Should Small Business Owners Care About Company Culture?

Startups should think of culture like breathing -- pretend your company can't live without it, and chances are, it can't.
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It seems like those of us who run a business can't go five minutes without encountering the term "company culture." The phrase is always uttered with extreme adoration, yet the very concept seems as nebulous as it is elusive. I could use this column to chime in with my two cents about how to build an awesome culture, but I'd rather use it to tell you why I think investing in culture is worth it in the first place. Frankly, all this culture stuff can be pretty daunting for a busy entrepreneur. Since most startups operate at a break-neck pace, with a concept to prove or a product to launch within a rapidly shortening runway of financing, company culture often gets shoved aside. This is a big, big mistake: Nobody serious about their business should put culture in the corner.

Startups need to focus on building a foundation for their company culture early, and then they need to revisit it often. Every time a hire is made, a feature is launched, a Facebook status is updated, a press interview is given, a round of financing is raised, or a meeting is held, culture should be part of the decision-making process. Startups should think of culture like breathing -- pretend your company can't live without it, and chances are, it can't.

Think about the factors that differentiate your company to consumers. Are you quirky? Eco-friendly? Energetic? Hip? Classy? These things are probably also the pillars of your internal culture. There's a direct link between culture and brand that you can only leverage if you recognize it exists. Beyond brand, culture can help drive your product itself by creating the conditions for the idea generation that is and will continue to be the lifeblood of any company.

Since those ideas are ultimately generated by team members, company culture should also play a major role in your recruitment processes. Careful, culture-centric hiring has helped build TaskRabbit as a company and brand into what it is today -- a strong reflection of our values and mission. It's what gives our brand its unique identity. We're not the only ones who've stumbled upon this secret. I recently chatted with our friends at Eventbrite, a company that's growing rapidly, about the importance of building a strong company culture.

"We hire a very diverse set of talent but the hiring teams must have 100 percent confidence that each candidate would thrive in the culture we've built together in order for there to be an offer made ... At the end of the day, the best team wins," Julia Hartz, Eventbrite's Co-Founder and President told me. "Small business owners must not take for granted the effort put into getting others to believe in their vision and spend their precious time and effort on making a dream become a reality. That is where a strong culture that is rooted in authenticity and sustainability is key."

For a little more perspective, I talked to our own recruiter, Ryan Sapper, about how our culture informs the work he does in finding amazing talent for TaskRabbit. His answer was encouraging: "Culture is everything. Culture fit is the very first filter when considering a candidate, it's the deciding factor our team uses when making a hire, and our biggest edge in attracting key talent."

So what's the first step to building a strong culture? Not all that daunting, as it turns out. Figure out your core values. Write them down. Once you've defined them, use them to inform every single step of growing your business. From hiring employees who are passionate about the same values and working with culture-aligned investors and advisors, to developing a brand and marketing strategy that's consistent with (and committed to) the company's culture.

The culture of your business simply will not develop organically over time. It takes hard work and foresight to develop and nourish a company culture. Many startups and independent businesses believe this is a luxury they can't afford. Likewise, many established companies think corporate culture doesn't contribute to the bottom line, and therefore isn't worth investing the time or money in. Here's the truth: company culture is not an isolated project that you throw money and ping-pong tables at; it impacts every single aspect of your business (and every single aspect of your business impacts it). It's vital for attracting and retaining key talent. It generates great community engagement and attention. It streamlines communication and informs project management. It nudges you and your team toward your most creative ideas, keeps you true-to-mission, and focuses your efforts and energy. Culture is the healthy diet and exercise that keeps your company in tip-top shape -- it's preventative care no business can afford to take lightly.

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