Avoiding the Pitfalls of Startup Culture

Posted on January 11, 2019

For so long, we’ve been raised to believe that a job is a tedious exercise in futility — a trial of grinding from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. So to combat that level of misery, we pivoted in the opposite direction. The success of Silicon Valley was all the proof you needed —startup culture was cool, and it worked.

You know the culture: standing desks, balance boards, juicers in the break room, Happy Hour on Fridays, and tacos on Tuesdays. But with the boom of startup culture, there’s been a re-examination of what is effective, and what is excess. There are pitfalls to the world of startup culture, and you should avoid them.

The main selling point for this type of culture is how it’s “cool.” To a degree, it’s true. I’d much rather work somewhere that lets me play ping-pong or Mario Kart than somewhere that puts me in a cubicle and makes me do busywork. But issues come when coolness is prioritized over the product. If you’re an e-commerce company, your goal should be to provide a satisfying experience to customers who will provide you money in exchange for that service. Having a cool culture doesn’t do anything for customers. Maybe your employees enjoy the cool guac bar, but at the end of the day, how does that augment the customer experience? It can be distracting too. This isn’t to say that your employees should be mindless drones, but if they’re playing ping pong more than they’re checking for pain points in the process, the work simply isn’t getting done.

Startup culture is also documented in creating a “bro-culture” that excludes women by its very nature. The lack of female representation in the tech world is well-documented, and that can start with culture. Study after study has shown that a diverse environment produces more than a non-diverse environment. If your team-building activities are all built around “broing out,” you may want to reexamine your culture.

With all that said, one of the most toxic results of the culture is #Hustle culture. The idea that you must constantly be working, forgoing sleep, eating, or focusing on anything other than the task at hand can be detrimental to your business’ health. The need to always be doing, always be chugging along, and always innovating is romantic when it’s taking place in a movie montage, but it’s downright dangerous in practical application. Even Gary Vaynerchuk, the hype-king himself has spoken to the power of sleep. Quite frankly, if you’re spending 16 hours a day building a start-up and making no tangible progress, maybe you’re not using the right methods.

This is not to shake my fist at startup culture as a whole. Some wonderful things have come as a result of the loosening of the tie in corporate America. There’s no denying that work environments have the potential to be more fun, and therefore productive than ever. However, you need to make sure the productivity is there. It does no good to have weekly Smash Bros. tournaments if the bills won’t be able to be paid in a month. Don’t get distracted on the new shiny object. Focus your energy on building a brand, and let the success of your company augment your office culture.