Everyone talks about building a great company culture but if you, as a founder, are not intentional about creating it from the start, it’s bound to be a mess later on.
Culture isn’t just about cold brew on tap, ping pong tables, and gym benefits. You can offer all the amazing benefits in the world and still fail to create a culture that’s conducive to productivity and achieving business outcomes — as well as ensuring that your people love coming to work every day.
Your job as the CEO is to focus on three things: culture, people, and numbers. Culture happens whether you like it or not. If you’re not consciously working on it, it happens by accident — and once you fall into the accidental culture trap, it’s much harder to dig your way out.
Hire a Head of People early
After closing our funding round in 2021, my focus was quick to shift from fundraising to building and scaling the team.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — one of the best decisions I made was to hire a Head of People early on when starting the company. So many companies wait until they have 30–50+ people. Vanessa joined Carted when we were a team of five.
As a founder, you don’t want to get caught up in the nitty gritty of the hiring process. At the same time, it should be important that every candidates’ interaction with you and the company is a positive one, and that they walk away knowing that their time was valued and they learned something new from the experience.
Finding the right person to lead People and Culture can be tricky, but there are two key things I look for when hiring for the role. First and foremost, experience in human resources, as well as having built out the people and culture function in a company. That experience is invaluable in being able to move quickly and keep pace with a fast-growing startup’s needs.
Second, someone who can help with talent acquisition. This isn’t as critical, but if you have limited resources and are unable to have a talent acquisition specialist in the team, this broader skill set helps to alleviate some of the hiring workload from you and department heads. Additionally, a People person’s input on well-communicated and contextually-relevant employee benefits should help you get more candidates into your hiring funnel, so you can focus on the interviews.
Nailing company culture should ultimately make it easier to acquire new talent. As Head of People, Vanessa implemented the process to onboard team members around the world, set up payroll globally, sent lockdown care packages, designed employee experiences, and is ultimately helping build Carted’s culture from scratch.
This was a game changer for me as it freed up my time to focus on customers and executing on the product roadmap.
Create benefits that complement your people
There is no cookie cutter approach to building culture. It’s important to understand the business and connect with your employees because something that works for one company isn’t necessarily going to work for others.
When designing our employee benefits at Carted, we started by defining the philosophy behind those benefits and what’s important to our people.
At Carted, everybody loves the flexibility of remote work, and having the ability to travel and work from anywhere. With a team of nineteen across ten different cities, it seemed fitting to have introduced our latest benefit:
‘Keeping up with the Carters’ — a yearly budget for every employee to fly, stay, and work with any other team member around the world.
‘Keeping up with the Carters’ is more than just a perk. It allows us to break down the interpersonal barrier remote work presents to building culture. It also allows us to access top talent in this highly competitive market, without geographical boundaries.
There are a few more initiatives that have so far made an incredible impact. This includes an allowance for weekly lunch, purchasing items for one’s home office, co-working space memberships for our remote team, and a budget for training and development.
Foster an inclusive employee experience
Our hiring process is any candidate’s first introduction to the company and sets the tone for their experience across all aspects of the company.
We try to make our process really transparent, and our public company Notion page gives candidates a taste of what to expect from working at Carted. Where possible, we also invite candidates to spend an afternoon with the team so they can meet the people who they will potentially work with. Our process is not perfect but we continuously try to learn and adjust from the feedback we receive.
Among the day-to-day, heads-down focus on building your product, it’s important as a founder to not forget to celebrate the small wins with the team along the way. Whether it’s popping a bottle of champagne with the team, ordering donuts on Tuesday afternoon during a long meeting, or flying the whole team to Sydney for an offsite, these are the things that make the journey a little more personal for every team member.
Create company values together as a team
Values aren’t just words that get stuck onto a wall, where half the employees feel disconnected and unable to recall any of it. “Best place to work” is a tick-box approach. It’s important that your team feels deeply connected and passionate about the values you embed into your organisational culture.
One way to do this is to create values from the bottom up, rather than top down. When the Carted team came together at the start of the year for our company offsite, we did just that. We ran an exercise where everybody contributed to the value creation process, and bought into the top five that we came up with together.
As your team grows, it’s important to reaffirm company values. Or, if something doesn’t feel right anymore, don’t be afraid to change it. After all, you’re the CEO and should empower the whole company to focus on what works, not rigidly stick to what doesn’t.
Pick an unusual office
Remote work is not just about working from home — it’s about working from where you feel most productive. For many employees (and myself included), that is definitely not a traditional office with cubicles and false ceilings.
I wanted to pick an unusual space for an office. Somewhere interesting; a place where people feel inspired and come back to voluntarily. Last year I spent time looking at potential office spaces in Surry Hills, close to other Sydney startups.
I went through a ton of different office spaces, all of which were different versions of the same thing. Finally, I found an office which was initially a heritage listed house that was later converted into a four-storey office. The team love it, each level feels different, and it just makes coming into the office more interesting.
Is culture the be-all and end-all?
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Drucker says it’s not enough to have a strategy; you need the right people to carry it. Your employees also need to feel passion for your company and your goals for your strategy to see success. As a founder, you set the vision and come up with a strategy with your team but your people are crucial to executing well. Without a strong, happy, and intentional culture in a high-performing team, strategy is nothing but a Google Doc that will sit in your Drive forever untouched.
I do believe the culture we’ve built at Carted breeds innovation. We do things differently; not just talking about our work from anywhere policies or that our office is a converted heritage house. I’m talking about how every day, we motivate each other to challenge the status quo, think outside the box, and build tech that will become the foundation for the future of commerce as we know it.