Cultural Differences

A friend of mine likes to say that “culture is destiny.”  You can get everything else right but if you get your culture wrong, you are going to have problems.

As I look across our portfolio, I see many different cultures, some very strong and obvious even to outsiders. Some cultures are more nuanced and you have to work inside the company for a while to understand them.

Some cultures are extremely supportive and welcoming. Other cultures are more mercenary.

The truth is that these cultures are set very early on, largely by the founders and the early team they surround themselves with.

Once you create a culture it is incredibly hard to change it. 

I have seen leaders, often new leaders, evolve the culture but not completely change it. 

I have also seen cultures reject leaders who tired to change things too quickly.

All of this leads me to believe that the decisions a founder or founding team makes in the first few months of a company’s life are among the biggest decisions and that they are setting their destiny in place, often without even realizing it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Culture. There’s no app for that.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      “culture is the OS”in both technical and societal domains( think historical constraints)So if one frames an OS as a master control App then maybe “Culture” itself is the outer control loop in an objected oriented array of subordinate technical/social Apps like strategy . . . . . etc ?But yes – I take your point :-))

    2. Drew Meyers

      Nonsense. There’s an app for everything! 🙂

  2. William Mougayar

    Yup. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. https://uploads.disquscdn.c… Peter Drucker said that.

    1. awaldstein

      He is wrong by dint of oversimplification in my opinion.Groups, which all early stage start ups are by definition, are driven by personalities of the leader. Culture comes with the codification of that at a much later state.And the best cultures evolve out of that personality and the model itself.Etsy or KIckstarter or the Lancaster Food Company have cultures as far as I can see that are unique to the who they are and who companies are is tied to the model and the strategy.Really aggressive eat the earth models (I’ve built more than one) are by definition different. They can be civil, can be diverse but there is a aspect of aggressiveness that is key to success.I really dislike wisdom masquerading as a tshirt slogan 😉

      1. William Mougayar

        I don’t think he’s wrong in emphasizing the fact that a good culture is more important than a bad strategy. A bad strategy in a weak culture will be more difficult to fix than inside a good culture.Strategies come and go. Cultures stay. A good culture can implement any strategy, change strategies, and fix anything. That’s what he meant, and I’m sure you would agree there :)From experience, the company culture at HP where I spent 14 years was really the killer kick-ass. People are everything. Having the best people inside the right culture can change the world.

        1. awaldstein

          Oversimplification is the dearth of today’s reality and the antithesis of nuanced understanding in my opinion.Creating dictums that apply to startups of less than 20 people and HP hinders rather than helps understanding. You can make analogies between HP and a seed funded company but they are invariably incorrect.This is simply the reality of people and group dynamics.

          1. JamesHRH

            I agree wholeheartedly.

          2. Anne Libby

            Arnold, do you or @wmoug:disqus know which of Drucker’s works this quote came from? It would be interesting to read it in context. It’s possible that the oversimplification happened when people took this soundbyte and meme’d it.The (few) things I’ve read of his show a pretty nuanced view of human relationships at work. (Things I’ve read focused on human behavior, which is pretty “evergreen” (see the Old Testament, lol.) Some of it still contains useful insights 30, 40 years later.)

          3. awaldstein

            I’m a fan of his. Brilliant and formative to me.Not a fan of people dumping phrases on startups ill defined and generalzed though.

          4. Anne Libby

            Agree 10,000%

          5. William Mougayar

            Not sure when/etc. But there is no misinterpretation of context in my opinion. The point is that culture is more important than strategy in the long term. Culture endures and is a lever to so many other things.

      2. Vendita Auto

        Agree, Top down culture changes mindsets & adheres to the long game strategy (Amazon)

    2. PhilipSugar

      Both of you are right.If your culture is not aligned with your strategy, then this is right. Culture will overcome strategy.That is not to say you can’t have a strategy and build a culture around it as Arnold says.I firmly believe you can’t say that we are going to be the best car company in the world and not have people that just love cars and live and breathe cars.You can’t build the company in a spreadsheet or powerpoint. You have to love the culture. Every company I have had, I have built a culture around our strategy.

