I’m often asked what some of the keys are to building a successful startup. Before my last company, I was at what had been a very promising NEA-backed company that reached several tens of millions of dollars in revenue and had become the market leader in its space. But, it was stalling out. Several of us spent a lot of time analyzing and diagnosing what was going wrong. We concluded that at the heart of matter, the culture was off-track, and needed serious changes.
We came up with a list of core values that we felt were critical to building a powerful, sustainable high-growth company. Failing to convince the CEO to adopt a major culture shift and these values, I left and started another company whose culture was based on that list of core values. The new company IPO’d four years later, as the leader in its market. Without further ado, the core values list included…
- Bold Consistent Vision –Deliver a compelling, shared vision that passes the elevator test of simplicity and is consistently communicated to the rest of the world.
- Focus- Understand your priorities, never get distracted, and systematically refresh your objectives.
- Customer Satisfaction –Make each customer an evangelist, only agree to what you can deliver, and always deliver what you agree to.
- Relentlessness –Always inspire yourself, your co-workers, your teams to a higher state of performance, speed, quality, completeness and ultimately competitiveness.
- Respect– Be professional with every interaction with employees, customers and vendors. Treat them with the utmost respect, honesty, directness and follow through.
- Extraordinary Teamwork –Every person has a role on the team. Communicate with and count on everyone to play their part flawlessly as you would expect them to count on you. When they don’t (we are all human), coach and encourage, rather than criticize and lambast.
- Accountability –Deliver on your commitments, be transparent about progress and outcomes, and be equally willing to reap the rewards or pay the consequences of your performance.
- Intelligence –Out-think the competition. Constantly drive creative ideas. Listen for and bring the best ideas and practices to the company.
- Open and Honest Communication –Speak your mind and demand the same from all others you work with. Insist that bad news travels faster than good news.
- Listen Well, Act Quickly –Listen well, entertain the ideas of others (inside and out); seek counsel, then act decisively.
This is not THE list for every company. It was our list based on our collective experiences, good and bad. Your list might be different. The important thing is to have a clear, easy-to-communicate, and easy to internalize set of values that essentially create the guard-rails for the company. Give people the freedom to operate and get their jobs done as they need, but make clear the boundaries within which they must operate.
To make the core values stick, relentlessly repeat them (it was always the first thing I talked about at every managers or all-hands meeting). Recognize people when they live the core values, especially in difficult situations – publicly and in person. When they don’t, promptly and constructively coach them on how they could have handled the situation in a way that would have been consistent with the core values.
I would argue it’s the only way to really lead a fast growing business – you can’t be directing every action, overseeing every activity, telling everyone what to do. You need to delegate like crazy in fast growth organizations, but you also need to know that people will act in a consistent and responsible way. Clear core values enable that outcome.