The Culture of Startups

Holy crap! I just discovered another article (via Asterisk) entitled What Business Can Learn From Open Source. Why I’m so excited is that this is SO CLOSE to what I’ve been searching for with regards to defining the culture of the Web. While the article talks about things from an open source perspective, what I found interesting was how often comparisons were made to how startups work. This got me very excited because I’ve realized a couple months back that I would prefer working for a startup company if I could get the chance. I wasn’t really sure why but after reading this article, everything makes perfect sense. It is the culture of startup that I crave so much because it fits in with what I desire and more importantly what I can offer (which is something that a normal company probably wouldn’t be interested in).

Feeling / Caring / Loving / Passionate

As I mentioned in my last post, I strongly believe that feeling emotional about something gives you a greater feeling of connectedness with others.

That’s why the business world was so surprised by one lesson from open source: that people working for love often surpass those working for money.

This has already been mentioned in numerous business magazines (i.e. Fast Company) as the golden key to the future of business. If you can obtain passionate employees who care about what they are doing, then you can achieve almost anything. There is one big obstacle to this though. The existing culture of the business. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen companies looking for “passionate dynamic creative people”, yet I just laugh my ass off because once they get inside the company that person will be put literally into a cubicle box with rules that state not to “step outside of it” if they want to be considered a “good employee”. Bullshit! Good employees are those who push the boundaries of the company because they do care about it. If they didn’t care about it then they wouldn’t say anything because they don’t care what happens to the company. Therefore, businesses that want passionate people need to be easy-going enough to let their employees be passionate.

Open / Trusting / Flexible / Equal

Trust is a crucial component in any relationship. If trust isn’t there, then more often than not the relation will never last that long. Once people trust someone, they let down their guard and be themselves. They open up about themselves and are more flexible with that person because every relationship has some give and take. If all you are doing is taking though, then once again, the relationship will probably not last that long.

Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

This is so true! I remember when I first started working with the web firm that I used to work for. We worked in a slightly seedy part of town out of a long single-roomed apartment that we nicknamed the “submarine” because it was long and slightly dark with a set of windows at end. The feeling working within this environment was incredible! Since we were all in the same room, it gave this incredible feeling of togetherness. You could pretty much overhear any conversation going on and you could jump in if it interested you. Even more so, everyone helped out with what needed to be done and you never really thought about people’s titles since we really didn’t use them unless a client needed one. We were just a group of people who enjoyed working together creating things and solving problems. It was such an amazing experience that I even remembered commenting to one of the owners of the company that “I enjoy working so much here, that if I win millions in the lottery, I’m still going to show up for work.” Can you imagine the feeling I must have had to have said that? Can you imagine every single person who has a job today having that same sort of feeling? The productivity, creativity, and innovation that would be achieved in the world would be incredible.

Whole / Connected / Shared / Diverse

When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase— this is where ideas come from— and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy. Working in crappy informal spaces is one of the things startups do right without realizing it. As soon as you get into an office, work and life start to drift apart.

That is one of the key tenets of professionalism. Work and life are supposed to be separate. But that part, I’m convinced, is a mistake.

Again this makes perfect sense and it reveals a lot of why I’ve been so frustrated lately. I’ve been fooling around with various business ideas but everything I start working on doesn’t feel right, as though something is missing. I may come up with an interesting idea but it feel lifeless and disconnected in some way when I try to put it together. The same problem happens when I focus on a more personal site. Something feels like it is missing. Now I realize what it is. I am the missing ingredient! A person isn’t just their job and a person isn’t just their personal life. A person is like a gem with many faceted sides, all working together to create something unique and wonderful. The Web is the same way. It is owned by no one person, instead it is shared and collaborated upon by many. This complexity and diversity is what makes each person and the Web itself special.