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Carl Spurling
Smarter Writer

Carl Spurling is the CEO of Proquo, a start-up joint venture between NAB and Telstra.

Carl Spurling
Smarter Writer

Carl Spurling is the CEO of Proquo, a start-up joint venture between NAB and Telstra.

Highlights
  • Startups form their culture quickly and it will usually be a reflection of the values of the founders.
  • A company’s culture only works if all members of staff are committed to it.
  • The right technology can make vibrant culture easier to implement across geographical boundaries.

Starting a business is relatively simple. It’s growing and staying true to your values that’s the difficult part.

Culture is a key element of most corporate organisations. It’s frequently noted and widely accepted that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Certainly, a good culture can be a powerful motivator, and the converse is also true.

group of young professionals in an office The founders play a huge role in a startup’s culture.

While culture can take a number of years to evolve passively, some corporations have been able to ‘change their culture’ reasonably quickly via specifying a new set of behaviours that are expected of their employees that are rewarded and endorsed.

For startups it's quite different, where the company founders play a key role in everything, including culture. After all, starting a business is relatively simple. It’s growing and staying true to your values that’s the difficult part.  

Startups often form their culture quickly and it will usually be a reflection of the values and working styles of the founders and first employees. This was definitely the case at Proquo. However, we also took the time to document our culture in a written statement, framed around the ‘things we value’. This statement helped to make clear to our investors and our employees what we were trying to create and how we would go about it.

The commonality that both corporates and startups share is that their culture is a driving force of the organisation. It’s the essence of how people form and communicate ideas, how they behave, how they respond to customers, how they bring themselves to work. Ultimately, culture contributes significantly to how successful a company will be. If the culture isn’t aligned to the mission then the mission will never be achieved.

For most startups, experimentation is the key to success. This can mean peaks of excitement and the occasional valley of despair for everyone, no matter their position in the company. However, to experiment successfully and remain committed to a shared goal requires a learning culture. This goes for technology, too. It’s highly likely that the first system you try, from POS to collaboration tools won’t be the best suited. And that’s OK. This means embracing failure through transparent learning and yet still rewarding high performance. While not easy, striving to achieve the right balance between the two across the company will result in free flowing innovation.

The innovative culture we created at Proquo is intended to serve our purpose; to nurture a thriving community of Australian small businesses by providing creative ways to connect, share, swap and trade. While our business model may change, this shared goal should remain constant, guiding our collective efforts to keep delivering new ways to share and collaborate within this customer segment.

Of course, a positive culture in any company only flourishes if all members of staff are committed to it—and that relies on the leaders within the business serving as role models and leading by example.

The right technology should make that vibrant culture easier to implement across geographical boundaries. The huge array of applications available to collaborate in real-time, video conference, message and work on the same version of documents no matter where you are in the world means no one gets left behind. With people working across time zones and locations, it’s never been easier to reward and recognise great staff and projects. 

We think we have the right cultural guidelines in place but, like any startup, we know just how important it is to continue demonstrating the behaviours we want to instil throughout the business if we are to be successful. 

We do this in the following ways:

  1. Lead by example. Actively demonstrate the behaviours we expect from the team.
  2. Call out positive behaviours publicly and recognise a job well done.
  3. Document our culture statement and workshop with our team to promote a shared goal.
  4. Share success metrics with the team so they’re across not only the goal but also how we’re tracking towards those collective efforts.
  5. Treat everything as an experiment; take the time to discuss and learn from failures while doubling down on the successes. Ultimately, we know that execution and delivery will determine our success but behind the scenes our culture will be the driving force.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.

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