eCommerce Owners: Why you should plan your company’s culture from day one

Posted by Catarina Fonseca

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This is a guest post from Angelique Slob, founder of Hello Monday. Hello Monday supports future-minded founders to create thriving 21st century organizations. We appreciate her sharing these thoughts and tips with us.

Starting a business is difficult, and it takes time and effort before you have built the company of your dreams. In the beginning, your business is like to be a one-man (or woman) show, or you are lucky to have a co-founder to help tackle this endeavor. Your first “team” probably consists of interns or freelancers, or maybe you are already further down the road and you have built your first small team.

In the early stages of building your eCommerce empire, company culture is probably one of the last things on your mind. Most think it’s only important when you are actually starting to recruit “real”, long-term employees, or when your team surpasses ten employees.

What if I told you that thinking about building a great company culture from the very beginning is more important than you think?

Have you heard of Zappos? It is a very successful and renowned eCommerce store. What has helped them reach this level of success? Having a clear and concise philosophy: happy employees lead to happy customers.

Some adaptation of this philosophy should be routed within your culture. Who wouldn’t want happy employees working for them? To get happy employees, you must prioritize building a great team and company culture. The missing variable in this equation…you need to do this from the very beginning. Solidifying company culture as you solidify the business plan is one of the most important steps you could take as a founder.

“In order to become successful, company culture is a priority, not an afterthought.”

For that, you don’t have to go and learn all you can about team building or organizational design as quickly as possible. Take each step carefully and strategically map out the rest.

To help get you started in the right direction, Hello Monday created a list of 5 things that founders or managers can do to build a great company culture. One that will grow as you grow your business, from the very beginning.

1 – Identify your personal and company values from the beginning

Zappos built their company culture around their core values. However, they only started to do this after ten years. In this talk Tony Hirsch, the CEO and founder says that if they could it all over, they would do it from the very beginning.

To make sure who you want to work with, who you want to hire, who will fit into your ecosystem, I think it is extremely important to make your company values evident and explicit. This will especially help when creating the right HR – and people processes.

Although you may want your business values to be usually aligned with your personal values, these may differ. It’s beneficial to set aside time to identify the set of company values and determine HOW they will be incorporated into recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and company and HR policies. These values behind the company culture even affect the types of benefits offered to your current small team and future employees. Therefore I strongly recommend doing this in the beginning stages of forming your eCommerce.

2 – Building the company culture you always dreamt of

There is no harm in dreaming about the future when you start your business. In fact, it is more important than you might think. Within the dreaming, you are building the foundations of your company’s future, including your company’s culture.

Make sure to have a clear vision about how you like to work. What would the company of your dreams look like? How would people interact? What kind of people would be working there? How would the workplace look? Or would it be a 100% remote company? What is the role you would have, and how much time would you like to spend on certain areas of responsibility?

What is your preferred working style? For example, I need a lot of freedom and flexibility in my working schedule. So while setting up my processes I had build in as much flexibility as I could, and I did this from the beginning. And of course, I will give my business partners, interns and team members the same space that I need, thus creating a company culture with high flexibility in schedules and location.

As a founder you have a white canvas. I don’t want you to build a prison for yourself!

3 – Align your vision with your cofounders and/or investors.

The word “culture” is connected to the meaning “to cultivate”. You have to consistently work on making your vision a reality. It also means you have to be able to make tough decisions. Working with co-founders and investors that are not aligned with the company vision is a recipe for disaster. This disaster might not even be immediate, but it might unfold in a later stage in your business, which could potentially lead to financial risks.

4 – Find your tribe

Even if you are in the very beginning stages, chances are that you’re already looking for people to be apart of your organization, even if you are not hiring them. See yourself as a “networked organization” – you work with partners that are part of the journey to deliver awesome value to your clients.

Everybody in your “ecosystem” should be aligned with what your company stands for.

This could be the bank where you choose to open your bank account, the web designer who will build your website, the marketer who helps with your communication outreach, and even your accountant.

It might feel abnormal at first, but being aware and consistently looking for partners that fit your values, will be very important in building your organization when you reach the point of hiring your first interns and freelancers. What is important for you and the business? What and who fits within your business philosophy? If you sell sustainable products, you might want to be looking for a bank that invests in sustainable projects, for example.

As an eCommerce company you are obviously looking for a business partner to deliver your products to your clients. Therefore your shipping partner should also be aligned with your core values and what you believe in. It helps making the right choice in employees, freelancers and third-parties a little easier. When I interviewed Jorn Spiertz, one of the founders of Shiptimize, it became very clear that he believes in a culture of trust, where founders give their employees a lot of freedom and flexibility, but also responsibility (read the interview here). And that is something that is very much aligned with Hello Monday’s core values, and these shared values are a requirement for a successful partnership or business relationship.

Alignment on this level should be part of your decision making process to decide to work with a partner, and in the end this may be even more important than pricing or other conditions.

5 – The importance of your very first team members

The first people in your team (even if they are freelancers or interns) will probably have a lot of influence on what the company culture will be. They are the ones who will be determining the way people interact, the main processes, the tone of voice and the overall culture. Think about finding a crew to cross the ocean on a sailboat. They need to have the right skills, but also create an amazing team and experience. So make sure to be selective with who you take on board!

 

And if you want to learn more about attracting and hiring the right people and creating an awesome workplace culture from the beginning here at Hello Monday we are always ready for a chat. After all, it is very important to set up a company culture that will grow as your business grows.

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