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Goldilocks and the Three Bears: How to Scale Up Culture

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Scaling up the culture of a start-up is one of the hardest things to do. Just when you’ve gotten used to coming in whenever you want, in pajamas, and drinking beer at 2pm, the culture changes to a mandatory start time of 9am, business casual attire, and beer no longer fits in the budget.

As the success of your start-up expands, your headcount increases as well. With more stakeholders in the company, culture begins to shift accordingly for three main reasons:

  1. The product development cycle must be shortened.
  2. The number of customers you serve increases dramatically.
  3. Investors set priorities and deadlines that must be met in order to receive funding.

All of these reasons require a culture change. In order to shorten the product development cycle, there must be structure and hierarchy. A product manager must be put in place to set milestones and delegate tasks. Progress meetings must happen in which the entire product team is in attendance; hence, a relaxed culture will not scale when the product development cycle needs to be shortened.

Similarly, if the number of customers increases dramatically, the salesforce or customer service team needs to grow significantly. Customers will expect reliable, consistent service which requires salespeople to be at work at the same time, trained in the same way, and incentivized to provide the same good service to all customers equally, not just the ones they have personal relationships with.

Lastly, investors set priorities and deadlines required for funding. With investors setting the terms for the company’s growth, the CEO must set some structure within the culture in order to meet those goals. Structure can come in the form of all-hands meetings or cross-functional teams in order to increase collaboration and meet the goals set out by investors. Otherwise, the company could lose funding or worse.

Ultimately, culture can feel too unstructured at times, too structured at other times, and just right some of the time (the sweet spot!) and there’s a delicate balance between a company’s culture and its growth.



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