How we defined the core values of our startup

A tree with strong roots laughs at storms — © Bonsai Baker

After working with my co-founder, Fanny Arles, for one year, we decided that it was a good time for us to “discover” our company culture as we will soon be expanding our team and want to pave the road for the future and hire like-minded candidates.

Many times companies fail not because of the product, but because of employees or the core team’s misalignment of core values.

Until recently, I had only heard and read about the concept of company culture. I never had to express it with words and jot it down on paper.

Values in everyday’s life

As individuals, we all have personal values: we might pick creativity over rigor, competition over teamwork, quality over speed … or the reverse.

Values are built up over time: they get imprinted on you by your family and education, then they are reinforced or weakened by your interactions with the world (e.g. readings, discussions) and the feedback you got on your actions: was it worth deciding alone, was it worth spending an extra day on a project’s details ?

In your personal life, you will need to interact with other people. When the interaction is lasting (e.g. with your spouse, co-workers, teammates, …) sharing common values is essential, it’s called alignment.

The more people are in a group, the more difficult it becomes to create an alignment. Think of a group of friends: you might share a passion for outdoor sports and get along very well, while you don’t all agree on how to raise kids, or how to behave in a stressful environment for instance.

The more people in the group, the smaller the shared set of values

To get along with a group of people on the long run, a set of shared moral principles acts as a great cement. Otherwise, constraints and tensions will easily tear the group apart.

Values for a startup

The excellent book Scaling Up by Verne Harnish (Gazelles) triggered this quest for our core values for me. If you are interested but don’t have time to read a book, Verne’s inspiration for a company vision/ideology comes from a famous Collins and Porras HBR article “Building your company’s vision”.

So far, I have used terms such as “to discover”, “quest”, “research” when I referred to our team’s guiding principles. It is indeed the result of collective introspection rather than a strategic definition. You shouldn’t use values that look good on paper but that you don’t already have at heart.

Values and Purpose are at the core of your company’s ideology. The combination of the two could even be the simplest definition of a company culture. Purpose and Values should be the same in ten or twenty years from now.

Working on values right of the bat might not be the best solution if you don’t know your co-founders well enough. With my co-founder, we decided to focus on this task after approximately six months of full dedication to the project. By doing so, we were sure to have already faced several small challenges and got to know each other well. Otherwise, if you founded your company with former coworkers that you have known for a long time, you can do this exercise on the very first day, as did Nicolas and Julien at Algolia.

Take half a day, meet a quiet room or some relaxing place, and talk.

The Introspection

What we did at Elokenz was the following: the two of us first fetched a copy of Collins and Porras article and read it the day before the meeting. We had to understand what words such as mission or values meant for the authors. Then, each of us separately drew a list of 4 to 7 key phrases that we believed was at the core of our project.

We met the day after and compared our lists. We had a total of 10 proposals. In this set, one concept was suggested by both sides, so this guy (“Be customer-success driven”) went directly to the final list. There was no discussion possible on this one, Fanny and I were 100% aligned.

A few concepts were not really values, but rather ‘strategies’, like “Keep it simple” or “Free to explore other perspectives”. Some ideas were great, but they were either too generic (such as “Honesty and Integrity”) or too specific (“Encourage people to be curious about how the company works”).

To get some inspiration and semantic help (words have a huge impact here), we read some examples from the Web (you can find a great list here and Rand Fishkin has a great page exposing Moz core spirit). Be careful, don’t get inspired by these examples to find your own values, but only find correct ways to express them. You need to do this joint introspection to express concepts out of your collaboration.

The Elokenz Globe

At the end, we selected five core values and a central mission for Elokenz. We decided to publish them on our website and to link all our job openings to this page.

This will be the central identity of our startup from now on. This will act as a common denominator between all our future colleagues, board members, mentors, investors.

Basically, we are a learning organization, driven by customer-successes, where employees from diverse horizons own the company and care for it while living balanced work/personal lives.

About Elokenz

Elokenz is a set of tools designed to help businesses to succeed with their content. It has been designed for bloggers as well as content marketers. Our first product, Repost helps you to optimize the distribution of your content on social media, by detecting your performant articles and by sharing them automatically over time.

We released Repost three months ago and it is ramping up right now. We are onboarding dozens of new users each week (freemium and premium). Our MRR is growing steadily and our next target is to reach 100 paid customers.

Soon our initial team will not be able to scale up so we are hunting the web for a passionate coder who would like to join our adventure and share our values.

If you’d like to know more about us, feel free to reach out: We’ll be really happy to have a chat with you.