SG Dublin: Pay Attention to Your Culture or Pay the Price

One of the (many) things that fascinates me about startups is the emergence of company culture. Quite often, a startup's culture creeps up on founders, and pounces on them fully formed when they least expect it. For better or worse, the examples are everywhere.

I remember listening to an entrepreneur on stage at the 2013 Startup Grind Global Conference talking about the moment he realized that a company culture had formed in his startup. The senior team were trying to come to a decision on a key hire, and somebody threw out the statement that hiring that particular individual would be disaster because they would never fit in with the rest of the team. Now, this seems like a fairly basic observation, but in this instance it was an eye-opening moment for the founder: he had been so focused on building the business, that it never occurred to him a strong culture was developing, without
guidance or direction. So what is a founder to do to keep the growth of culture moving in the right direction?

Culture & Growth with Caelen of WhatClinic

Last week I was privileged to host Caelen King at Startup Grind Dublin. Caelen is the founder and CEO of WhatClinic, and he spoke at length about his experience of growing his company over the past 8 years (and, bizarrely, throwing SIM cards into the River Liffey). Caelen now leads a team of over 100, and as a veteran (sorry Caelen) of the Irish tech scene, he has had culture on his mind since day one. Some highlights include:

  • After 8 years, he considers to be a successful startup; now they've just started to be a successful business.
  • As a "scrappy startup", you can't depend on hiring A-players: in his experience, the CEO must build an environment that allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. His biggest mistake is being blinded by an individual's talent at interview stage, and not realizing they're a bad cultural fit.
  • The company adheres to a rigid policy of 9.00am-5.30pm office hours. As an employee, you're expected to come in, and work hard all day to get out the door at 5.30pm. This has allowed the company to attract a certain demographic of employee, namely parents. As a follow-on, the one issue Caelen would most like the Irish government to address is better childcare support for working parents!

For more insights from Caelen's interview, watch the recording below.