rather, due to the collective ownership of an idea which has the potential to disrupt a category. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary are not remembered and revered for standing at the base camp of Everest, but for braving up to the summit against all odds. Find your calling – it’s time to ascend.
Sreeraman Thiagarajan is Co-founder of Agrahyah Technologies, which is building a suite of products and content for non-English internet users.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)