Some Ways to Build and Reinforce the Culture You Want
Yesterday I shared my thoughts on how a focus on culture is propelling Atlanta start-ups to success. Today, someone asked me how to build and reinforce a great culture. Here are a few things I’ve seen work:
- Ask for examples regularly – It’s one thing to know and be able to repeat your core values. It’s another thing to live them. During reviews (quarterly, monthly, etc.), ask team members for examples of how they’ve exemplified the company’s core values. Knowing this will be asked will prompt people to think about ways to live these values.
- Celebrate – When someone does something outstanding that aligns with your core values, recognize them and make sure the whole team hears about it.
- Publicize your values – Post them on the wall. Write them on employee key cards. Whatever it takes for people to see them regularly. It’s an effective reminder.
- Office Vibe – This is a great tool to gauge the health of your culture. You can send weekly pulse surveys to your team and receive anonymous feedback. And the team knows they have an outlet for communicating any concerns that could affect culture.
- Best places to work – Building a great culture takes time and energy. Once you’ve done it, publicize it. Many cities publish an annual list of best places to work. You have to enter to be considered, and they’ll rank you based on your team’s feedback. If you’re recognized as a top place to work, people will notice and want to come work for you.
There are tons of other things you can do to create and maintain a great culture. This is just a quick list of things that can help.
Company Culture: Propelling Atlanta Start-ups to Success
Atlanta start-ups have been on a tear lately. Calendly raised $350 million at a $3 billion valuation, Rigor was acquired by Splunk, SalesLoft was valued at over $1 billion, and CallRail raised $56 million . . . all in the last few months. I spoke with a fellow investor about these wins. The founders’ styles and the companies’ circumstances are different, but we agreed there’s one thing they have in common that contributed heavily to their success: culture.
Each of these founders focused on culture early. They were intentional about the environment they wanted for their team. They took the time to think deeply about their core values, mission, etc. And they took it even further, making sure the decisions they made as they grew the company (including hiring) aligned with their values and mission. The results speak for themselves.
Some founders pay no attention to company culture. Big mistake. I’ve noticed two things that happen when they don’t:
- By any means necessary – Without clear values, sometimes people take the gray route in tough situations. Individual decisions may not be shady or bad, but over time they compound. People stray further and further from operating in an ethical way. One day you wake up and you have a company that achieves its goals by any means necessary. It’s Game of Thrones inside the company.
- Unmotivated team – Why you want to do something is usually clear to the founding team (or it should be). But as the team grows, everyone won’t understand the why if communicating it isn’t a priority. When people don’t understand why they’re doing something, they don’t work as hard. You can’t blame them. It makes sense. It’s hard to get someone to run through a wall if they don’t see any purpose or benefit to it. Next thing you know, you have an unmotivated team giving 50%.
Not making company culture a high priority produces lots of other perils. These are just two that I’m familiar with because of my own shortcomings as a founder. Take it from me, you don’t want to experience either of them. Once they set in, it’s hard to reverse them.
Weekly Reflection: Week Forty-Four
Today marks the end of my forty-fourth week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week forty-four:
- January – Today was the last business day of the month. January was an eventful month full of extremes. It felt like an extension of 2020 with a twist. I’m curious about whether we’ll continue to see extremes the rest of the year.
- Work from home – I worked exclusively from home this week. It wasn’t terrible—but it wasn’t great, either. A change of scene is important to me and I definitely notice when I don’t get it.
- Wall Street & Main Street – Developments in the stock market this past week were astonishing. And I think the situation is far from over. In what direction will this saga go? What topics will it put at the forefront of popular culture? I hope it doesn’t lead to a repeat of 2008 and 2009.
- Ideas – Had some great conversations this week about some ideas I’m excited about. Looking forward to working with others to put some of them into action.
Week forty-four was pretty crazy—normal for me personally, but historic and extreme at a macro level.
Digital Communities: WallStreetBets Style
Over the last few days, we’ve heard about the GameStop Reddit WallStreetBets saga playing out in the stock market. If you’re not familiar with it, you may want to read up on it. It will likely be remembered as a major historical event. The story centers around a Reddit community called WallStreetBets.
I’ve been a fan and user of digital communities since high school, and I’ve shared my thoughts about them in one of my daily posts. Some of these communities have helped me accelerate my learning and navigate unfamiliar situations, including my transition to corporate America and a new city.
What we’re witnessing is how powerful digital communities can be. Let me be clear: I’m not taking a position on current events. What I’m saying is that the fact that a group of ordinary people online can organize a call to action so big that it shakes Wall Street is a testament to the impact digital communities can (and will) have on our lives.
Love them or hate them, the people have spoken and digital communities are here to stay!
What Do Tech and Entertainment Entrepreneurs Have in Common?
I had a great conversation with a good friend today. We talked about traits we’ve noticed in successful entrepreneurs. He shared some insights from his time in entertainment, while mine were from my time and relationships in tech. Interestingly, they overlapped.
- Learners – Successful people are learners. They’re aware of their gaps and actively seeking to fill them. Sometimes that involves taking on a role in someone else’s organization to set themselves up for future success . . . and perhaps more future success via their own vehicle. They set their ego aside to gain the knowledge they need for the future.
- Partnership – They recognize that they can’t do it alone and actively seek to partner with others who can help them succeed. Both bringing the right people inside their organization and partnering with the right outside people can work.
- Accountability – Successful people want to be held accountable and want their teams to be held accountable. They create cultures and put processes in place that reinforce this.
I always enjoy catching up with people in other industries and picking their brains. Today was no different. It reinforced that there are clear patterns and habits that contribute to success!
