Company culture means everything for a startup. It can affect the talent you attract, the customer base you work with, your brand reputation, and even your product itself.
The multinational tech giants from Silicon Valley to Silicon Wadi have struggled with creating company culture for years, but what about fledgling startups?
Each year, millions of new startups are launched worldwide, and most–especially those outside of the U.S.–start thinking about going global from day one. What holds successful startups together against all the odds is a meaningful culture–the DNA that informs just about everything you do.
Yet company culture is often overlooked by many founders as they pour their heart and soul into a fresh idea. When your team–the one that has been together since the beginning–gets dispersed around the world, the need to stay true to the very essence of what defines your new company becomes all the more important.
Keeping your startup culture intact while adapting to new local cultures can be a Herculean task. Here are some tips to maintain your unique company culture even as you adapt to your international presence:
Take time to reflect on what truly makes your company unique. Are you a company that cares most about changing the world or about making money (or both)? Are you people-centered or tech-centered? Do you want the company to be ensconced in the culture of your home country, or do you see yourselves more as citizens of the world?
Asking these questions and taking a genuinely honest look at who you are will help in this quest. At Bizzabo, for example, when we opened our sales and marketing office in New York, we wanted to make sure our Israeli chutzpah–that “never-say-never” attitude–went with us. Our American counterparts not only embraced this aspect of our culture, but we found that the New Yorkers’ dynamic lifestyle went hand in hand with our chutzpah and this is what sets us apart from others in our field. In the end, our Israeli chutzpah and the fast paced, hard-working New York state-of-mind blended perfectly.
Language is a great starting point for building a strong culture. You must think about ways to ensure that communication becomes an essential part of your company structures and be aware of the challenges posed when members of your team are thousands of miles apart with a variety of mother tongues.
To help ensure that our staff literally “spoke the same language,” we created our BizzaDictionary, a cross-company lexicon developed by both our Tel Aviv and New York offices to better understand the nuances of each other’s dialect while adding a little bit of fun to the office.
For us, they both revolve around food (and beer).
During our bi-weekly scheduled BizzaHangouts, pizza and beer are always present. Time zones, distance, and language may divide us, but pizza, beer, and Sriracha sauce set the tone for our company.
We introduced our NYC folks to the delights of real gourmet halva (a typical Israeli desert) while they opened our eyes to the magic of NYC food trucks.
But most importantly, we enjoy it together.
After you’ve decided who you are and what you’d like to be, there is one last hurdle. You need to figure out how to create, maintain, and adapt your culture to blend with the new local culture you’re submerged in. Strike a balance between that which defines you and that which you want to adopt without taking away from either. No easy task, but worth the effort.
Being flexible is key–it’s great to preserve your defined company culture when you arrive in new countries, but don’t force it! Embrace what each member of the team adds and let your culture grow naturally in its new home. Your company culture should be both malleable and robust enough to incorporate the new while holding onto the old.
—Alon Alroy is co-founder & CMO of Bizzabo.