How Office Chairs Ruined My Startup’s Culture : Entrepreneur


We started our last business TrackR in a garage with a bunch of desks and chairs that were left on the street in Isla Vista. This is how most startups begin is trying to find the cheapest office furniture you can get because you have no money and would never think of wasting cash on swanky office furniture (the exception here is if you have clients visiting your space so you figure out incentive ways to look better than the story your balance sheet tells). While the cost savings from an overall perspective is insignificant, the action sparks a myth, which in turn creates a culture.The startup whose CEO bought nice furniture for himself/herself, while getting budget IKEA furniture for everyone else creates a certain myth. The founder who gets the nicest setups for all of his/her employees creates a different myth. I went budget for everyone and that helped create the myth I wanted. We don’t have extra cash to spend on ourselves and we are here for the mission, no the startup perks.Did we scare people off? Yep. But it was an effective point in culture building where we had no idea what we were doing.Eventually, we became “successful” and we began to hire more rapidly. At this point, we got some requests that would come in for nicer chairs, stand up desks, cool office gear. I said no to almost everything and didn’t think much of these requests. But I should have. These requests were signs that our frugal culture was coming apart due to rapid hiring, poor interviewing, faulty onboarding, and overall boneheadedness by me.Despite my lack of understanding of culture, the success continued and we grew. When we did a move to a new office, where I was happy we got the place completely furnished and was the cheapest option in town — including cheap chairs for everyone. However, the frugal culture came completely unhinged.As soon as we moved in, requests for nice office furniture and startup perks went completely off the rails. The culture of frugalness and being mission-driven was lost due to my mismanagement of our people systems and I found myself isolated in my own company. At this point, it was apparent to everyone that I no longer belonged. I passed the keys to new management who were enthused about where the business & culture was heading. They came from bigger companies that included cultures with lots of perks to help with retention/recruiting.Everyone’s chairs were upgraded to designer Herman-Miller chairs and the office was redecorated. This sparked a bonfire of cash because I didn’t rope in our culture back to our roots of frugalness. I assembled all the kindling for the company to burn cash uncontrolled.So my lesson is to align my business goals and culture especially around how the office looks. Then pay very close attention to the small things affecting culture.At Shine, 2 of our conference room chairs are broken & all the furniture was free. I feel at home.Full Post –


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