Atlanta’s Latest Unicorn: Calendly
Today Calendly announced that it raised $350 million and is valued at over $3 billion. I’ve used Calendy since 2015 and am a huge fan. The team is talented and the product makes scheduling a meeting super easy. A few thoughts on this deal:
- Pandemic – The company already had an impressive growth rate, and it increased dramatically during the pandemic. They were well positioned for revenue redistribution.
- Revenue – They’re now at roughly $70 million in annual revenue. So, they’re eyeing $1 billion.
- Profitable – The company is growing rapidly and profitable—a dynamite combination.
- Hot market – The market is still hot. Investors are willing to pay higher valuation multiples for attractive growth opportunities.
Congrats to the Calendly team on a huge win! They’ve been building a great company and product for years. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
Ask What You Should Be Aiming For
When I created CCAW, I decided to go with an asset-light business model. In so doing, I was attaching myself to suppliers and vendors. We relied on them for operational execution and inventory planning. I referred to them as partners because without them our business couldn’t operate. Knowing this, I made a point of having strong relationships with our partners. I assumed that what mattered most to them was the size of our relationship (i.e., our sales with them). I tracked sales with each partner and constantly talked about ways to sell more.
One day I was talking to an executive at one of our partners. I casually asked, “What does a great customer look like to you?” I was trying to find out if we were doing what was needed to be a key customer and be included in some of their strategic decision-making. His answer was not what I expected: “The ones that pay their bills, and on time. You can buy a ton of stuff from me, but if you never pay or pay late I’d rather you never buy from me.”
I learned that we weren’t their biggest customer, but we were a key customer because of our flawless payment history. Constantly buying inventory required lots of capital, and they had challenges with keeping everything in stock and having enough operating capital (this is the exact reason we didn’t want to hold inventory). I made calls to other partners and they all confirmed that they put a high priority on timely payments. I had assumed all companies were like us and paid on time. Wrong. We were operating in a space where people didn’t pay their bills on time.
We had great accounting processes, but I’d never thought of accounting metrics as key to our strategy. That changed. I put our payables process higher on the list of important metrics and made those metrics visible. Payables was now a huge competitive advantage we could use to enhance our growth strategy.
In hindsight, I wish I’d asked for input earlier. I was aiming for what I thought mattered most (sales), only to find out that my partners valued something different (cash flow). When we started to lead conversations with potential partners with what mattered most to them, we signed up more of them and our growth rate increased.
If you’re a founder trying to do something great, you’ll probably need help (from partners or investors, for instance). Early on, ask them what’s important to them. Don’t assume! You’ll gain valuable insights and cement your relationships with stakeholders.
Even the Most Successful People Fail (You Just Don’t Know It)
Yesterday I said that benchmarking is one of the mental challenges founders face. Then today I read this:
Anyone you see succeeding is only succeeding at the things you’re paying attention to—I guarantee they are also failing at lots of other things.”
I like this quote because it’s a reminder of why we shouldn’t benchmark ourselves against others. We often don’t have (or aren’t paying attention to) the full picture. Selective comparisons disregard the reality that failure is likely part of their story. The truth is that failure is more common than we like to admit. Even when it seems that someone is wildly successful, they’re probably failing too. And that’s OK.
Benchmarking is a mental trap that’s common among founders (and people in general). And probably more so now, in the Information Age, than ever before. (We can find out a lot about people’s successes on the web and social media—but much less about their failures.)
Try to avoid this trap. Instead of measuring yourself against an incomplete picture of someone else, pay closer attention to your own situation. Give yourself credit for your success and make it a point to not only learn from your failures but apply what you learn to future decisions. This will help you succeed, while benchmarking yourself against others will depress you. That’s not conducive to success!
Entrepreneurship Is a Mental Game
I was asked to give my input on a program being developed to help diverse Atlanta entrepreneurs. I’m excited about the program and can’t wait for it to launch. The creators asked me a tough question: “What mental challenges do founders face?” The fact that they’re thinking about this and wanting to help founders address these challenges is encouraging.
Here are a few things I shared:
- Release – Founders should understand the one thing they enjoy and need outside of work to be the best version of themselves. It could be exercising, playing video games, attending sporting events or live concerts, or anything else. Whatever your thing is, make it a priority so you’ll have a mental release.
- Imposter syndrome – Founders are constantly in environments and situations where they feel they’re unqualified and unprepared to handle whatever’s going on. They often fear failing or being exposed to others as a fraud. This is normal and usually unfounded. Most people know entrepreneurs have gaps but still root them on. Not because they’re perfect or have all the answers, but because they have the courage to try to do something great.
- Benchmarking – Founders will sometimes compare themselves to their peers. This is a mental trap. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Timing also plays a huge role in success. Just because someone else is succeeding and you aren’t doesn’t mean you won’t ever. Be happy for them and know your time will come.
There are lots of other mental challenges, but these are a few that I think many founders have had to overcome. Entrepreneurship is a mental game. Going into the game knowing what to expect can . . . well, be a game changer. Entrepreneurs will be able to be more proactive than reactive during their journey. I’m excited to hear that diverse founders will get help with the mental side of entrepreneurship!
Weekly Reflection: Week Forty-Three
Today marks the end of my forty-third week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week forty-three:
- Optimistic – I’m not sure how 2021 will play out, but I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful that we’ll begin to trend in a positive direction. I know the country’s problems won’t be resolved overnight, but it appears we’re pointing the right way.
- Work from home – I may soon return to working exclusively from home. I’m not excited about this, but it may be the prudent decision.
- Year of change – I’ve had a few conversations with people close to me who are considering making big changes in their lives. This year, 2021, may be a year of change for a lot of people.
- Groove – It’s been hard for me to settle into a good working rhythm since the holidays. I’m hopeful that next week I’ll have my groove back.
Week forty-three was a short week because of the Monday holiday but otherwise pretty normal (well, what passes for normal these days).