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Walk what you talk: How to build corporate culture in a startup or VC firm

Explaining his approach to building Facebook in the early days, Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said, “Move fast and break things.” And while it’s a good approach for a young startup, it’s not sustainable for a mature business. Hence, later it evolved into “Move fast with stable infrastructure.”

Once the company starts actively hiring new people, moving fast gets harder and breaking things gets more expensive.

This is when a founder needs to pay attention to the corporate culture she’s built (perhaps accidentally). Otherwise, the team and the business may fall apart.

The book “What you do is who you are” by Ben Horowitz helps understand how to make your culture purposeful and maybe correct the existing one.

Through examples of Netflix, McDonald’s, Uber and others, Horowitz shows that any corporate culture is defined by founders’ behaviour. No matter what is written in a company’s guide, the team tends to mirror the actions of their boss.

If a founder says his company respects people’s personal lives, but she herself works at night and sends emails on Sunday morning, the team will eventually do the same. If a founder is aggressively competitive and is ready to achieve results at all costs, the team will replicate his behaviour and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Founders, CEOs and other top managers can publicly repeat that their company is ethical and supports work-life balance. But if, after saying this, their actions show they don’t really care about these things, the words won’t work.

A founder of a startup or the partner of a VC firm has to “walk what he talks.” If he “walks” alcoholism, sexist remarks and posting nonsense on Twitter, then the atmosphere in his office will be stifling no matter what he “talks.”

That’s why, apart from other reasons, it’s so important for investors to meet the founder and to build a good rapport with her before investing in a company. It helps understand the personality of the founder and predict her hiring decisions, management style in the team and even the company’s growth strategy.

Through the lens of corporate culture in different organisations, Horowitz talks about startups’ failures and how to prepare for them, about hiring and upping people’s motivation. This book is definitely one of the “must-reads” which everyone should read before starting a company, a VC firm or building a team of superheroes in any industry.

“What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture.” Where to buy: Amazon, Yakaboo, Book Depository.

Cover photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash


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