Start-up culture evokes many images. The film The Social Network showed employees working in a wide, open office, sitting on gymnastic balls while smiling at their computers. The comedy series Silicon Valley gives the impression of a carefree workspace, where you can show up in your pyjamas and are free to leave whenever you wish.

In reality, working a corporate job is connected to a list of unwritten commands you have to follow. Maybe your office consists of a small cubicle with minimal legroom. The sound of your boss’s office door opening sends a shiver down your spine.

Yet, a lot of people see a more friendly and productive work environment behind start-up culture. So why isn’t the industry changing to this new format? Why are some start-ups frowned upon whereas others flourish in the public eye?

Let’s take a closer look at what start-up culture is and how it can benefit you and your company.

Start-Up Culture: A Definition

The meaning behind start-up culture originated from aspects of work culture. Work culture itself can’t be pinpointed to a certain definition. It is for example determined by location, the industry you’re in, and how long the company has been running. However, even if all factors are identical, the work culture can be different.

Work culture, and by extension, start-up culture usually emerges over time. This is why start-up culture can’t be defined, either. Start-ups, as the name implies, are fledgling companies. They are just beginning to find their footing, so its culture is ever-changing.

Since its iteration, start-up culture has developed a reputation for being more welcoming than the traditional work culture in decades-old companies. This, along with the following four attributes, should be present in every start-up culture. Whether they are held up and lived by makes or breaks your company’s inner workings.

  • Authenticity: Diversity is the rule to follow. Everyone within the company must respect each other’s identity and beliefs. If your company needs help in this regard, hire a diversity manager. This focus on authenticity is different from traditional companies’ homogenization of expression.
  • Communication: No more barriers. Let your team know what you think and communicate with them. Knowledge and creativity work hand-in-hand. Information travels faster to the right people when you know the interest and strengths of your team.
  • Passion: Work is different here. It doesn’t feel like work at all. When passion takes over, time flies and this is important as there will often be long hours, especially at the beginning.
  • Personality: Stand out as a company. Show others what makes you unique. The more interest your company receives, the better. It’s free advertising and lets people know what they’re applying for.

What are the Benefits of Start-Up Culture?

Starting From the Ground Up –  Old companies went through their culture changes and arrived at their norm. They orientate their work culture to the industry standard, whereas start-ups redefine what makes them unique, attractive and most productive.

Engaging team members – It’s all hands on deck at a new business, which means your employees have to be proactive. By doing so, they can form closer bonds with each other and make the best out of these solid working relationships. It’s also easier to keep a small team engaged with regular team-building exercises. 

Office Perks – Since start-ups consist of fewer employees than big corporations, CEOs can treat them to meals and non-work related activities more often. These perks contribute towards boosting morale in the short term and retaining loyal employees in the long run. Going to work becomes more attractive. 

Clear Mission and Purpose – Being new to the game, a start-up has a few clearly-defined goals. This makes it easy to explain the overall mission to new employees. In turn, it becomes easier for them to focus on how they can contribute to helping the company achieve what they need to.  

What are the Downsides of Start-Up Culture?

Toxic Work Culture – Former TIME and Fortune editor Steve Koepp specifically attributes toxic work culture in start-ups to the pressure their millennial CEOs are under to succeed. With the need to scale great heights of success propelling them to work every day, they are willing to do whatever it takes to excel. Even if it comes at the cost of creating a healthy work environment.  

Less Pay – Not all start-ups have access to vast venture capital funding. Hence, this means that employees end up working more on a small salary. A low financial compensation might not be enough to keep employees satisfied with the direction the company is going in. This would lead to resignations over time. 

Long Hours. – With only a few employees to keep operations running, each team member has to put in long hours at work. A clearly defined purpose can only do so much in keeping employees motivated enough. Continuously working late reduces morale and leads to dissatisfaction.

Too Much Freedom – As appealing as it sounds, having free rein to direct a company can be a major drawback. Excessive freedom and inadequate guidance results in a lack of direction for the company and its employees. As a result, the sense of purpose with which the start-up was launched will diminish.  

How Can You Build a Good Culture?

Now that you’re aware of the pros and cons of start-up culture, it becomes a matter of knowing how to implement it accordingly. It is vital to engage with your employees and gauge the kind of work environment they thrive in. After listening to their feedback, you can incorporate their suggestions.

Realistically, not all of their suggestions might be feasible for the company’s overall mission. Hence, it’s also important to maintain transparency when defining your goals and how each employee can contribute to achieving success as a team. In this way, your employees feel like they are truly part of the company’s vision and that nothing is being kept from them. 

Additionally, transparency and good communication mitigate the downsides of start-up culture. With a clearly defined purpose and timeline, employees will remain motivated enough to power through long working hours on lower pay.  


Start-up culture presents many good opportunities for a company to get off on the right foot with employees. A closely-knit, passionate team that was forged through the initial challenges will positively influence new employees. While it won’t run smoothly all the time, a company that maintains a healthy start-up culture has a better chance of surviving. 

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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