      1. LE

        I firmly believe you can’t say that we are going to be the best car company in the world and not have people that just love cars and live and breathe cars.Very true. Look at airline pilots or pilots. Underpaid for what they do by some measures. Same with the music and entertainment industry. Point being in theory you get lower labor costs when you are able to hire people that love doing what they are doing. But you also get better work product. [1] Many of the things I have done (and do) to make money I started off doing without getting paid at all. [2]That said in some businesses the enthusiasm can flow from the top down. I’ve seen this happen with employees when they are eager to please the boss in what he sees as significant and important. So if the gate agent was patted on the back in a big way by their manager for good feedback from a happy customer they’d probably put out the extra effort more of the time. (I mean a really effusive ‘that’s great’ not some stupid corporate reward system that disappears after some time).[1] Ever shop in one of those specialty stores like REI or similar? (And there are many examples of this). The people who work there definitely seem a cut above the crap you get when you shop in an ordinary retail store when they are probably not getting paid that much more if anything. They love mountain climbing or whatever and it shows in their work product.[2] And a guy who had a corporate job getting paid a great deal was helping me at no charge which I thought was strange so I finally just told him I was going to pay him and have done so for years. He just got a job at google and said he can’t take any money anymore but still continues to help for free.

        1. PhilipSugar

          I am a three digit member of REI (first one thousand of their co-op) I used to be an avid climber.This is exactly what I mean. Have a culture for robotics? Better be hands on mechanical people that love building stuff.Software? Better be people that love coding.My biggest thing on hiring people is asking them what they do outside of work. Love building kick ass trucks??? Robots are for you.Love coding your own gaming infrastructure? Software is for you.If you don’t build your culture around your strategy you just have Bain and McKinsey mercenaries. That doesn’t work.

          1. LE

            Why I always felt that people going for UG business degrees at a top college are different than those that get a liberal arts degree and then get an MBA later. The UG know they want business from the start (maybe had a parent or made money in high school) the MBA’s didn’t. Very generally always exceptions.

          2. PhilipSugar

            I violently agree. That is why I don’t want to have companies in places like SV or NYC (no disrespect, none) I don’t want to sort through the makers from the fakers. There are tons of people that have gone into Entrepreneurship because the consider it “Hip”Bullshit.Have a love for what you do. Making Pickles? Great. Handcrafted Stuff like Etsy? Awesome.But what we really mean when we say culture it is passion. And not some b.s. phrase, but real passion. Which drives culture.

          3. Vasudev Ram

            >There are tons of people that have gone into Entrepreneurship because the consider it “Hip”So true. Same applies in the software field too (in fact the two are closely linked, because so many startups are software ones). Many also go into it for the lure of “easy, big money”, of course – or so they think. It can be easy or big, but not both (usually, and for most people, except by fluke, but the media via their clickbait articles, puts $ signs in people’s eyes (like those old kid’s comics – Richie Rich and so on :)Worth a scan:https://blog.codinghorror.chttps://blog.codinghorror.c…See the section “Other uses” (of FizzBuzz), and under it, “Programming interviews” – it was originally a kid’s game.

          4. PhilipSugar

            We agree completely. That is why it is so hard to found a company in a place dominated by those people Woz said it best.

          5. Vasudev Ram

            I read it, good one.

          6. falicon

            To be fair,there are makers & fakers everywhere.

          7. PhilipSugar

            Yes there are, I don’t mean that in a negative way, just I’d like to think it’s easier out here. But as I said absolutely no disrespect (and I know when people say many times they don’t mean it)

          8. falicon

            No disrespect taken.I think it’s just easiest wherever you have the roots, connections, and lay of the land.Given the chance, I would *jump* at building a large tech. company back in the little hometown I grew up in in the middle of nowhere…it would be (relatively) cheap, the people would be insanely loyal, grateful, and happy and my lifestyle would be (mostly) great…but the customers aren’t there, and truth-be-told, *most* of the (right) talent isn’t either…so we’d travel *a lot* and struggle to keep growing and hiring/relocating the right people *a lot*…You pick your battles one way or another no matter where you end up is all I’m saying. 🙂

          9. leigh

            I do love a good pickle. I encourage all pickle makes…

          10. PhilipSugar

            I love Rick’s Picks

          11. Twain Twain

            What if you did a joint degree at UG (science and business with a core elective also being enough French to read the FT in French)?

