How does culture influence start-ups? – The Cultural OPPORTUNITY

Culture, culture, culture… your start-up has a culture, even without any conscious effort. Like it or not, everything your start-up does is affected by its culture. The culture provides internal threats and opportunities. If start-ups get it wrong, the culture can hinder success and risk sustainability, as the window of opportunities is short. So instead of ignoring it, why not proactively manage your organisational culture and ensure it provides opportunities for growth and success?

In my last post, I identified signs of negative cultural characteristics. This post is focused on cultural characteristics of great start-ups, those that create opportunities, support success and lead for growth.

What constitutes a great culture?

 For outsiders, start-ups seem like glorious workplaces to work at. Photos and stories in the media of amazing fun activities created a feeling (especially for graduates) that working in a start-up is an easy, fun journey. In fact, this is exactly the opposite. Start-ups demand longer hours, unpredictable deadlines and can be at times very stressful to work in. Hence, the importance of developing a great culture that navigates the energy and creates opportunities.

A great culture is composed of four elements: leadership that sets a clear direction and a team that performs in a supportive, yet uncompromising, environment.

Trusted Leadership– strong leadership means that the founders and managers model the right behaviours, decisions and company values. They never compromise on integrity (internally with employees and externally with clients and stakeholders). They acknowledge that great decisions can come from anywhere in the company, regardless of hierarchy, and hence constantly encourage contribution, innovation, and initiatives.

Clear Direction- a great start-up culture is focused on supporting the company’s success. The customer is the centre! There are a clear mission, strategy and goals alignment that create a shared sense of purpose. These are transparent and constantly communicated to the team.

Valued Team– why do great start-up cultures are always based on high performing teams? It is not only because of the recruitment of the right talent but also because these teams are based on collaboration, are continually challenged and receive the opportunities to excel. They feel valued and are managed as teams, rather than a bunch of individuals that work on shared tasks. They are inspired by the mission and big picture, not by a specific task / KPI to complete and be judged upon.

Unique Environment- the environment that is set by the leadership is that of intolerance for mediocracy, nor for waste. It is agile (flexible), with a positive vibe that allows people to have fun during this roller coaster ride, called start-up.

The cultural opportunity

 Start-ups that get their culture right enjoy success and growth. Why?


  • Their teams are motivated, loyal, and engaged. Morale is high, employee turnover is low and institutional knowledge is retained.
  • Their teams are focused on the same goals, working hard but feel valued. They stretch themselves and enjoy challenges and achievements.
  • Integrity and ethics are the basis for all decision making.


  • They have happy clients! and great relationships with suppliers, investors and other stakeholders who are feel valued.
  • Their team represents a positive brand image of the company.
  • They are more competitive, given the focus on excellence.
  • They change and adapt to the external environment easily with no internal resistance.

How to proactively design the culture of your start-up and what to do when the culture goes wrong are the topics of my next two posts.

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Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.

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