Building a Team and A Culture: Silicon Valley Insights

Business is about teamwork. At Synocate, I have learned that the team is one of the most important factors in success. In addition to the team, building a culture is equally important and is a major driver of long-term company and customer success. In this article, I will share some tips of what has worked well and what has not based on our experiences of rapidly growing a team from 3 to 40 in less than 3 months.

Background

Synocate is an education technology company focused on helping high school students navigate the college admissions process. We are building a marketplace that connects high school students with experts.

Like most markets - this is a competitive one. There are many people trying to do similar things in the world. The value and knowledge of our experts is a reflection on us - making the hiring and training process incredibly important for our brand and for our customers.

Hiring

The first step in building a team is hiring. There are many companies that do this exceptionally well. In fact, I think hiring and training may be the biggest strength of many of the largest Fortune 500 companies.

Putting smart people on focused problems and giving them resources to accomplish their goals is incredibly important. At Synocate, and as I suspect in many businesses, delegating is a big part of leadership. Trust those who are helping you build your vision and always listen.

Today we use over 10 variables to screen the top 5% of applicants from the Top 10 schools in the United States. We are constantly learning how to hire and who makes a good counselor based on the vast amounts of data we collect each day.

Our data-driven approach to hiring pervades our culture at Synocate. We believe understanding students requires both a qualitative and quantitative approach, and that starts with tracking them during some of their most important years - middle school and high school.

Training

Once you have great talent, the next step is to give them the resources and knowledge to succeed. This is true of any position. Many exceptional candidates already have some pertinent knowledge.

At Synocate, we have found that we systematically have overestimated how much people know about admissions. Having been a friend to many startups in the Bay Area, I find this is a common trend among small and medium-sized businesses, and sometimes even leaks into larger businesses.

The key for us here has been putting checks and balances in place - a system where all members of the team can contribute knowledge back into a central place. This approach has worked wonders for us and is basically a crowdsourced approach to training.

Over time, protocols and procedures are put in place as companies grow to ensure quality of work - things like performance reviews. We believe that in the earliest stages performance reviews are everyday and our goal is to create an open environment without politics.

We all read about this in the news - create an open environment where employees are empowered. But how do you actually do that, and what does a culture actually mean?

To us at Synocate, culture practically means the unsaid routines and ways of conducting yourself based on everyone else in the group. This definition applies to companies, nonprofits, and in general groups of people.

It starts at the top but quickly gets amplified. Employees transmute their interpretation of culture to each other based on what they think those before thought it meant.

At Synocate, we have clearly defined our company mission and our values and this is included in every training. The real challenge is living these values every day.

Another key element of culture is the space in which you work with your team. The space you work in often defines what you think about and interactions between different people who normally would not interact.

We have been lucky to have been a part of the FFL accelerator in Palo Alto. Mendel, Samantha, and the rest of the FFL team has been enormously helpful in facilitating interactions with other technology companies and showing us how larger companies actually work. FFL is an incubator for experienced technology professionals in the Bay Area.

Culture is about hiring, training, and living the values you set for your company. It starts with a clear mission and a driven team. Above, we have presented a few practical ways that we have started to build our culture and what has worked. We are always iterating and would love to learn from other companies.

For more information about college admissions, visit synocate.com.