          12. LE

            Sure joint with business as part would seem to be spreading the risk at the expense of less specialization. (So that would qualify as YMMV!) Personally I think that average or above average (and not exceptional) people should only focus on one thing as a speciality. But there are always exceptional people.This raises an interesting question though. What someone does in their spare time matters but more importantly the percentage of spare time. Maybe Einstein played a musical instrument (not going to check) but let’s assume he wasn’t playing in a band that is taking time for that.

          13. awaldstein

            How do you judge marketers or sort them out?

          14. PhilipSugar

            They have to love to be able to communicate a story. They have to love to be willing to understand what works, but more importantly what does not. They have to tell me what they have learned from people that have told them they have the wrong message.

          15. awaldstein

            more and more i only want them to send me a explanation but an actualization that they can intentionally tell a story about themselves.from there I agree and the rest follows.

          16. Joe Cardillo

            Same here, and a marketer or salesperson that can’t connect to product/operations in a deep way is something I’ve learned to watch for. Tends to introduce a ton of noise, and when you’re in early stage it’s even worse (though, obviously, that’s a problem that F500 certainly has too).

          17. leigh

            Glad so many of my clients don’t think like that 🙂 We didn’t even have a bloody website for yonks.

          18. Donna Brewington White

            You have a story.I have read it. 🙂

          19. leigh

            ha! 🙂

          20. JamesHRH

            That’s a cool tactic Arnold.If you cannot tell me your story, how can you tell ours?

          21. LE

            My ex father in law was a tin man. Literally. Started out selling aluminum siding. His wife pushed him to get into the alarm business on his own. He was a very very very social person. Just loved to talk to people it was his ‘crack den’. (Same with my ex wife one of the reasons we didn’t stay together). Anyway I remember him telling me that when he would go to peoples homes to sell that he couldn’t believe that he was getting paid to do that. Getting to the bottom of what drives people is what you are talking about. Look at Trump, he is continuing with rallies even after being elected. By the time he goes for re-election he will have a tremendous advantage over any opponents if he doesn’t sink himself in a grand way and manages to stay above water. The much more cerebral Hillary didn’t grove the same way. Bill did. He was organic.

          22. Vasudev Ram

            >didn’t grove the same wayDo you mean grovel or groove? 🙂 Not clear.

          23. LE

            I mean ‘groove’ yes. And she wasn’t even good at faking it. Not a Hillary bash [1] but my take is that this comes from a lack of creativity on her part in terms of the way her brain is wired. That was actually one of my issues with her and honestly it is something that is inherent in many lawyers and doctors. By many I mean more typical than atypical. In medicine creativity is not something that is rewarded as much as rule following and information consumption. Gross generalizations but what I have found to be the case.What I will call ‘come from a place of can’t! Not why not?’. A creative person will see a rule or a given as absolute and rarely challenge it or try to find a way around it. A rule following person will simply move on and be more likely to accept what they read or are told as absolute. A ‘why not’ person will see it as a challenge to prove the others wrong. It’s a game to them and it’s fun to do.[1] The world needs both types of personalities.

          24. PhilipSugar

            Grossly generalizing Doctors and Lawyers have to focus on what happens if they are wrong, more than what happens if they are right.Also grossly generalizing most Doctors and Lawyers have played “by the rules” and expect to make a good living. I.e. work hard in school get good grades, get into a good grad school, find a good partnership or hospital work really hard and make a good living.That is why when it doesn’t work out they get really bitter.

          25. LE

            One of the things that surprised my wife when she found out (from me) the difference in being in business vs. a profession. No clear path to victory. Lots of unknowns and so on. Her parents were teachers also clear path to victory (if you want to call it that).

          26. Joe Cardillo

            +1 to this… one of the things I share with early founders / creatives is that if you are building something, finding and being in an ecosystem with other people doing the same work that you love is your greatest asset, and a hedge against stupid decisions when you experience ambiguity.

