10 Startup Founders That Understand the Value of Workplace Culture

October 26, 2021
The Culture Equation
10 Startup Founders That Understand the Value of Workplace Culture

Founders are realising how important their workplace culture is and today more than ever, employees go through a startup’s culture with a fine-tooth comb before they decide to join. A 2020 report by Nulab found, 83% of employees believe culture to be an important determining factor when deciding where to work. 

Founders get it. They understand the power of having a thriving culture, not only to engage their people but to attract the best talent. The question now, then, is how can you, as a founder, improve your company’s culture to keep your employees happy, engaged, and at their best.

The answer lies with 10 startup founders who have demonstrated that they understand what it takes to create a great culture. Each heads up a company with fewer than 300 employees who, according to Glassdoor, rate their workplaces highly. We’ve curated this list to help you get different perspectives and approaches that you can consider for your own startup.

10 Startup Founders Who Have Fostered a Great Workplace Culture

Here’s how the founders of 10 impressive startups leveraged workplace culture to help them make it big.

#1 Quirin Schwaighofer,MadeComfy

The Australian vacation rentals sector is booming. But, thanks to the strong culture that connects his team, Quirin Schwaighofer’s MadeComfy has solidified itself at the heart of the industry. From a team of five in 2015 to one of over 100 people today, the company has managed consistent growth.

Quirin credits the strength of his team to his unwavering commitment to values. He explains that “you can learn skills, [but] you can’t learn values.” So, “when we recruit,” he says, “people need to feel like ‘this is me, I love this.’” The shared goals and dedication arising from this attitude have helped him create a near-five star working environment.

#2 Suman Kanuganti,Aira

Suman Kanuganti

Source: University of California

Aira, a business based in California, is all about inclusivity, innovation, and community. And that’s not just within the company. Founded in 2014, Aira has succeeded in improving visually impaired people’s access to information. The goal of Suman Kanuganti, Aira’s founder, is to keep going “until inaccessibility becomes a thing of the past.” 

“This company is about the community,” he continues. And his community, both in the workplace and beyond, share a focus on “restructuring the economy in the industry – an industry that requires behaviour change and everyone to come together.”

#3 Dawoon Kang,Coffee Meets Bagel

Dawoon Kang

Source: Career Contessa

We all know that dating can be a nightmare. That’s why Dawoon Kang and her co-founders created Coffee Meets Bagel. A dating app with a difference, it’s all about helping its diverse user-base forge meaningful connections with the help of an advanced algorithm.

And Coffee Meets Bagel is as inclusive at work as it is online. As Dawoon says: “diversity comes first.” This is as much a business decision as it is a cultural one. “If you don’t have your consumers represented by the people who actually work on the products, you don’t have the edge.” This astute approach has earned her high esteem from employees and consumers alike.

#4 Ross Bailey, Appear Here

Ross Bailey

Source: Startups

Ross Bailey’s brainchild Appear Here is reinventing retail in Britain, Europe, and the US. Having got its start in 2014, the business is now an industry leader and its company culture is one of the reasons why.

“Culture comes from lots of voices and lots of people doing things,” says Bailey, highlighting the respect he has for his employees. Still, this is a no-nonsense kind of workplace. Appear Here’s core values include making no excuses, punching above, and doing the right thing. So, it is a strongly principled company culture that succeeds because of its like-minded employees.

#5 Eng Tan, SimplrFlex

SimplrFlex was built to help expert entrepreneurs offer excellent customer service. It’s something that founder Eng Tan believes to be “a brand differentiator, particularly for smaller companies and startups.”

But, as with many great businesses, it’s not just the idea but the company culture that has helped it grow. His experience taught him that “an early-stage startup requires everyone to wear many hats and be extremely flexible.” It was this understanding of how to build from nothing that helped him “foster a high degree of nimbleness and the ability to pivot” in his team.

#6 Ilkka Paananen, Supercell

Supercell, a world-leading mobile game developer based in Finland, generated approximately $1.48 billion in 2020. The company’s founder, Ilkka Paananen, credits the company’s incredible successes to its culture of independence and responsibility.

He says that “the sooner you can define the culture and communicate it to people the better.” That’s how, for more than 10 years, Supercell has managed to innovate, adapt, and evolve with a team of just a few hundred people.

#7 Shaan Hathiramani, Flockjay

Flockjay founder Shaan Hathiramani firmly believes that diversity is more than just a tickbox exercise. Rather, “it means creating an organisation and processes that select from all different walks of life to amplify success.” This belief helped him raise $3 million from a pool of investors that included Serena Williams and Will Smith.

He and his team of fewer than 200 people offer pathways to lucrative careers in the technology industry. Ultimately, they understand that a diverse workforce will be more effective “than a cookie-cutter group of individuals with the exact same skills.”

#8 Yong Kim, Wonolo

Providing on-demand staffing solutions from its pool of more than 300,000 workers, Wonolo has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2014. However, although the company now earns an estimated $56.9 million a year, its successes were hard-won.

Yong Kim, Wonolo’s founder, explains that “we’ve been through multiple near-death moments at Wonolo.” Crucially, though, “every time, we focused on a solution and made the best out of it.” Working together as a team, he and his employees face challenges head-on and look for opportunities within.

#9 Andy Rachleff, Wealthfront

It’s not always easy making financial goals, let alone sticking to them. That’s why Andy Rachleff set up Wealthfront, a next-generation banking service helping consumers to better manage their money.

It offers services including automated investment management and financial advice. And, thanks to an emphasis on team culture and employee development, Andy is proud to say that “the team that’s making the investments today I think is doing an even better job than those of us who started the firm.”

#10 Christine Tsai, 500 Startups

Christine Tsai

Source: Business Insider

Christine Tsai is using 500 Startups to empower new entrepreneurs. A venture capital firm with a small team and a huge portfolio, 500 Startups hopes to be the first to find and back some of the world’s most exciting new businesses.

A growth mindset lies at the very core of what the company does. As Christine says: “I’ve grown tremendously over the last five years because of every single interaction and relationship.” Her words highlight the importance of learning from employees, even when you’re at the very top, and letting them learn from you. 

What Is Company Culture?

Company culture or workplace culture is the shared behaviours, values, attitudes, practices and approaches that characterise a business and their modes of operating. In more colloquial terms, it is the general ‘vibe’, personality and accepted conduct of internal business structure. Workplace culture is set and modelled by founders, CEOs, and managers, to ensure that it is adopted and practiced by the whole organisation.

Startup culture can often be developed by the first employees, whose team dynamic helps shape the future of the company. Although as the business grows and scales-up it may need to be revisited to ensure the most innovative and successful ways of working.

Why Workplace Culture Is Invaluable for Startups

Well thought and designed workplace cultures have brought immense benefits to so many startups. The 2021 Global Culture Survey conducted by PwC, found that 81% of respondents believed that culture is a point of competitive advantage, whilst those with distinctive company culture were 89% more likely to see an increase in customer satisfaction.

Full Culture Transformation Wheel

If you feel that your company needs help with cultural design, get in touch and leave the rest to us. We can help you develop a strong, thriving, productive workplace culture as your company grows.