Hint: It’s rarely pegged to funding

Back in the spring, I digested a study entitled “The Single Biggest Reason Startups Succeed” conducted by Pasadena, California-based Idealab and shared by its founder, Bill Gross via March 2015 TED talk that imparts an overview of the study. Gross walks the audience through the rationale for the outcomes, the gradation of reasons why startups succeed. Consider the study’s outcomes in the image below.Why do StartUps succeed?

It is difficult to disagree with the Idealab success criteria above. Interestingly, most of these factors are pliable, even changeable—you can pivot into a different business model, raise more capital, change out the team, or even wholly re-position your idea. But if you’re too early or too late, if the ‘dogs aren’t eating the dog food,’ if your end users aren’t ready or there’s too much market noise—there’s not much you can do. Your timing is too far off, and you must make sincere strategic decisions. Hopefully, you discover the timing disconnect early on in the build out.

Whats Missing?


Image source: SAP — Concur

But, there is also one critical missing piece in the Idealab study: CULTURE. In every startup in which I have ever been involved, the unique culture of an emerging company is its determining factor in its survival, its adaptive nature, ultimately its success. Culture is built on a determined, patterned set of values and processes unique to an enterprise. Culture is obviously bolstered by team and individuals but is more often a conscious effort in human relations, systems and activities rather than merely team chemistry. Simply stated, culture is at the heart of what works in the inevitable, often volatile peaks and valleys of startups and fast-growing businesses.

A great startup culture endures the inevitable often unseen ‘punch in the face’ like no other. The right startup culture brings out relationships that help endure the inevitable hardships in a fast growing business.

A great startup culture “can boost morale by making the workday more pleasant, which translates into higher productivity and lower employee attrition. It can also improve external relationships, leading to happier clients and more effective collaboration with vendors.”

Ready to Build the Right Startup Culture?


When building the right startup culture, make a concerted effort to build on 1) strengths, 2) simplicity, 3) space, and 4) systems. If you get these right in the early days, you have a chance of being a contender, a chance of moving forward, a chance to go the distance so that, when all is said and done, you might have your hand raised in victory. In the words of British anthropologist, Mary Douglas, who to my knowledge was never a formal pugilist, “If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization.” So, startup founders, be sure to build an organization on a common set of values that yields the culture that will make you thrive.