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Some Thoughts on Culture

Culture is an underestimated driver of a company’s long term success.  It’s hard to talk about because it seems corny, impractical, or “soft”.

But I believe that great organizations and great teams are built (intentionally or not) around a very strong and coherent culture. 

I’m no expert in this, but i want to share a little experiment that I’m doing that I think is working out very well.  In thinking about our own firm culture, my partners and I tried to articulate the things that we held dear in the way we invest, the way we interact with each other, and the way we interact with the outside world.

We had a bunch of phrases and ideas that are important to us.  And it became clear that there were a few operating principles that we thought were the core of what our firm is all about.

Here’s where things got interesting and tricky.  We realized that our core principles were not very different what what lots of VC’s say.  If we wrote these on a wall or posted them on our website, we’d feel a little bit corny.  We also thought those acts wouldn’t be impactful.  It would just be some additional fodder for marketing purposes.

So we decided to try something different, and I like the way it’s working.  We distilled these principles into catch-phrases that were distinctive, and we could see ourselves using.  We committed those to memory, and decided that we were going to just use them all the time.

It wasn’t hard to do actually.  I end up using these catch phrases in almost every conversation with my partners and many that i have with entrepreneurs.  Folks who read this blog might have a sense of what some of them are (or at least the spirit behind them).

Because we use these catch phrases so much, it actually forces us to act consistently with them. It also gives us a common language to use when we are critical of one another.

We have a tiny organization, but I can really see this working at a bigger company.  When i was at Ebay, we were all given badges that had the 5 values of the company.  The only ones that stuck were the ones that were part of the language of the company.  They were the ones that the company’s leadership uttered constantly. I personally observed how the culture of the company started to deteriorate in groups that didn’t use this language.

This is just one suggestion.  There are a lot of other tactics, and of course, the best way to promote culture is just to act in accordance with it.  I love the example of the big red telephone at Kayak that forces everyone to be obsessive about customers.  I think these simple steps are great, and way better than lists of generic values.  What other ways to promote culture have people seen?  Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Rob Go

Thanks for reading! Here’s a quick background on who I am:
1. My name is Rob, I live in Lexington, MA
2. I’m married and have two young daughters. My wife and I met in college at Duke University – Go Blue Devils!
3. We really love our church in Arlington, MA. It’s called Highrock and it’s a wonderful and vibrant community.  Email me if you want to visit!
4. I grew up in the Philippines (ages 0-9) and Hong Kong (ages 9-17).
5. I am a cofounder of NextView Ventures, a seed stage investment firm focused on internet enabled innovation. I try to spend as much time as possible working with entrepreneurs and investing in businesses that are trying to solve important problems for everyday people.  
6. The best way to reach me is by email: rob at nextviewventures dot com