«Even rotting corpses have culture». This now one-year-old quote from our own VP of Engineering is as graphic as it is true.
A key pillar in the startup construction is the importance of culture. Culture is to be the fabric that binds a team so close together that they can navigate and weather any storm, firmly tied together to the mast of the ship. Without it, a company aimlessly drifts around - unprotected to the environment.
The point our VP of Engineering wanted to make was that culture in the form described above is easy to claim, but hard to attain.
For culture is not one thing or even a binary thing. Culture is never itself good or bad, and it is never in itself the solution.
A recent example of how culture is itself not the solution is, of course, the troubles of Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick, where questionable ethics and "broculture" are being displayed by none other than the very person both running and representing the company. At the same time Uber prides itself on values like “Top talent, high standards”, “Take bold steps”, and “Shape the world you want”. Case in point - «even rotting corpses have culture».
So, what are the components of a company culture? Let me introduce to you to some of the building blocks here at Unacast.
Perhaps the below can also be an inspiration for what you can focus on in your company, or perhaps a reminder of what you don’t want to do. Either way, this is us:
Version 1.0 of our values was set a bit early and didn’t fully encompass all that we were and all that we hoped to be, and perhaps also the recent version 2.0 at some point will need adjustments. That said, behold the Unacast values as of today
Our ambition is that our offices is a place to feel safe and to feel creative, and therefore resembles a modern apartment with all the comforts that come with it - a home
Unacast is currently in two countries (US and Norway) and more will come, so we have thought quite a lot about of how we can build culture across and how we optimize for asynchronized work
Flexibility is important in supporting a culture where people can become and remain “whole people”, with family and friends to complement their work persona. In addition, that’s how the smartest people want to work, and they are well equipped to manage their own time
We like spending time together, and so we make sure to arrange events to make it possible to share experiences and learn new stuff
As a company, we always strive to become better on technology and product, and this is true also when taking about company values and our actions
It’s a long list, right? And there is much more I haven't mentioned. So, is this culture? The culture of Unacast?
I would argue, no.
The above are all important, but they wouldn’t alone have saved Uber and Travis Kalanick. I’m sure they have similar bullets points and more.
Culture is more than bullet points.
Although we take pride in the above, remember that this is not how you would typically relate to family or friends. The bond to family and friends is strong at core, because you share fundamental life perspective, beliefs, and history, and are on a journey together. Through life.
As with friends and family, we strive to discover the culture of Unacast first and foremost in ourselves as individuals, and how we each day relate to other people. How do you see others? Do you treat them with respect, with dignity, with openness, and with kindness? What do you want to give and what do you need to receive? And how do you pair that with drive and ambition? These are the important questions.
This is true for all employees at Unacast, as we are all role models for ourselves and for others, but especially true for the founders - and that includes yours truly.
It’s simple, and complicated: The companies that aspire to fundamentally change processes and technology (and some even our way of life) are more than work and so work culture must be tackled differently than you would historically - differently than the bullets above. You have to root it in decency. And you have to find and display the whole you - only that can scale. I’ll repeat that: You have to find and display the whole you - only that can scale.
At Unacast we are however very much alive and won’t settle with culture as a startup construct only. We strive to be decent people. And we work hard to hire people that are decent too.
It’s that simple, and that complicated. Over time we hope to become wiser on this topic, and also hopefully get closer to some universal truths and guidelines. For now, we have to settle with doing our very best at being decent people, and remember that culture is not bullet points on a list. Sometimes, that’s a good a start as any. That said, in a later blog post, we’ll share some of our thoughts on hiring. Something we have spent quite a lot of time on becoming better at.
We want our individual 80 years on this planet to be spent with people we respect and learn from. We want our individual 80 years on this planet to mean something.
That’s not asking for too much. That’s what we call culture.
That is the fabric that binds a team so close together that they can navigate and weather any storm, firmly tied together to the mast of the ship