No. 1: “Fire the a**holes”
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. January's topic is company culture.
The Bulu crew celebrates the last day of a one month workout boot camp with their trainer Rena Valentino Roark (far right) of Charge Up Health :: Fitness.
If my title was polarizing enough to entice you to read this, I'm guessing I have about two minutes and thirty seven seconds to get a few points across about company culture before you decide to stop reading before I lose you to /r/AWW. I could spend some of that time leading you to believe that Bulu Box has "the secret" to company culture… but we don't. And that's not how we roll. For me, there's nothing more refreshing than someone with less than one year of entrepreneurial experience (that's me) calling it how it is and sharing their experiences, candidly.
That said, I've composed what I feel are the four most important things that my brilliant co-founder and I have put in place to help create a dynamic, epic and happy culture with "The Bulu Crew." Also, because we like concrete tools and lists.
No. 1: Write down your core values, such as "Fire the assholes"
BOOM – We started off with a cliché didn't we? I won't go through the details of all our core values, but I will say that, to me, there is NOTHING more important during the interview process than discussing your companies core values. It establishes the foundation of what the expectations are at your company. Beyond the interview, it's important to use your core values in everyday conversations. Our office doesn't go more than a couple days without bringing up one of our core values – they guide our decisions daily.
Bulu Box has seven core values, but I'll just go over two today. The first is "Respect Individuality" and the way we talk about that at Bulu Box is simple: if someone has an opinion on something and you disagree, be quiet. We encourage dressing differently. We celebrate wild haircuts. We encourage being yourself on social media. We encourage opinionated blogging. We play all kinds of music…even country. Keep your opinions to yourself and focus on your job. It sounds simple, right? It is.
The second is fire the assholes. Yes, it's a strong, intimidating statement. But it's meant to be. That way there's no way of being confused about it. Nobody likes working for, or with, a jerk. So we don't keep 'em around.
(Above: Bulu Box didn't make up its seven Core Values but pulled the best parts of the co-founders and their past experiences working with companies like BBDO, Complete Nutrition, Neebo, Nike and LeapFrog.)
No. 2: Create a brand guidebook
If you haven't figured it out yet, your company is your brand and your brand is your company. No matter what you're selling you better figure out what your brand promise, brand voice, and other key branding elements are. On the surface, a brand guidebook maintains a consistent look, feel and tone in any customer communication. Why shouldn't it be used internally as well? There's nobody you want to embody your brand more than your own employees, right?
Sure you can pay a branding company a ton of cash to develop a brand guidebook for you (I used to get paid big bucks for this), but let me tell you a little secret: if you employ less than 50 people, you can figure it out yourself. The sooner the better. Think of it like putting down all of the information about your company and cutting it down to the essence of what the company does. There’s no right or wrong way to do it and any advertising professional who tells you different is lying. Here's a few items of what we have at Bulu Box. Don't know where to start? Read "Take a Stand For Your Brand" by Tim Williams. Even though it's written for ad agencies, the rules apply to any company and it's an easy read for beginners.
Here are pages (pixelated for safety) right out of the Bulu Box Brand Guidebook.
No. 3: Take personality tests and share WITH EVERYONE
I'm sure you've taken a corporate survey, Myers Briggs or PI tests at one or more companies you've worked. But how many of those companies actual put the results of these tests into action? At Bulu Box, every employee (even interns!) takes two tests and we share the results with everyone. Each employee gets a binder with reference pages so they can read through tips on how to interact with each other – ultimately improving teamwork and communication between personalities that might otherwise clash. Anytime communication improves, culture improves.
What we do with personality tests is simple, cheap and easy enough for people to understand without reading a book or taking a class. We take two tests. First, everyone takes a StrengthsFinder Quiz and we discuss how their strengths align with their work responsibilities. Second, each employee determines their personality type with the "Color Test." The nice thing about the color test is that your "color" is one of only four options. So it's easy to remember traits for each of the four options as well as the color type for each employee.
These are the two tests we've chosen to use. You can use any you want. The important part share the personality results and make use of the data!
Getting a "Blue/Includer" to work with a "Red/Competitor" happily has a drastic impact on the corporate culture of a 10-person team.
No. 4: It's all about the tunnel – so celebrate it!
Okay, I totally stole this one from Ben Lerer's presentation at Big Omaha. First off, if you haven't seen it, stop reading this now and go watch it. Essentially, Lerer said he began his career as an entrepreneur with the hopes of making enough money to "crash planes into boats" but over time Lerer learned, "it isn't about the light at the end of the tunnel, it's about the tunnel."
This struck a cord with me. In fact, I'd be so bold as to say that line changed my life (probably because I have such a competitive personality – it's always tops in my StrengthsFinder quiz results). Before becoming an entrepreneur I was climbing the corporate ladder. My goal was to become a CMO by 30 and a CEO by 35. I stepped on too many people to become a vice president of marketing at 28 at one of the nation's fastest growing companies. Looking back, I'm remorseful about it. I was so hell-bent on getting to the light at the end of the tunnel that I didn't stop to enjoy what I was doing. So now, I make it a point to celebrate the tunnel.
When we hit 10,000 Likes on Facebook we celebrated with cookies and beer. First full-size sale? Celebrate. Typo-free email? Celebrate. Baileigh wore matching socks? Celebrate. If we have a bad day, we remind ourselves that "it's just part of the tunnel." At a startup the odds are against you, so when you get a small chance to celebrate and enjoy the tunnel, take it.
Here are some astonishing facts: 65 percent of Americans would take a better boss over a raise and 59 percent of Americans would choose a new career if they could. Putting some TLC into building a better company culture, and thereby being a better boss, can increase a team's total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. But more importantly it can inspire the company to work 24/7 putting in 110 percent.
As I type this article I looked up at 9:23 p.m. to see this. By creating a healthy company culture people don’t mind sticking around. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to keep a full stock of beer in the fridge.
So, is this how to create a good company culture? I have no idea. I think so. Our employees seem to smile a lot throughout the day and genuinely enjoy what they're doing. I know what we're doing is a helluva lot better than just a line item in an HR budget for pizza parties.
I'd love to know what The Bulu Crew (actual employees) thinks about this article and what parts about our culture they enjoy the most (post comments below!). After all, their opinion is all that matters because culture is created, not forced.
Credits: Photos courtesy of Bulu Box and Paul Jarrett.
About the Author: Paul Jarrett is co-founder of Bulu Box, which provides vitamins, supplements and nutritional products to customers through a unique subscription service, which allows them to try, review and determine which brand name products work best for them before buying.
Paul is no stranger to vitamins and supplements. He used supplements to help him become a 300-pound Division 1 starting defensive lineman, then lose over 100 pounds when his playing days were over. Paul has helped launch million dollar brands, and executed campaigns for Lowe's and Nike. In 2010, Paul joined Complete Nutrition where he built the marketing and communications department and positioned Complete Nutrition for success in a saturated market. The company became one of the fastest growing startups in the country.
Find Jarrett on Twitter, @pauljarrett.
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