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How Not To Spoil Your Startup Culture: Lessons From Kaymu Bangladesh

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Jan 22, 2015

“After we closed our series C with Peter Thiel we invited him to our office. Midway through the conversation, I asked him what was the single most important piece of advice he had for us. He replied ‘don’t fuck up the culture’-“wrote Airbnb Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky in his medium post of same title.

Kaymu Logo

Bangladesh is a fertile land for startups. In last couple of years we have seen a tremendous change in this scene. There are home grown startups working in various sectors and there are startups with foreign roots as well. In coming days there will be more startups joining the crowd. This is good. But there are issues to be concerned as well.

Startup is a lot like raising a baby. Once your baby starts to understand her surroundings and the world, you should teach her about values and principles so that she can navigate the world and save her from making worthless mistakes and wrong choices.

Startup is a lot like raising a baby. Once your baby starts to understand her surroundings and the world, you should teach her about values and principles so that she can navigate the world and save her from making worthless mistakes and wrong choices. You give her bundle of norms, values and principles. You teach her about society, people and family and more. Once a crisis strikes and a moment of decision comes she looks back and uses her bundle of values that you gave her earlier and choose right path. If you fail to teach your baby these values and principles she will mistake in a moment of trying and put herself in risk.

Building a startup is a lot like this. When your startup is growing you need to define your core values and your principles. Once you do this right, rest will follow. Great companies are great because of their culture. Brian Chesky put it well: “The thing that will endure for 100 years, the way it has for most 100 year companies, is the culture. The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products.” And your core values are the foundation of your culture.

Building a startup is a lot like this. When your startup is growing you need to define your core values and your principles. Once you do this right, rest will follow. Great companies are great because of their culture.

Reality

In Bangladesh we are not well-known for good company culture. In fact, most companies don’t have enduring culture that can drive growth and keep it together for hundred years. It does not mean there are no companies with great culture in Bangladesh. There are. But the number is very slim. This has a top down impact. Our startups are as well growing lousy and without any long term vision.

This is a serious problem to have, especially when you are looking forward to build a company that will be around for a longer period of time and also thrive in market.

But how can we build culture, especially in a place like Bangladesh where startup eco-system is in its infant and there are very few examples to take benefit from. We can look at few startups who are doing it tick.

Lessons

Recently we spoke to Kaymu Bangladesh, one of the fast growing online market place startups; about how are they building their culture. “At Kaymu we put huge importance on working culture within the company. We believe working culture is one of the few attributes that affect your success very much as a startup”-said Syeda Umaila of Kaymu, “At Kaymu Bangladesh we put both collaboration and agility at the core of how we operate.”

Kaymu Working Culture

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion”-wrote Brian- which means culture is not only how you work at your startup but more than that. At the core- it means making sure that all of your activities and decisions are driven by your core values. Advantage of having an ingrained culture is that it reduces your burden of implementing more regulations and processes in your company. It makes people responsible for certain things without asking them to be. It ensures accountability when there is no one to put you in custody. A strong culture inspires trust.

Any company is a collection of people. A collection of great people means a great company. That’s why we try to hire best people. We buy the advice that we should on board very best people with us. While I asked about how individual and team operate within Kaymu Umaila replied: “we give voice to and empower individuals but at the same time we also put a lot of importance on building friendlier relationship between and among co-workers. While individual often gets reward for their contribution, we also make sure that groups also get reward for their contribution and people work in team and set their own milestone and achieve it together”.

Advantage of having an ingrained culture is that it reduces your burden of implementing more regulations and processes in your company. It makes people responsible for certain things without asking them to be. It ensures accountability when there is no one to put you in custody. A strong culture inspires trust.

Kaymu works in rather a flat organizational hierarchy said Umaila. Anyone can pitch an idea and if it’s good enough to implement everyone helps to make it happen. Advantage of not having a rigid organizational structure is that it empowers ideas rather than position. We have people from different backgrounds and roots, said Umaila, we promote diversity. But we also make sure that people work together and become team player.

Coda

A startup is a place of many problems. I wrote about this before. There will be problems that will confound you as a founder. There will be challenge and crisis and there will be wins and successes. But none of these will remain forever but your culture. However, it does not mean rigidity. Culture is an ever evolving thing. You need to adopt with changes and make sure you internalize changes within your organization.

Great culture makes great company but rigidity can kill one.

[su_note note_color="#ffffff" text_color="#25618a" radius="13"]Credit: Images by Kaymu. This post is largely inspired by Brain Chesky's medium post[/su_note]

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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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