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Shared Purpose

If a team has high levels of trust, they can have debates and conflicts, and still discover the right answers.

Many founders know how to get started. They may have built a team, and they know how to build product. With those elements the startup gets off the ground, and grows. Everyone loves that phase, because they have figured out how to do it. They also love it because they figured out how to create a special one-of-a-kind company with monopoly powers. Furthermore, the market they are chasing after is slightly bigger than the paper airplane business, so they are good? So now what? Culture is the thing that is actually going to be very, very important to scale the business (in addition to the team).


What is culture? Why does it matter? How do you create your core values and the elements that fit together (core values and culture) which drive high performance teams? What are some best practices for culture?

The most important question regarding culture is; what is the company culture going to be? Here is a hint on how you may want to define company culture (fill in the blanks yourself).

‘Every day the (blank) and (blank) of each member of the team is in pursuit of our company (blank)’.

Source: Alfred Lin (Partner, Sequoia Capital)

What’s A Startup Culture (4:00)

Alfred Lin

How to build a great culture?

NOTE: video starts & stops at pre-assigned times

North Star

Each time you’re faced with a decision ask!

“Will the decision improve the North Star?”

  1. Represents the ‘real value’ delivered to customers!
  2. Reflects moment users first experience core value of offering?
  3. Shows level of actual engagement with product?
  4. Determines if the organization is moving in right direction?
  5. Understandable and easy to communicate?
  6. Guides everyone when evaluating; important decisions, plans, pricing, features… ?
  7. Allows everyone in the startup to relate what they’re doing to the North Star metric?
  8. Captures the essence of the startup, and long ­term value of offering?  


Airbnb: Number of nights booked.

Medium: Total time spent reading.

Quora: Number of questions answered.

Intercom: Number of customer interactions (engagement).

Facebook: Monthly active users.

United under one common goal, which is supported by meaningful guidance.

Source: My Say, Fortune


Define Your North Star

The North Star Metric measures the value you deliver.

To define your North Star consider:

  1. What is the exact moment customers make an emotional connection with your product?
  2. What is the moment customers experience the core value of the product?
  3. What is the “why” of your product/service?
  4. What is at the heart of your company’s mission?

Define North Star Now!

Team Dysfunction

A great representation of high performing teams is illustrated in the pyramid that was created by Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). Lencioni talks about the breakdowns of teams (when they have no trust).

If teams don’t have conflicts and debates, it’s the ‘blind leading the blind’, and people are not actually wanting to commit, because they’re afraid of committing.

What goes wrong is that people are not held accountable to things that they committed to. If people are not held accountable to the things that they committed to, then they can’t get results.

  1. Absence of Trust: Unwilling to be vulnerable within the group.
  2. Fear of Conflict: Seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate.
  3. Lack of Commitment: Fearing no buy-in for group decisions, creates ambiguity throughout the organization.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: Ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards.
  5. Inattention to Results: Focusing on personal success, status and ego, before team success.

Founders need to think harder, deeper, and longer about their values; more than they might initially think they need to. One of the things a lot of startups don’t actually do is interview (recruit-hire) for culture-fit, in order to determine whether someone will actually believe in and follow the defined company mission from the beginning.

Creating Great Culture

Startups often interview only for technical skill fit, or other competencies. Alfred Lin (Sequoia), thinks this is a big mistake. Alfred feels that you can have the smartest engineer in the world, but if they don’t believe the mission, they are not going to pour their heart and soul into the startup. Therefore, it’s essential that you actually start thinking about culture right from the Gecko (interview processes, performance reviews, and daily habits). By doing that, you get a lot further in building a great culture.

Every startup wants to have great culture, provide great customer service, and more. However, what they often fail to do is make it (culture) a daily habit.

A person just can’t be fit (healthy) if they don’t work on it as a daily habit. The same is true with culture.

Source: Alfred Lin & P. Lencioni
Course Curator: Dr. Gerard L. Danford

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