For anyone who has been following me, you know that I've transitioned in 2010 from being author/speaker/marketing consultant to a startup co-founder. I've worked for/with over 30 startups over the years, including (when it was, Slideshare, TripIt, Scrapblog and (still think it was the best social bookmarking site ever). But working for/with a startup is VERY different than launching one yourself. It's the same difference as riding in a car vs. driving it. Taking the wheel is a whole level of learning and attention. So I went from delving out all sorts of wisdom (as a consultant and author) to seeing if I can eat my own dogfood on that wisdom. So far, so several books worth of lessons learnt on top! I've been thinking about one part I've preached about for a while now...the importance of company culture. When it was just us three co-founders, it didn't seem urgent, but I realized as soon as it came to laying down the foundation for growing our team a couple of months back, company culture became crucial. Unfortunately, we were busy and scaling fast, so I put it to the side. Not a great idea. The lack of culture meant we acted haphazardly, full of ideas and little coalescence. I'm pretty sure we appeared a bit schizophrenic at times.

But as soon as we pushed through development pushes, I called the founding team together and proposed a set of cultural values that I believed in. And guess what? They did, too. 100% agreement with only one addition. This was an awesomely re-affirming exercise.

So what are they? I'll let you see for yourself in our {first draft} Shwowp Culture document:

Shwowp Culture

We believe that a strong culture leads to a strong company. If we wanted to sum up the list below in simple terms, it would be that we want to build a positive atmosphere where everyone is given the tools to grow as human beings while doing the same for others. But we also want to avoid using vague and meaningless language, so we broke it down into a list of 11 awesome values:

  1. YES!!! Having a culture of YES means that we can’t say no. No is one of those words we speak too often day to day. It shuts someone down and sends the message to others that they should stay quiet. If you disagree with someone’s idea at Shwowp, instead of saying “that won’t work” or “you are wrong”, you should ask them to explain it further or try to build on it. If you still don’t agree, you need to come up with something even better. To prove our commitment to YES, we have a NO JAR (like a swear jar) where offenders have to put a Loonie in for every uttered ‘No’. That money buys drinks for the team periodically.
  2. EMPATHY Putting ourselves in the shoes of others isn’t easy, but it’s one of those values that we think is most important when building a company that is about helping empower people. We don’t only want to espouse empathy for our users, though. We expect nothing less than empathy for one another, our partners, our vendors and ourselves. This is about everybody winning.
  3. TRUTH & TRANSPARENCY If we aim to build trust with our users, our partners, our vendors and even one another, nothing less than 100% truth and transparency has to be the standard. You won’t see us sugar coat our experiences and we aim to pass along what we learn to others.
  4. NOT TAKING OURSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY You can strive towards a fun atmosphere, but sometimes things get tense...especially for a startup. Right in the middle of raising tensions is when we endeavour to pull out full on Nerf wars. You heard that right. Arm yourselves.
  5. STRIVING TOWARDS WIZARDRY In a world full of meh, we really don’t need more same old same old. Wizards are about looking beyond reality and finding ways to make the impossible possible. We strive towards wizardry every day. Boundaries are for Muggles.
  6. FRIENDSHIP & KINSHIP We aren’t merely co-workers or co-founders and there aren’t merely customers and vendors and partners. We like one another. We like to hang out with one another. And even if we weren’t in business, we’d be friends (and not just FB friends) IRL.
  7. SELF-AWARENESS It is up to us to believe in what we are doing strong enough to keep going when the going gets rough. It is also up to us to not drink our own Kool-Aid and understand when we need to re-examine our path. As people and as a company.
  8. WE’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH This one is ‘borrowed’ from company we really admire. It doesn’t matter how far we’ve come, what we’ve learnt and what we’ve accomplished, we will always need to learn and grow and cannot rest on our own laurels. This one kind of follows naturally from #7, but it’s worth re-iterating.
  9. BREAKING THE MOULD Best practices are good to know about, but aren’t necessarily what is right for us. Knowing what is the right path or decision or even interface has to come from a whole bunch of factors, some of them learnt through making mistakes. Either way, we aren’t about following the crowd here. We’re about breaking the mould.
  10. DETERMINATION Remember the Little Engine That Could? Yep. The odds were stacked up against that little guy and he didn’t let it stop him from accomplishing getting over the hill that none of his bigger, stronger, faster friends couldn’t. Well, we’re small, scrappy and determined. Nothing is going to keep us from scaling that hill.
  11. EVERYBODY IS A CONTRIBUTOR The whole team is important to the process. From the person who sorts the mail to the person who lays lines of code to the person who sells the product. None of this works without the moving parts. We aim to recognize everyone’s contribution...even that quiet person that hides in the back row. Yes you. You rock.