Venture Building HR - 5 min

Why you need to start with your company culture

Discover the importance of company culture and why we believe it is a prerequisite to building successful companies

Zsuzsanna Wellinger

Zsuzsanna is head of culture at Stryber

I recently read a book — Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by journalist John Carreyrou.

The book covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes. In the book I got a glimpse into a company culture to the opposite of what my company values. The startup — as described in the book — perfectly lacked any cultural focus, misled and disrespected its employees, which resulted in extremely high levels of frustration. In such a culture nothing can flourish.

This book was particularly interesting for me, as my job as Head of Happiness in cooperation with the management is to make sure that the Stryber team has all it needs for high performance. Recent studies, for example the one led by the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford show that happy employees drive profits, as high-engagement organizations have people that are overall up to 20 percent more productive.

“I want to be a billionaire”

Without a doubt, Elisabeth Holmes was an iconic figure with a captivating personality and — in spite of her young age — was said to be the female version of Steve Jobs. Already at the age of 9, she told her family she wanted to be a billionaire when she grew up. She had a vision and sold a story, her story, a personal story. There was only one problem: The story only had little relation to the truth.

She had always been afraid of needles hence she felt the urge to help those who needed taking blood samples. She wanted to take the process out of the hospital environment and bring it home to the couch. Elisabeth‘s vision was to create a small digital blood test device for home use. This would have also made life more comfortable and less painful for those who are coping with a serious illness and need constant regular blood checks. “Only one drop of blood is enough”- as she initially claimed.

…by any means necessary

This was without a doubt an ambitious project which attracted wealthy investors like the now-poorer heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton. Elisabeth became a celebrity and received huge international publicity. The world was shocked to discover it has all been a fraud. The company was struggling to deliver the results, and instead of being transparent about it, they chose to fake the numbers. The device was in many cases not able to deliver reliable numbers, jeopardizing the lives of the users. Elisabeth has risen high and fell big. It is shocking how far this corporate fraud got. Theranos deceived its clients, its investors as well as its own employees. After being accused of securities fraud; falsing statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance, the company announces its closing in an email to investors in 2018. Its remaining employees were laid off. The world’s youngest female billionaire will now face a trial over ‚massive fraud‘ in July 2020.

Theranos had at its peak 800 employees on board. How was it like to work for a company based on such a lie? Elisabeth had to make sure the real data about the lack of results would never leave the company walls. She therefore, had an almost paranoid need to control information flows within and outside of the company. Theranos threatened its employees when they spoke up, fired those in an instant who asked critical questions, or who made critical comments. Theranos was a company with a culture strongly controlled by fear. Complete lack of transparency and isolation of employees. Those who were initially so excited and motivated to be part of the mission of creating a device for preventing illnesses and saving lives, had to discover that they were tricked into a business which in fact put lives to risk. This led to constant frustration and fluctuation within the company. High performance was expected but no transparency was provided.

Stryborgs say about Stryber — “I am impressed by the passionate and open-minded culture.”

Company culture is everything

A great employee experience boosts employee engagement. Furthermore, employee engagement boosts performance and employee retention. It is a win-win situation for the company and the team members.

I am a proud employee of Stryber with a fast growing team of 80 passionate entrepreneurs who are all treated as adults and can manage their own time. A multinational company in which the communication about the company’s vision, mission and values and what they mean for the individual are transparent and clearly communicated. Here, challenging comments and questions are highly appreciated.

Stryber is culture focused. This approach already starts at recruiting. One of the main pillars of Stryber‘s recruiting process is the cultural fit. Reaching the goals as a team is impossible without having a similar mindset and a shared value system among its members. At Stryber the company values are not just empty words. Talented people with matching principles have been recruited so that the company‘s and the personal value system is aligned. As a result of which, out of our 84 hires during 3 years, there only have been less than 3 percent miss-hire and less than 10 percent resignation. In the latter data team members are also counted in who changed to one of our carved out ventures or pulled up a business on their own. Every Stryborg can — at any time — change into the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program and build his/her own venture. Passionate entrepreneurship, respectful honesty, constant learning & growing and professional excellence are well represented values at Stryber. As a result we enjoy working every day in a fun and like-minded team of innovative and hands-on Stryborgs (this is how we call ourselves) committed to building great products that people really love.

Looking at the hardware of a company, there is much potential for improving employee satisfaction. For instance, the company’s location has a significant impact on our happiness. Stryber is based in three beautiful European cities: Munich, Zurich and Kiev. The 2018 Monocle Survey ranked Munich and Zurich amongst the world’s top livable cities. Given the multiple locations, we have a vivid remote culture. Wanna work a few days from a beach? No problem, as long as the high quality work is delivered in time.

Yep, we have mostly Millennials in the team. And they are amazing to work with.

“Clients will never love a company until the employees love it first.” — Simon Sinek

Having a great team, exciting projects and a beautiful location is still not enough. Mix in a couple of typical startup ingredients: A stimulating and fun co-working spaces, flexdesk, table tennis, kicker or a beer tap are important ingredients for our millennial dominated (74 percent) team. We spice the whole thing up with efficient communication and project management tools as well as reliable Apple equipment. We choose healthy office snacks over chocolate and motivate each other to live a high standard lifestyle, including sports and a healthy diet. The company culture is everything. A healthy and happy team performs well and is more productive. It is working. How do we know it? The team keeps referring the company to their private network. Stryber lays great importance on referrals because who else would know who’s best for Stryber than its own employees. Almost 10 percent of the team have joined the company after being inspired by the enthusiasm of the Stryborgs already on board. The company culture requires constant attention to notice when something needs to be adjusted. In order not to overlook a necessary step, regular engagement surveys help that the team regularly has the opportunity to reflect on how well they are at work and raise an issue — should there be one. This enables the company to take immediate actions before negative dynamics might take place.

Stryber is committed to maintaining an environment where everybody is engaged and excited about the work they do every day. There is an incredible amount of efficiency a company gains when succeeding in creating such a culture. And it is simply so much fun!