#SeedStage Startup Advice

Let Your Company Culture Flourish, Naturally

Wed 26 Aug 2015
By Shan Lian


Our culture at Shippo is slowly starting to crystallize as we grow the company to 17 people over the next month. We’re now a team representing eight different ethnic cultures and almost as many nationalities. Since our founding in November 2013, we’ve already cycled through a few team members and offices, all the while growing the company from the seed of an idea to full-fledged VC-backed startup status. And through all of this, developing our culture has moved from the back-burner to the forefront of my mind as we mature. Here are my thoughts on the subject...

Initially, founders don’t think about culture explicitly because they have so much else on their minds. “Culture” mainly means work culture. And that’s fine. Culture becomes about how the founders interact with each other and how they work together. You lay the groundwork with everything from how you eat lunch together to how you interact on those nights you’re plugging away until the early morning.

As a company grows, founders try to hire people that are a “cultural fit.” Your company & team values are, most likely, not fully defined yet, so this process is mainly based on gut feeling. Cultural fit in the early stages means: is this person someone I could go out and have beers with?

The more employees you hire, however, the more important it becomes to start putting critical thought into the makeup of your team dynamics. Crafting a strong culture is key for company morale, employee retention, hiring (making the hiring decision and attracting talent), customer happiness, and branding. This starts with the founders sitting together and reflecting on the following:

  • What is the culture of the company today?

  • What do we actually want the culture to be like?

  • What is the discrepancy between the two and do we want to change it?

One of the principles that my founder Simon and I adopted from talking with other founders is the idea of bringing people into the Shippo fold who are intrinsically happy people. We’ve seen that hiring people with a naturally happy disposition means that there’s a stronger likelihood for the team to develop a positive culture. And when the going gets tough, people are inclined to continue to work hard and believe in their teammates.

How you treat each other as teammates and employees also translates into how your customers will view you. Our customers early on were small to mid-sized businesses, many of whom we interacted with heavily to get them onboarded and fully functional using Shippo. Our culture is highly visible to these customers due to the high-touch interactions they have with our team. A core pillar of our company is customer service and we maintain a high quality of support to all of our customers - through surprise phone calls, personalized emails, blog showcases, and more.

Shippo’s culture is reflected in how we respond to customer emails, how quickly we write back, our level of friendliness, how seriously we take their feedback, our proactivity, and how we manage unhappy customers. Our team values are also reflected in the look and feel of our homepage, our social media presence, and on our blog. These are the aspects of day-to-day business that can make a unique difference when potential customers are evaluating your service over others.
We think of our customer base as a community. No matter how squishy and trite that may sound, at Shippo, we mean it. We go out of our way to build connections between customers, educate people on shipping & logistics, encourage multi-touch interaction, and understand feedback. We find that those are the building blocks of a community of people who feel comfortable leaning on each other and learning from one another.

When your company gets to the stage where you’re proactively shaping its culture, always remember to think about how your internal dynamic will affect how your customers see you and your product. This will be an ongoing project. It will not be something you can pencil into your calendar for 3pm-6pm each Thursday or reserve simply for happy hours and team outings. Culture is defined by how you show up to work every day, how you greet your coworkers, how you greet your customers - you will constantly be defining it.

Lastly, no matter how much you may want it to, once you’ve hit your stride, your company culture won’t remain static. It will change as you scale the team, shifting as you push through the bad times and celebrate the good times. Embrace that and take care of your people!

At Shippo, we put a significant effort into defining our company goals and team values over the last several months. Going through multiple team exercises to hone in on these strengthened our internal communication and collective understanding of Shippo’s purpose and the outward image of our company. Moving forward, we’re focusing on building stronger relationships as teammates beyond the superficial shared “employee” distinction. This means more hiking, more happy hours, and more hip-hop music!


LBW, CEO & Co-Founder of Shippo


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