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.

Congrats to Calendly, Rigor, Salesloft, and CallRail. They’re testaments to the idea that culture matters. Founders, take note: culture is a big part of success. Act like it.