The term “startup culture” has taken the trip around the block and back again (and again) in recent years. Typically, it conjures up mental images of a few bleary-eyed twenty-somethings huddled in a small room (or garage), beer cans strewn about and a stale sandwich sitting on a plate in the corner. The term is used equally to describe the wonderful aspects of many a tech startup as well as some of the less than glamorous sides of the scene.
All of the “startup culture” hubbub got me thinking about what it really means. How can rapidly growing companies scale and evolve their cultures while maintaining the things that have worked for them so far? How can startups adopt other aspects of operating that allow them to sustain themselves at scale?
Leadspace provides big data predictive analytics as a B2B service to, “help customers find more customers that look like their very best customers” as Bewsher described. With a background as CMO at both Salesforce.com and Skype, Bewsher brings a high degree of subject matter expertise and real-world experience to this growing tech firm.
How Leadspace is Scaling Their Startup Culture
With two years of runway as CEO of Leadspace behind him, Bewsher said that he saw the market need, liked the opportunity to serve marketers, and he wanted to work with a founder who had a very strong technology background. He found that opportunity with founder and CTO Amnon Mishor, former Head of Intelligence Systems and Data Mining with the Israel Defense Force.
Considering the growth of Leadspace over the last couple of years to 75 employees spread between San Francisco and Israel, and major enterprise-level customers, the topic of startup culture is one that Bewsher has a unique experience with.
In a U.S. market where securing and retaining top talent is truly a “war”, Leadspace doesn’t have to compete as all of their engineers reside in Israel. This dual office environment, while having many upsides, also had the potential to complicate things as the company grew. Differences in national culture, time zone differences and the lack of ability to collaborate in close physical proximity all had to be thoughtfully managed and planned for.
“Aligning around the core up front was critical to our success.” Even before they set out together, the leadership of the company set an agenda and aligned around a clearly articulated vision. They took the time to be very intentional about understanding the individual values that they brought to the organization and they created a set of core organizational values that made explicit what really mattered for Leadspace to be successful.
“As your company changes and matures, your collective time horizon must also change.” As the company grew, the way in which work got done needed to evolve and mature as well. This process required the members of the organization to begin to develop systems and processes that allowed for efficient scaling while also enabling the organization to take a more long-term and strategic approach to their business. Rather than planning a week out at a time, leaders needed to be able to plan a month or a quarter out at a time.
“Staying true to our values while we develop processes creates a tension that must be understood, acknowledged and managed.” In order to manage this dynamic tension, senior leaders needed to manage their teams differently.
“Tactics dictate strategy.” The team at Leadspace learned early on to take an iterative approach whereby they learned what worked and they built upon it.
“The skills needed as your organization matures continue to change.” When the organization was very small, they relied on generalists who could roll up their sleeves and handle whatever came their way. But, as they scale, they began to shift to needing specialists who had a keen understanding of a specific area and who knew how to scale that area of expertise.
“We work to keep it small as we grow.” While scaling means giving up some ways of working in order to achieve scale and sustainability, Bewsher and the team at Leadspace have worked diligently to understand what aspects of their startup culture they can maintain as they scale and what things are not negotiable to them as an organization.
“Find people who are truly passionate about what you are trying to do.” In order to do this, you must be clear about who you are as an organization and what you’re trying to do. Once you’re clear, find people who align with these goals and who wake up every day with a fire in their belly to help the team get there.
For those in the trenches of building a startup from the ground up, the term “startup culture” is much more than a buzzword. It might seem like the company is changing and evolving every day. And when given careful attention from the company’s inception, culture can become the foundation that helps drive quick and effective decision-making and value-added behavior from the team to catapult you towards a successful, sustainable future.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.