Don’t Fill a Role, Build a Culture

Andrew Maguire
Mar 6, 2015 · 3 min read

Team is the single most important factor in a startup’s success. The best teams are full of creative, high-energy people that will debate forcefully on behalf of their opinions. They use debate to drive decisions forward, but when a decision is passed down, the team transitions to execution mode and gets it done.

In my experience, there are many attributes that contribute to an employee’s success at a company, but there are a few at the core that I believe are most critical when building a cohesive team that can work together to achieve amazing results. These are the kinds of traits that not only contribute to core company culture, but also make your company a desirable place to work.

The one attribute I would never compromise on is attitude. Individuals with super positive attitudes are a fundamental driving force within organizations. Their energy is infectious, just as negative energy is infectious. One is conducive to value creation, and one is inherently destructive. Even a single negative person on your team is extremely damaging to culture. I cannot overstate this enough.

Attitude is also critical to handling the psychological roller coaster of building a startup. At a startup, your baseline mentality is unshakeable confidence in your collective ability to build a billion-dollar company, and you inevitably have moments where you question your ability to succeed. Acknowledging those moments of doubt is taboo in many of the superficial discussions surrounding startups, but every entrepreneur goes through them along with their team at some point. That is the roller coaster unique to our industry, and being able to maintain a positive outlook through all of the ups and downs is paramount to success.

I like to hire people with lots of raw intellectual horsepower that fits the role, whether it’s the meticulous mind of the engineer or the creativity and empathy of a designer. At Looksharp, we generally sought out a particular breed of intelligence marked by thoughtfulness, adaptability, and creative problem solving-the kind of people who can quickly adapt their thinking to a new set of constraints or variables in a constantly shifting environment and chart the best course of action.

Employees have to thrive in that space. If shifting sands makes someone deeply uncomfortable or causes undue stress, that’s not a bad thing, but it does mean the startup environment just isn’t the right fit.

That’s why I always preferred hiring people who have worked at other startups vs. just big companies. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but they have a better sense of what they’re getting themselves into.

Work Ethic
Every employer wants somebody who is going to work hard. I think it’s more than just knowing how to work hard, though. Too many people approach work as a chore, a list of tasks to be completed.

I don’t approve of that mindset. It makes for a stagnant employee and, by extension, a stagnant company. The best employees are those who have really learned the value of work-which is to learn and grow as well as pay the bills. Every marketing campaign, every product rollout is a learning opportunity, not just for the individual, but for the company as well. We have to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and that means constantly analyzing ourselves and adapting to face each new challenge. It means being able to admit we don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to finding them.

Hustle is an important attribute that I think often gets misconstrued. Yes, it is the ability to work fast-to some extent. But speed without quality is worthless. Hustle is being able to work quickly, efficiently, and effectively. It means taking little direction and being able to run with it, doing what’s above and beyond what’s expected of you, before anyone even has to ask.

There will be plenty of candidates whose qualifications and skillset fit the job opening, and those skills will differ greatly across positions. Checking off those requirements, skill by skill, is a necessary step in filling a role. But to build a company culture-and an effective recruitment program-you need hire each new employee based not just on what they know, but on how they work.

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