Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. I’m starting a company and I know we will have a strong culture in the beginning, but how do I make sure it doesn’t change as we grow?
I appreciate the desire to build something according to a set vision and believing in it so strongly that you never want it to change.
But the probability is high that while some of the core things will stay with you forever, others will—and should—evolve. How you manage your company when it has three people is different from how you will manage it when you have 5,000 employees and outposts all over the world.
When I started at eBay there were 30 engineers. Sometimes they didn’t like how things were done when the company became bigger. “We need to go back to how it was when we were three engineers,” they’d say. “Well, you wouldn’t like the stock price as much,” I replied. Further, I knew that if things went right, we were going to be thousands of engineers. How then could we operate to feel like there were only three? And why should we?
At this critical point of growth, we had to decide how to stay true to our core values while being open to changing some of our practices. We never lost the focus that we were a marketplace and that making our sellers successful was the number-one priority—but we did change processes. For example, I couldn’t make every final decision on new features or every budget line item as we scaled.
Companies should check in every six months with the question: Do we still believe in this? What used to work won’t always work, so you must be ready to change. You have to ask yourself what do you take with you and what do you leave as you grow. How do you make modifications now that you are 2,000 people instead of 30?
It’s important to recognize that it’s not either/or, but that there’s an entirely new way to go. I’ve found the following exercise to be very helpful in determining a plan that meets your current situation and allows you to grow while also enabling you to maintain the values that are most important to you.
This is a simple three-question exercise. Every six months, ask yourself the following:
What should we START doing?
What should we STOP doing?
What should we CONTINUE doing?
It’s not staying the same but rather elasticity that fuels a strong culture—one that is solid enough to provide a strong foundation yet flexible enough to allow you to evolve and reach new heights.