Peter Thiel apparently told Brian Chesky to not “f*** up” the culture of his company. Chesky claims that culture is a necessary ingredient — the very “foundation” — of a company.
I couldn’t disagree more.
As a bootstrap entrepreneur, I’m in a different class from Chesky. When it’s your own money and your own time, culture takes a back seat to getting things done right. Right now. Company culture is like an icing decorative flower on top of a cake. It’s nice to look at, but you don’t need it.
In my experience with my own company and working for a half dozen startups, I’ve come to the conclusion that a good company doesn’t need a “culture” to thrive and to succeed. It doesn’t need world-class, no-walls office space, fun-filled standups, or free snacks. It simply needs the right people who enjoy doing the things they’ve agreed to do to be paid. If you hire the right people from the get-go, you can “trust everyone to do the right thing.”
Because doing the right thing is a core moral and ethical characteristic of a person. It’s not something you can inject into someone through free lunches, scrums, and ping-ping tables. The “culture” of a company isn’t going to stop an asshole from being an asshole.
People can be even more independent and entrepreneurial when you give them the tools, latitude, and simply trust in their abilities. This isn’t “culture” — this is simply finding and hiring the right people. And then rewarding them regularly for a job well done.
You don’t need bureaucracy and endless processes to accomplish great things at a company. You simply need people who respect one another (and their differing skillsets) and who are all there to help play their part in growing the company. People who are responsible, thoughtful, and caring, too.
I like people who are motivated by their own internal desires and needs more than just a paycheck. People who are rockstars at what they do, and love working for a company that respects — and rewards them appropriately. Not with the all-too-often empty promises of future stock or options — but salary commensurate with their experience and background.
In short, what makes a great company grow and be strong is its people — not its culture. People > Culture. Culture is one of the great myths of the startup world, suggesting it is a necessary ingredient for success. While free lunches and playing video games are nice perks working for some companies, they won’t make or break a company.
Another take: Company Culture is a Myth