Establishing a Culture Code: 9 Lessons From Hubspot

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HubSpot (especially Dharmesh) is one of the handful of companies that continue to inspire me as an entrepreneur. I was super excited to get a sneak peak of their brand-new culture code presentation (embedded below) this week, and it was so awesome that I asked if I could share it with the Clarity community.

So here we go…

1. Giving a Shit Is No Longer Optional

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It used to be that we worked for the sake of work – a paycheck, something to do. But these days, work has evolved to become an extension of ourselves. Our work is our vehicle for changing the world to make it the kinda place we want to live in. HubSpot sums it up perfectly: we used to work for a pension, now we work for purpose. HubSpot even takes it a step further, boldly giving their team the right (not privilege) to work on something they believe in.

By putting passion at the very top of their culture code they are not only attracting staff, but building a tribe. A tribe of passionate do-ers who will actually derive happiness from moving the company’s goals forward.

And THAT, my friends is how you hire people who believe what you believe.

2. Be Obsessive About Your Customers

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Remember, there is no ‘culture’ without a company, and no company without customers. That’s why HubSpot’s SFTC (solve for the customer) motto is so important. HubSpot knows that we are living in a world where the customer is king. And if you aren’t producing/designing/whatever with the customer in mind, you’ll be left behind. By making the customer a part of their company culture, HubSpot is ensuring that they are building a team that is 100% driven to achieve their mission of delighting customers. They make the point that every single individual and team goal should be traced back to the overall company goal of creating value for their customers.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself (so I won’t).

3. Walk Around Naked With the Lights On

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Then: Power came from hoarding knowledge.

Now: Power is gained by sharing knowledge with others.

One of the bravest things that HubSpot has done is to commit to transparency and openness – even when it’s uncomfortable. In fact, that’s when transparency matters the most. While, legally, there are some things that you can’t share with your team, open access to information breaks down barriers to growth and prevents duplication of effort.

4. Save the Leash for Your Dog

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It used to be that organizations were running scared – of their own employees. They buried staff under binders of policies to protect themselves. But the price of these codes and policies is a loss of staff autonomy. HubSpot’s philosophy boils down to three words: use. good. judgement.

This resonates with me in a big way. I made it my mission to hire only the best, which means that I trust them to get shit done the right way, whether I’m there breathing over their shoulders (which I don’t do, by the way) or not. If you hired brilliant people, you are wasting precious time and money by micro-managing them. So for god’s sake just leave them alone when they’re doing their work.

5. Don’t Hire to Delegate, Hire to Elevate

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I love that HubSpot referenced Netflix’s famous slide deck on culture in their code. Netflix famously (and somewhat controversially) said “we’re a team, not a family. We hire, develop and cut smartly so we have stars in every position”. While it’s true that startups can feel like a family with the insane amounts of time that you spend together, and the emotional roller coasters you ride as a group, at the end of the day, your job isn’t to love each other, it’s to drive the business forward. Take care not only to hire the best, but to be sure that each new hire adds incremental value to the company and moves the needle forward…and don’t be afraid to cut.

6. Get a Better Status Quo

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One of the most exciting things about HubSpot’s culture is that they reward daring and boldness. They are creating an entire company of people who are crazy enough to think that they can. And that is exactly the kind of early hires that startups need. The people that are chomping at the bit to make their mark, and the people who get so fed up with bureaucratic crap that they automatically seek out ways to make everything they do more efficient.

You can’t find all the redundancies in your company alone. It takes a team of dedicated hustlers who have a vested interest in their work to take ownership and proactively fix problems when they find them.

7. The Case for Honesty

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge advocate for the use of data in decision-making. That is why I have huge respect for HubSpot’s commitment to clear, candid feedback and decision-making based on data – not on pulling rank. When you are hustling the early stages of a startup, it’s not about fighting over right and wrong – it’s about learning from your mistakes as fast as humanly possible. In order to do that, you need to create a culture where honest feedback is welcomed, not feared.

8. Invest in Individual Market Value

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We’ve all heard the expression “give kids roots and wings” when it comes to parenting and raising self-sufficient kids. But it turns out that this wisdom can also be applied to startups, too. Part of making your staff feel valued and supported is accepting that they probably don’t plan on staying with you forever and committing to be a part of their long-term growth – even beyond your company. HubSpot invests in the individual market value of each member team, knowing that the ROI of creating a global network of brilliant, connected people who are loyal to your company is huge.

9. Loosen Up a Bit

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Last but certainly not least, HubSpot believes in enjoying the work that we do. I think that the important thing to remember here is that there are two elements to ‘enjoying work’: 1) health and wellbeing, 2) fun. Both are equally important to creating an enjoyable work experience that keeps your staff happy and productive. While things like gym passes and healthy snack bars might not seem as ‘fun’ as kegs and ping pong in the break room, they are just as (if not more) crucial to creating a happy work environment.

Reinvent Your Wheel

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from building teams over the years, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all model for startup culture. At the end of the day, your people know best what they want. So when you’re planning for new company perks, it wouldn’t kill you to go talk to your staff about what they need.

Just sayin’.

Which code is your favorite?

Check out the presentation here:


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