          27. PhilipSugar

            AND….hire people that complement your weaknesses. So critical.

          28. LE

            This is actually an interesting point. And also don’t assume that if you are “Charlie” running Lancaster Bread that everyone should think like you and buy into your culture. Maybe would be good to mix in some blood thirsty selfish _______ as well. Or maybe not. After all it’s your company so do what you want that makes you feel good.But actually to your point my dad was partners with his brother. His brother spoke broken english and the joke was that he couldn’t write a check. He just loved running the warehouse and more importantly he loved to travel all over (like you do) to buy merchandise. My dad was good at the business aspect (went to night school when he came to this country) so it was a great partnership. Until my dad taught my older cousin what he knew (that my uncle didn’t) and they then forced him out.

          29. Joe Cardillo

            Very, very true – I’ve seen people ignore that, and it often brings up their insecurities (not to mention, what really needs to get done, doesn’t.)

          30. Matt Zagaja

            I’m going to take the other side of this (at least for the sake of this post). I have grown up in cultures where there are a mix of missionaries and mercenaries (as Bezos terms them). I also will happily concede that I fall into the missionary camp. But I try to be empathetic to the mercenaries. We had a ton of them in law school, but also they exist in the tech world primarily entering through code bootcamps. Many mercenaries are giving the tech industry the “diversity” that people are crying out for. There are many smart people who haven’t been lucky to find their passion but are talented and produce good quality work. On the flip side there are many missionaries who simply lack the talent and skill and to be good at what they do. I have no doubt there are many talented coders whose skills we are not using because they’ve decided to take a low paying job at a non-profit doing something else. We have talented teachers who could be transforming entire communities that are instead wasting their skills at Goldman Sachs. Many non-profits are struggling at being effective for lack of the gumption to pay a good mercenary or two to help them level up their practices and infrastructure.In many ways the mercenaries are vital to our economy. I know that many of the missionaries despise the mercenaries. I understand it. But I still think they play a vital role.

          31. PhilipSugar

            I am a big sponsor of Now in this case I don’t view them as mercenaries but those that have been converted by missionaries.

          32. Twain Twain

            As a teen, I climbed a 10m rock wall because my friend (an all-round Action Man-type who rowed, climbed, skied etc) decided it would be “fun” to test our physical aptitudes. So off we went to his favorite place to hang out.I did get to the top of the wall by sheer willpower. BUT IT REALLY HURT (lol) so I never got into climbing after that. Hiking is ok and I’ll happily cover 20km in one-day hike over elevation gains of 3000 ft.But this? No.

        2. Vasudev Ram

          Interesting, is it for the above-discussed reason – that he helped you for free because he was interested in the area he was helping out with?

          1. LE

            Well how he rationalized it and why he did it may have very well been two different things. Or maybe not.He rationalized it by thinking that it would help him keep up his skill set and as a plan b. But also admitted it was fun for him. But more importantly I was very good at the care and feeding in other words appropriately acknowledging and being thankful and excited by what he did and cutting him a great deal of slack. I learned this skill back from my first business actually. In that I had bought a small unix system ($35k at the time) and spent a great deal of my time writing programs for it to automate the business. I remember the excitement my manager had when he would ask me if I could add some feature and then I returned later with the feature. In this case the guy worked for me (hah wasn’t my boss, right?) but it really made me feel good to get that positive feedback and create a solution to a problem. So later I knew exactly how someone else would tick and how to feed into that. Nothing wrong with it either but I felt better paying for it.

          2. Vasudev Ram

            Got it.>Well how he rationalized it and why he did it may have very well been two different things. Or maybe not.Excellent point. A common human mistake. Observed it in myself earlier and need to watch out for it even now. The problem arises when it is done unconsciously. If we are aware of it and then do it intentionally, it may be okay. Relates to Donna’s point in recent thread between me and her, about self-awareness.

          3. LE

            To quote Trump ‘deals are people’. And that means sales are people and getting what you want means understanding people and their motivations. You are not negotiating or asking things from a machine. Not everyone can do this and it’s not shit you learn from a book, blog or article either.

