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PivotDesk Event Q&A: So How Do You Build a Company Culture Anyways?

Soon after launching Been There, Done That, we heard from many of you that you wanted more — more coaching, more resources more access to the network of entrepreneurs PivotDesk has built.

So, we started to host events aimed at giving you just that…more!

Rather than limit the benefits of these events to attendees only, we’ll be sharing the key insights we covered live, right here on the blog.

Keep an eye out for more PivotDesk event recaps coming soon.


NewCo Jam Session: Company Culture

A panel of seasoned entrepreneurs putting it all on the table, and taking you through what they’ve learned (good, bad and ugly!) in their own experiences building a company culture from the ground up.

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Q:How do you define culture in your business?

Ethan Kay, BioLite’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets, started us off by stating that “Culture comes from the BioLite business model. The folks that come to work with biolite are usually passionate about the outdoors, in addition to helping others and the broader impact opportunity.” He said that a few times a year, the company goes on a camping or skiing trip, and in addition to that, all employees can take an ‘adventure sabbatical. This means they get time off, and additional money to go on an outdoor adventure.

Lua — a form of martial arts, was pivotal in building the Lua company culture, according to Michael DeFranco, Founder and CEO of Lua. He made sure the martial arts teachings were implemented in their company values and within the office dynamic. They even have chalkboard murals displaying their values, which change monthly. Michael feels it is important to have a tight knit team, so he leans on HR staff to onboard new hires and make them feel welcome. The majority of the company is based New York, so they conduct hangouts with remote employees frequently.

Evan Frank, Co-founder and VP of Americas of Onefinestay, said that he personally spends a great deal of time on company culture. Starting with hiring, Onefinestay has a rule that every potential new-hire must meet at least 3 people from the existing team. This helps in pinpointing whether or not the candidate is a good cultural fit. He added that because they are in the hospitality industry,‘attitude is more important than aptitude.’

Q: People always talk about firing fast. How fast is inappropriate?

“The hardest part of running a company is hiring well. If a problem has been addressed, and hasn’t fixed itself over time, it needs to be dealt with,” Michael DeFranco of BioLite said, putting it simply.

Evan Frank agreed: “These are startups— things change all the time. Statistics show 50% of senior hires don’t work out. For me doing what is right for the company is most important, but I don’t want to ruin someone’s life either. There is a fine balance and you have to give a person time to correct an issue.”

David Mandell brought us back to the inherent theme of ‘what is the right decision?’ He stated that he “doesn’t believe in right or wrong decisions, only how a leader executes against their decision.”  

David went on to explain that PivotDesk does not conduct annual reviews, instead, they hold weekly ones. He encourages the management team to talk about expectations every week. Sometimes, the team is exceeding expectations, and sometimes they are not even meeting them. This is when the team needs to sit down and discuss what can be done to help the individual meet expectations. If this is not possible, alternative decisions need to be made.

Q: Are there any intangible ways to get people in the organization to understand and grow with the values?

David Mandell kicked off the conversation stating the importance of leadership in relation to culture. He explained, “Culture fails unless it is owned by its leadership. This is where most companies fail, they create values, and then offload them to someone and put it on the wall in a mural and that is where those values stay. If the culture does not live within the leadership, it will not live within the company. I make sure everything I do and say, is consistent with those values. If I or our executive team is straying from our values, it is a major conversation. The actions of the leadership within the company create and maintain the culture.”

Michael agreed with David when it comes to leadership being the guiding factor in culture. He explained that leadership needs to be transparent. The executive team needs to be honest when things are not going well. He feels they should also recognize people in front of the whole team who are doing great things. When everyone is doing great things, celebrate everyone, it makes people want to go back and work harder.

Q: How does diversity add to your company environment?

Ethan started off by explaining his trips to BioLite’s remote locations around the globe: “I think a lot about white male privilege when I go to our remote markets. We have a lot of field staff in India that all live together in a really basic house. When I travel there, I always stay with them instead of in the hotel. I think this helps bridge the gap a bit and helps us bond as a team.”

While Ethan pulled from his current work experience, Michael mentioned that his family culture takes a huge part in adding diversity at LUA: “I grew up with a Hawaiian mother who was COO of a company, without a college degree. She spoke a lot to me about diversity in the workplace. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it is a lot harder to find female engineers. I ended up finding a female COO. She was a perfect fit and balanced out the rest of the office. The decision making I saw from my mother helped me realize that we need that on our team. It is something we continue to be mindful of.”

 As you can see, this NewCo Jam Session dug into some of the hardest topics for founders to discuss. Our panelists did a great job of giving honest and transparent advice.

Stay tuned for more events coming up in the near future!

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