Culture is Created by Your First 10 Hires

It is easier to mold clay when it is wet, rather than chip away at it when it sets. The same can be said about company culture.

It is much easier to shape company culture during your first 10 hires, than try to fix a company with established processes.

To get it right you must understand that people make the culture, it is not the culture that makes the people. If you want a great culture that stays great as you grow, your first ten hires need to be evaluated based on:

  1. Values — the core beliefs of the company that guides decision making with colleagues, partners, and customers
  2. Growth potential — is the employee coachable? Do they have aspirations we can support? Do they want to be more and do more?
  3. Skills/experience — Has the potential candidate got the capabilities to fulfill the role or the capacity to do learn to do so quickly

And in that exact order, most startups hire based on a reversed set of priorities. Mike Laven, CEO of Currency Cloud offers valuable advice on this topic:

“The first company I started had a former professional basketball player on the board, who told me something I’ve never forgotten. ‘Everybody wants to win, so go after people who want to practice.’”

8 Guiding Principles to Consider When Hiring Your First 10

#1. Recognize the value of having a diverse range of different perspectives. If you’re hiring based on a disillusioned idea of ‘meritocracy,’ you’ll end up a lack of diversity, and a team full of “me too’s.”

If we keep turning to existing partner networks as investors or referral candidates from employees, we will continue to build a ‘mirrortocracy’ rather than a meritocracy, which would be a poverty of ambition.

#2. Adopt an iterative approach. There is an iterative approach taken to shape the product, regularly getting feedback early and often, we should develop our culture the same way. Don’t create another ‘cookie-cutter culture.’ Consider the experiences and views of employees in shaping a culture all employees value.

#3. The diversity of thought leads to better products by lowering risk and improving business performance.

#4. It is ok to have alignment on a mission but differences of opinion, that’s what diversity adds — differing paradigms.

#5. Don’t rely on employee referrals if the existing pool is not diverse.

#6. Source candidates from unconventional places to ensure authentic inclusion.

#7. How representative is our team in comparison to the customers we serve? Would a client/customer feel at home working alongside the team?

#8. Look for hires that add to your culture and not only fit in.

Beyond hiring, nurturing inclusive environments with different thinkers will set you up for your next culture milestone — promotions.

The first promotion is fundamental in setting the precedent for what it takes to be successful in a given organization.

Nerf guns, bean bags and beer o’clock on a Friday don’t define your culture, your people do. To collaborate with your first ten employees and arrive together at an agreed set of values that is diverse and representative.

Originally posted on ThinkGrowth + Image by #WOCinTech


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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Andy Ayim
Andy Ayim

Andy is Managing Director of Backstage Capital London. Previously a Product Manager who has traveled and worked in over 40 countries in the last five years. He is passionate about telling stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds and improving Tech Inclusion.

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