          4. Vasudev Ram

            >Observed it in myselfAnd in others, I should add.

      2. Vasudev Ram

        >Every company I have had, I have built a culture around our strategy.Got any interesting stories on this, that you can share?

        1. PhilipSugar

          See my comments on this thread.

          1. Vasudev Ram

            Will do.

      3. Twain Twain

        THIS: culture and strategy are SYMBIOTIC.And it’s in posts like these, we should all wish JLM the big red car was here to shake up our strategic senses (@donnawhite:disqus).@wmoug:disqus — I just got home after several hours with the MetaCurrency crew who are releasing their Holochain sandpit for a dozen or so developers to play with over the next few days.Meanwhile, in the parallel universe of AI … the photo below shows the logic hierarchy shared by Google Research’s Christian Szegedy on 02 March 2017 at SF AI meetup. It’s what goes into Google’s algorithms as well as across various industries.First order logic is basically Aristotelian logic, which is the foundation of Linear Algebra.Higher order logic is basically Probability, which is the foundation of Game Theory and other branches of Maths.This hierarchy of logic underpins pretty much all existing systems (search, blockchain, economics and so on). https://uploads.disquscdn.c…Now, let’s notice that nowhere in the logic hierarchy is there any CULTURE.If anyone can provide a Linear Algebra equation of culture along the lines ofCulture = (Townhalls x 12) + (Free food x 30) + Foosball tables x 2)Or a Probability equation along the lines of:Culture = Probability (lots of graduates) + Probability (investor money) + Probability (Python being a better language than Fortran)Then … we can stay at home watching TV (32 extra hours according to Blodget) and leave everything to the machines because those Linear Algebraic and Probability equations are exactly what they do.But we can’t leave it to the machines because they have NO COHERENT CODE FOR CULTURE.Let’s also note that language, ethics and values are cultural.@fredwilson:disqus — Lack of culture in the logic of some of SV’s leaders is why Natural Language Understanding hasn’t been solved, NONE of the AI could properly track the cultural affects of Trump’s language on voters (Democrats and Republicans, alike) AND CEOs like Kalanick are myopic to how their language transmits and enforces their values across their organization and beyond.Well, of course, there are ways of tooling humans and the machines to be better versions of themselves than what currently exist.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Let me be clear on this. Culture does not happen from Townhalls, Free Food, and Foosball tables.Bad culture looks at good culture which naturally does that stuff and think that is where culture comes from.And the 32 hrs of TV is content snacking kind of like listening to Soundcloud.

      4. Donna Brewington White

        This is great advice. I won’t hire anyone for my team who is not in love with startups and wants to help them. In our case, empathy with founders is critical.In general, in recruiting on behalf of clients, one of the main things I want to learn about a candidate is what motivates them. If that is not a fit to what the client has to offer and/or what the client needs, it doesn’t matter how qualified the person is.The few times I have missed getting this right have been among my worst mistakes. With startups especially critical. I wont get this wrong again!

        1. PhilipSugar

          Fit is so important. We all are going to make a bad hire, the question is how many and how quickly do we fix. I strive for 5% and don’t think you can get less.I just had to separate from a hire in less than 30 days. They were not a fit. We thought they were, we told them we were a place you couldn’t hide, meetings for us are non-existent, knowledge is paramount, and we have no place for CYA. Boy that hurt.But what really made me angry, was the recruiter called a team member they had placed a day to the year they had placed them to talk about an opportunity. He came to us and said it really bothered him. We even prohibit that in our contract and they said it was a mistake by a new recruiter. That is what gives professions bad names. (Notice I did not say headhunter)

    3. creative group

      William Mougayar:Harvey McKay on corporate culture today (6 March 2017 Monday):”Your corporate culture is like a Petri dish-make sure only the good stuff grows.”

  3. Kent Karlsen

    Travelling abroad is an excellent way to learn new cultures and discover opportunities.

    1. Vendita Auto

      The question I asked myself regarding the far east that might seem out of the ball park: One wonders if another culture / mindset software might view / accept AI more readily ? How [if at all] would that effect development.

