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Perhaps the biggest result of the startup boom has been a widespread paradigm shift in the way businesses approach culture. Entrepreneurs around the world have been quick to adopt the trademarks of the new workplace — open floor plans, flexible hours, and of course, an endless supply of snacks — in an attempt to enjoy the same success as their models in Silicon Valley.
However, building a strong company culture demands more than a refurbished office or a relaxed dress code. At its core, a company’s culture is a reflection of its values and how its employees work together to realize those values. It affects every aspect of business, making a healthy culture vital to success.
“I believe startups have a lot of intellectual capital to offer the St. Louis business community,” says Emily Lohse-Busch, Executive Director at Arch Grants. “Startups can actually act as filter for the City to understand the career goals and values of the millennial workforce today, and help inform established industry players on best practices for attracting and retaining talent in the new economy. Ravi Sahu’s organic, yet methodical, approach to creating a strong company culture at Strayos is an example that old and new enterprises can follow.”
Ravi Sahu received a 2017 Arch Grant for his company, Strayos, whose aerial intelligence platform has streamlined the data collection process for mining professionals and improved efficiency and safety across the board. Since the company’s inception, Sahu has worked to establish a solid company culture based in values that will lead to success. Here are the three pillars of his success:
Know What You Stand For As A Company
Since launching Strayos in 2016, Sahu has found that cultivating the culture of a company matters just as much as the tech stack or business strategy.
“I come from a corporate background, but I quickly learned that culture is extremely important to the success of a smaller business,” Sahu says. “Those initial conversations about your values can make or break you.”
Sahu believes that a flourishing company culture should be measured by the values at the heart of the company.
“We sat down as a team and began with something simple: writing down the value system we wanted to build upon. Above all else, we value trust, a tendency toward action, unified team growth, and commitment to high customer satisfaction.”
But Sahu insists that the second part of that success was realizing the limitations of a list of values. Without an active commitment behind those values, Sahu says, they’re just words.
“Culture creation and change happen over time. They’re manifested by the people you hire,” says Sahu. “It’s not as simple as writing up a list and adopting the values. It needs to be lived.”
Acknowledge the Value of Difference
Sahu believes that the first 10-20 hires of a new company are among the most critical choices that a founding team will ever make.
“Startups and entrepreneurship are all about getting up and going,” Sahu explains. “For someone to be prepared to do that, they have to really examine the problems at hand, work hard every day to understand them, and then be able to get up the next day and do it all over again. Not everybody has that skill set, so choose your first team members carefully.”
Of course, it makes sense to look for people who embody your company’s values, but there are tangible benefits to teams whose members complement each other.
“Your employees’ skill sets don’t have to be – and, in fact, shouldn’t be – the same. It’s more important that they complement each other while aligning with the same objectives.”
Sahu explains why this matters in practice: “At Strayos, a big part of our work requires building machine learning algorithms that need to produce accurate results. We look for hires who can visualize larger goals and can anticipate that there will always be problems — but who are always ready to jump on it. When our whole team thinks this way, we work much more cohesively, but when we come at the problem from different backgrounds and angles, we come up with more creative solutions.”
Keep the Needs of the Customer Front and Center
According to Sahu, company culture should not just reflect your employees’ values, but also those of the customer.
“At Strayos, we prioritize something we call ‘customer delight,’” Sahu explains. “It’s a service-minded approach that reflects our willingness to go out of our comfort zones to keep customers happy. This is something we champion from the highest levels of our company all the way to our entry-level employees. The customer comes first.”
Because everybody is aligned on this key point, Strayos’ employees are able to remember the overall objective, no matter what else is happening in the company. This also ensures that important decisions are made with the customer in mind and to their benefit.
The kind of determination of which Sahu speaks is driven by passion — and also a deep commitment to the values defining his organization. Since values define a company’s vision, all members must actively embody these values to create growth toward a unified vision.
Above all, Sahu says, “You have to love it — you have to really love it.”