Developing a Winning Start-up Culture

By Bennett Fisher, Founder & CEO, Retroficiency

Being the founder and CEO of an early stage cleantech company, I am often asked what the most difficult part of my job is. Before launching Retroficiency, I presumed it would be identifying a large opportunity or building a great product. But having watched my company grow from 2 to 23 employees, I realized the most significant challenge has been and will continue to be building a winning culture. Without a great culture that is configured to continually identify and attack large opportunities or develop groundbreaking products, everything else is irrelevant.

So how should entrepreneurs think about building a winning culture and putting the right structure in place so that it is maintained as the company grows? It’s a complex problem that many people much smarter than myself have written long textbooks about. But, I’ll try to summarize my answer by addressing two simple questions:

1) What are the core values of the founding team that they want to maintain?
2) What do you do to embrace and complement those values on an on-going basis?

Understanding what type of culture you want at your company requires intense self-reflection. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to create a culture that does not embody who you are and how you make decisions. So, it’s important to first understand what you really care about and why you are doing this in the first place. For my co-founder and me, it was really a few main things – constant innovation and iteration while staying extremely close to our customers. We want our team to always be thinking about how we could improve our product, what other products we could be launching, and the innovative business approaches that could go with both while making our clients equally more successful.

With a company focused on innovation and rapid technology deployment, we know we need to maintain an atmosphere that is loose and spurs creativity, communication, and commitment. We expect a lot from our team and more importantly, they expect a lot from themselves. It’s our jobs as founders and executives to provide the environment with which everyone can succeed. That’s why we have an open time-off policy and fly helicopters around our office. It’s also rare that a couple of days go by without an epic Nerf battle (my weapon of choice). We want the team to stay focused, yet relaxed. We also try to include activities like team lunches every Friday and company outings with things like internal ideation competitions to spur creativity. We want to make sure everyone knows that their ideas are not only encouraged, but appreciated.

Bottom line – it takes a special team to change the world and we’ve been lucky enough to put the structures in place that allow us to continue to do that. That’s the job of the founding team. If you are anything like us – the world depends on it.

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