    2. Drew Meyers

      The only way to understand culture is via face to face — and traveling is the by far the most efficient way to enable that to occur. Or host people from abroad in your own home.

  4. Ben Mackinnon

    As a first time founder building a team, it’d be really interested to hear how the AVC community thinks about establishing a culture. Outside of the values you try and instill in your team, what are steps you can take and things you can do to make sure you’re addressing this early on?

    1. leigh

      It’s hard to find the time to codify culture when you first start. You are working so hard to get things off the ground that you tend to hire people who align so closely with your own belief system that culture is a much more organic thing. I have found when my company got to thirty people, then fifty and this year we will likely add ten or twenty more, that just doesn’t work anymore. You have to write it down, and be able to clearly articulate it when new employees begin. Scaling culture is one of the hardest things.

      1. William Mougayar

        True. You write it for the newcomers, and the existing employees are the ones that continue to practice it. The new employees are better able to integrate when they see the guidebook and they see it practiced.

    2. Matt Zagaja

      You set the culture by your own behavior. If you want to change the culture you need to change yourself. I recently discovered that my co-workers are a bit self-conscious to swear around me because I rarely swear. It was not an intentional thing on my part and I don’t actually judge people for swearing. I just don’t feel the desire to do it that often.

      1. Joe Cardillo

        That actually raises a separate but critical point: good culture doesn’t rely on rules, it relies on people, and if you’re building something new you want creativity and flexibility to be present because people do things different ways. Week 1 on any project/job and in any context, I always emphasize that while there are some have-to’s, I won’t be giving people much in the way of “you should do this.” As a company grows some roles may come with less autonomy, but it’s easy to miss opportunity and disengage people when you communicate (or fail to re-direct) that your way is the way things get done.

    3. Joe Cardillo

      Good feedback from other people, largely agree, and you may want to consider a published (internally or externally) thing that lays out what matters to you. Here’s a short example of one I created for a meetup:…And here’s another one that I worked w/a friend’s jobs group on (bit bigger in scope, they have ~22k members now):… Buffer and Groove are also startups with a good blueprint you can look at if you haven’t already. I think the biggest thing about culture in early-stage startups is that it often lives in peoples heads, and until you publish it somewhere / in some way there’s not much to keep you accountable. A good set of guidelines / culture, for example, should be updated regularly. Not the beliefs / mission, mind you, but the execution which may change over time as your product or team evolves. Those are my two cents! Please ignore / edit / use any of this as you see fit.

  5. Joseph K Antony

    Wondering if this post was in the context of the Uber exposals.. ..

    1. leigh

      I wondered the same thing. What i find interesting is that the CEOs approval rating is 91% which to me suggests an even more problematic cultural issue at Uber. I tweeted at him last week when the cab driver video came out – more self reflection less PR – meaning, culture is a direct reflection of the Sr. Management. You have to look to yourself first particularly in the case of a systemic challenge. He seems to want to manage the PR around the issue vs. dealing with the issue itself … People want Uber to change. My friends are all in tears deleting their Uber app … but he hasn’t done anything to say – this is my responsibility, my culture I’ve created it and I’m going to be part of the change. Until that happens, no one will believe in him…

      1. Joseph K Antony

        Uber is a wonderful service and the concept will surely survive. As a company the rot seems to run really deep – one fears there will be even more missteps , the very survival of the company will be in question. Can the CEO be sacked?

        1. Vendita Auto

          Think Kalanick has done a remarkable job to scale that quickly

        2. TRoberts

          The cultural rot seems to be related to a CEO founder who, at 40 years of age, publicly admits to a “need to grow up” based on how he treats those at the bottom of his organization …The same CEO founder who notoriously referred to his own organization as “Boober” — as he reflected on the side benefit that his position offers — delivering a steady supply of available women.Has such an apparent ‘frat mentality’ become ingrained in the organizational culture from Day 1?How could it not?

