Keeping a Startup Culture When You Aren't a Startup

POSSIBLE Mobile participated in the first annual Denver Startup Week, but we’re not a startup. We don’t come from Venture Capital or Angel funds; we don’t produce a singular product; we don’t make our profits from users rather than clients. We are not “the next Instagram” or “the next Pandora” or “the next” anything; we are an agency. But, there is one way in which POSSIBLE Mobile absolutely fits into the startup scene, and that is our culture.

You can’t really create office culture – your team does that – but you can curate what goes into the mix. This all begins in your hiring stage but carries through to how you work, each and every day. When you look at a new employee, you shouldn’t just evaluate skills, you should also evaluate personality, compatibility with the existing team and, most importantly, what the employee would bring to an office culture. Here’s what we’re doing to cultivate this culture.

Hire passion.
The startup vibe thrives on extremely passionate people, so take the time to look for quality-motivated individuals. We’re always looking for candidates who we know will get more excited about the work they are producing than punching their hours on a time sheet.

Don’t hire on image.
Many companies think that in order to build a great startup culture, they need to hire a bunch of young people who just dropped out of MIT, dress in hipster-flannel, and systematically over-caffeinate. But the truth is that none of this actually contributes to a working culture – it only contributes to an image. And the distinction is an important one.

A Little Play Goes a Long Way.
After you’ve found your perfect team, the next step is to properly engage them. In an industry where telecommuting has almost become the norm, we wanted an office that encouraged our engineers to come in every day and spend time working together as a team, in person. Any team (barring the robotic) enjoys a little fun with their work. Find out what your team enjoys (they are likely to be very vocal about this), and provide a working environment in which they can also play from time to time. After a while, your employees start to associate the office with a variety of positive interactions and put that same positivity into the work they produce. This can only mean success for the company. We encourage our employees to have a little fun between lines of code: play an NES game in the back, grab a coworker for a foosball match, take a nap on the bean bags, or even practice your golf swing in our practice “range.”

Engage with team-building activities.
When looking at ways to integrate fun into the office downtime, it’s often best to find activities that bring team members together. These types of activities keep your team working well together by encouraging camaraderie in fun settings, a camaraderie that will certainly resurface during project work.

Recognize Individual Achievements.
One of the key factors in a startup culture is that feeling that every individual counts – because, let’s face it, a typical startup needs every hour out of every employee they can possibly hire. But, as your team grows, and you find yourself in a position to afford your employees less individual burden, it’s still important to maintain the feeling that they are an integral part of the company and that their work is recognized. Every hour does count, even when they aren’t putting in 80.

An employee shouldn’t feel like a number, so try to provide your employees with benefits that you can’t really put into an HR package or contract offer. These benefits should be human by nature and recognize individual effort and achievement like ordering lunches for a hard working team and organizing happy hours to celebrate team achievments.

Don’t just honor sacrifices, honor successes.
Our team comes together to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, new babies, and graduations. When a team member produces simply outstanding work on a project, we not only award him or her with an iTunes gift card or a pair of Rockies tickets, but the whole team comes together to really appreciate that individual and what he or she produced.

Ultimately, your expanding business is a wonderful indication of your success at attracting clients, but keeping a startup culture through your growth will ensure that you continue to attract talent. After all, nothing mentioned here is really all that remarkable. We’re simply delivering to our employees what great businesses have always afforded their clients: a promise to serve their needs.

What’s your take on startup culture? How do you keep your team excited to come into the office everyday? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

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