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Creating a Culture (& Why That’s So Important from the Start)

February 17, 2008

For most people, creating a company culture is not a top priority when they start a business. Usually, it doesn’t even come to mind. When I started PayCycle, I believed it was important, so I spent some time with my co-founder defining the values before we opened the doors. We had a lot to do so we probably spent less than an hour working on it. Little did I know how important those minutes would end up being. The company we started 8+ years ago is framed by the values we determined in that conversation.  In short, the culture of the company was defined and set before we hired our first employee.

I didn’t spend more time on it because so many other things took precedence—things like developing the product or service, securing the funding, and finding the people who were going to help make it all happen. We were working out of my house; I believed that the culture would emerge with the seeds we had planted when we actually had office space to go to every day. That is exactly what happened.

The culture of your company is just as important on the initial to-do list as getting the product specs right and having money in the bank. What happens is that while you are waiting to create the culture, a culture grows organically. Once the culture is in place, it is a bear to change. So, if your culture has emerged and you are not entirely happy about it, you might just be stuck with it.

Knowing that, when I started Bill.com I spent significant time thinking about the values that I wanted and in making sure the team was in sync. I made the company’s mission and values  part of the building blocks of the new business. I wanted to put as much of what I learned running PayCycle into the new company and then make it even better.

When we started PayCycle, our initial goal was to run a business and make a nice living. As the business developed, our mission and vision morphed. The bill.com mission—“to be the simplest way businesses do their everyday financial stuff”—definitely sets a distinctive tone for the personality of the company. We really want to change the way people do business and we established that mission from the very beginning. Notice that the focus shifted from a simply personal motive to a more universal ideal. (I will talk about that shift in future posts.)

Some of the Bill.com values might seem obvious—being passionate about what we do, being dedicated and committed to our overall objectives and to each other. You can argue that a start-up will never start up without an eagerness for new ideas, emerging technologies and change, especially. Being proactive and honest in our communications—internally and externally—has instituted a mode of operation that I hope continues throughout the life of the company.

By putting these ideals in writing and establishing the mindset from the start, you are able to build, from the ground up, the exact organization that you want to both lead and work at, day after day. We have our mission and values hanging near the entrance to the Bill.com office; we show them to prospective hires, we have them on mousepads for all employees. We want everyone involved to embrace our mission and values. In fact, I discuss them with every job candidate before we make an offer.  If it’s not a match, we don’t make the offer. That’s how important it is. Some call this a gut check but when you define it for others you will be surprised how unifying and motivating it is. It can take you and your organization to the next level.

Regardless of your size and the stage of development, have you established your company’s culture and are you happy with it?

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