Nona Blog

Learn from our mistakes: the journey to a resilient, high-performance tech startup culture

The mistakes we made on our way to a resilient, high-performance tech startup culture.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Peter Drucker, apparently.

“Wow, so let’s just forget about strategy,” said no one, ever. 

In truth, far from being more important than strategy, culture is probably the biggest enabler for strategy. How are you ever going to get anything done – how are you going to win – if your team is spending their time gossiping or positioning themselves in a game of political one-upmanship?

Sadly, unless it’s explicitly addressed and invested in, a company’s culture happens by a process of osmosis. The behaviour patterns of senior management filter down slowly, and become ‘the way things work around here’. 

If you haven’t defined and codified the behaviours you feel lead to success and entrenched them in actionable values, and you don’t use these values to continually assess your people, you can’t really claim to be ‘building’ a culture. Because that’s what a culture is: the norms and patterns of behaviour and interaction between people. Culture, to use the grad-school term, is a doing word. 

Stories of toxic cultures in startup environments are rife; successful companies like Uber and Valve, for example, have found themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons. Which begs the question: what, exactly, went wrong? How can the much-vaunted darlings of the tech scene mess this up so spectacularly? 

At Nona, we care deeply about our culture. We want people to be heard, happy and productive. We also didn’t do culture good for a long time. It took a lot of intentionality, investment, and consultation to get the right values visible and lived in the business. We know this is an area a lot of startup founders and entrepreneurs simply don’t have time to focus on. So we spent some time collating our biggest learnings over the last decade, and then we put those learnings into a beautiful (and free) eBook, so that founders everywhere can learn from our mistakes.

In brief, the book covers the things we feel you, as a startup founder, absolutely need to avoid. In point form, these are:

  • Not setting values carefully
  • Not living your values
  • Not setting the right meeting rhythms
  • Not having the hard conversations early
  • Not prioritising knowledge transfer

We also give you some things to chew on in every chapter: questions to ask yourself so that you stay honest about keeping your people happy. Overall, we’re quite proud of what’s in there, and we feel like everyone can get something out of it. If you’d like to read the book, just click here.

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