How to Build a Happy Company Culture the Scrappy Way

How to Build a Happy Company Culture the Scrappy Way

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Guest post by Aihui Ong, Founder & CEO of Love With Food, an insanely popular healthy snack subscription and analytics company.

Follow Aihui on twitter @aihui.


Company culture can make or break a company. One of the companies with great culture that I really admire is PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft has been voted the best place to work in America countless times and they truly deserve it. I was fortunate to have worked there as an engineer and then as a pre-sales engineer. Whether I was a developer or in sales, I enjoyed everyday of it. I wasn’t the first 20 employees. I was employee number 10,398. Prior to PeopleSoft, I worked at another two large corporations and I simply assumed happy culture didn’t exist in large organizations. That’s why I was so amazed how everyone treated each other like family even when there were 10,000 employees at PeopleSoft. Ensuring 20+ employees share the same values and practices might be a cakewalk, but having 10,000+ employees singing from the same page, practicing the same values all across the globe was a man-made wonder. And the man was Dave Duffield, one of the greatest American entrepreneur.

Every new PeopleSoft employee gets a t-shirt with their employee number printed on the back. 12 years later, I still have this t-shirt. It’s torn and tattered but I kept it as a memorabilia, to remind me what a great company it was and what type of company I want to build. I learned a lot while working at PeopleSoft but the most important lesson I learned was the intangible benefits of a great company culture, an absolute intangible asset that money can’t buy.

Building a team and culture should be championed from the top. Whether you know it or not, the culture of the company starts to morph from the first day you launch your company. Founders are the ones who set the stage, the culture usually mirrors the belief system of the founders. It’s so important to set the values and tone right at the beginning.

Startups are always cash-strapped but that shouldn’t stop any founders from building a great culture from the beginning. Building a great culture is a practice not an expenditure. These are some of the things we do at Love With Food to build a great culture and a great team.

1) Be a Compassionate Leader. Be hands on with everything in the company

As the founder, I’m also the one and only person in the company who has done everyone’s job. I wrote the code for the site, I pitched to brands, I built our Facebook following and even did customer support. Because I understand the challenges of each of these jobs, I’m able to set reasonable and yet demanding expectations and goals for everyone. When issues happen, I’m able to walk in their shoes, not panic and try to solve the problem together. When shit happens, and I’m not just talking about work, life events happen which may affect job performance, be understanding, be caring, be flexible because that’s the first step to building a great culture.

2) Contract-to-Hire

Almost everyone at Love With Food was hired as a contractor for 3 months before being brought on board full-time. 3 months is a good time frame to test a new hire’s job performance and also a good period to see if the new hire fits the company culture.

3) Traveling as a team? Share a Room

Traveling to conferences can be expensive, especially when 3-5 team members have to attend together. To save money, we usually have 3-4 people share a room and the up side is team building. Sharing a hotel room is a great way for the team to bond outside work.
When I was invited to speak at the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival in 2012, I decided to bring the team with me. Everyone worked really hard to get the company up and running, and the team deserved a much needed break. At that time, we were a team of 6. The 6 of us shared a tiny 2 bedroom condo for 4 days. We cooked together, hiked together, it was a memorable experience for the team.

4) Annual April Fool’s Event

Every April Fool’s Day, it’s Love With Food’s tradition to launch something ridiculous, like LoveWithWeed.com and LoveWithLuv.com. It’s great for publicity but the main reason why it’s a tradition for us is because it’s great for team building. This is the one event that everyone in the company will stop doing “real” work and go crazy with their ideas for 4 days. Trust me, it’s worth halting real work for 4 days. The hilarious ideas, laughter and humor is a great startup stress reliever!

5) Do Something Together

Plan to do something together every 6- 8 weeks. At Love With Food, we love to EAT. One of the favorite things we do is potluck. We’ll agree on a common ingredient or theme and everyone will whip up their favorite dish regardless of your culinary skills or lack there of. The outcome is usually more amusing than appetizing. We also love cards, beer and pizza night. Cards Against Humanity is our go to game. If your team are into sports, then plan a trip to support your local team, e.g. SF Giants!

6) Encourage Laughter – Gif Wars

Whether we are in the office or working from home, everyone is always on HipChat. There’s no rules about what can or cannot be said in the chat room, as long as it’s legal and not obscene. Our conversations are definitely about work but there’s no shortage of gif
wars either! Humor is such a important part of our culture.

There are many ways to start planting the seeds for building a great culture in a startup. I would love to hear how you are building your culture at your startup!

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