    2. fredwilson

      It’s in the context of everything. The Kickstarter PBC report I blogged about last week has been on my mind a lot. But Uber has too

  6. Stuart Kime

    Ryan Avent does a great job addressing this phenomenon in The Wealth of Humans. Social Capital and Human Capital become the most important components of startups where the EV to FTE ratios are over $50M (Instagram 1B for 13 humans)

  7. jason wright

    and there are so many decisions to make in the first few months, and culture, as an intangible, can get left behind.The people are the culture?

  8. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:We thought of culture immediately when reading The New Yorker article regarding Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman opposing views of a company and being in the same exact wheel house but having generational and personality differences.The Activist Investor was titled twenty years or more ago as Corporate Raider/Vulture. Now they hire PR firms to soften the name to Activist.Very interesting article never the less involving culture.

  9. budcaddell

    Well said and so critical to reflect on given Uber. Here are our tips on how to apply Lean thinking to startup culture:

  10. Kirsten Lambertsen

    So, this creates a question in my mind as far as the VC business goes. Is it very tempting when you encounter what’s clearly a rocket, but a rocket that’s lead by an asshole, to invest despite the bad culture that’s sure to develop under an asshole?How many times would you estimate that USV has walked away from what should be great investments (on paper) because y’all just couldn’t stomach the founder? Not asking for names here, just numbers :)And conversely, about how many times has USV ignored that warning sign, investing anyway, and then regretting it? (Again, not asking for names, just a Y or N.)

  11. george

    I believe one strong dynamic is emerging on this topic, employee turnover. New generation of workers are quick to move on, we find this common across several of our businesses.Today, we are much more focused on building a culture that supports two primary needs, creative and operating freedom; it’s helped us align mutual interests.

  12. vijayvenkatesh

    Speaks to my heart and is so accurate. One of the most accurate posts about culture out there. Having experienced all/most of this directly – especially the part about trying to change a culture, feel strongly it’s something more founders should be aware of, as well as more employees who need to understand what they’re getting into.And evaluate the culture v closely, especially if considering a product or engineering role, as part of their evaluation of a company when considering a role.

  13. JamesHRH

    I have posted here a lot, some time ago, that many great companies are led by a default culture that reflects the personality of the key founder. I think a lot of companies don’t build a culture around a stagey, as Phil has laid out.I think it just is an extension of the founder’s nature & beliefs. It explains massive one time successes with a lack of replication outside of the core, massive win.This is what makes Amazon so crazy. The culture is a reflection of Bezos’ personality – I believe – and has hit multiple distribution home runs.

  14. Donna Brewington White

    All of this leads me to believe that the decisions a founder or founding team makes in the first few months of a company’s life are among the biggest decisions and that they are setting their destiny in place, often without even realizing it.When I first decided to start thinking of my executive search work as a business rather than as a solo practice, one of the first things I did was contact Jeff Minch (aka JLM) for CEO coaching. (highly recommend…the stories alone are worth the cost of admission)Doesn’t mean I am not making mistakes, but fewer than I might have, and more readily identifiable when I do.But that last paragraph is both exhilarating and ominous. A founder will most likely get a lot of things wrong at the beginning. Is she sunk?

    1. falicon

      You’re never sunk, until you’re sunk.Customers are the ones that *really* set your culture…keep them on course and you will have time to fix any mistakes you make along the way…including picking the wrong fit once or twice in the early days…but don’t let it fester, if you identify true mistakes – fix them fast. No matter what.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Customers are the ones that *really* set your culture…How very true. Especially in a business like mine.Good advice, Kevin. Thank you.Look at you becoming the sage. 🙂

    2. Joe Cardillo

      Oh, would it that we all had a crash course with JLM =)

      1. Donna Brewington White

        So true, Joe. Not to mention, he is excellent at talking people off the ledge. I brought what I thought was a HUGE problem to him recently, and left the call feeling hopeful and with a solution that I never thought would have worked, but it did.

        1. Joe Cardillo

          +1 to that… I think that might be one of the most valuable things I’ve had a mentor do for me (and hopefully, I’ve returned the favor at some point)

  15. Mark Edward

    Adapting to the ongoing culture is important. But it is difficult to adapt whole different culture once you’ve been in a strategic and well developed culture and found yourself funny on others.