How to Start a Startup Lecture: Company Culture and Building a Team

Presenters: Alfred Lin, Brian Chesky (AirBnB)

What is company culture?

  • “Every day (A) and (B) of each member of the team in pursuit of our company (C)”
    • A- Assumptions, beliefs, values, core values
    • B- Behaviors, Actions
    • C- Goals, BHAG, mission
  • Why does it matter?
    • First principles
    • Alignment
    • Stability
    • Trust
    • Exclusion
    • Retention
    • ALSO… if you look at a comparison of the fortune 100 best companies to work for vs. the S&P 500/Russell 3000 is over double the stock market return.
  • Core value worksheet – go through this list and create your core values around the answers
    • As the leader, what personal values are most important to you?
    • What are the most important values for business success?
    • What values will you look for in employees
    • What could never be tolerated? (consider the opposite as values)
    • Remember to incorporate your mission into you core values
      • Credible
      • Uniquely tied to your strategy
  • You need more depth than just key words like (integrity, teamwork, honesty…)
  • Pyramid from Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team
    • See my post on it
  • Best practices
    • incorporate your mission into your habits
    • make it a daily habit
    • performance = think harder, deeper, longer about your values
    • interview for culture fit
    • evaluate performance on culture as well


Q&A w/ Brian Chesky

  • AirBnB was never meant to be ‘the big idea’ – it was meant to be the idea that would pay for the bills while they thought of their big idea
  • He found two great people that made him uncomfortable because he had to raise his game so much
  • Step one is to build a great product, then you realize you need to build a great company. Build a company that will endure:
    • companies that were around for a really long time have a clear mission/set of values
    • AMZN, AAPL, etc. Culture needs to be designed
    • What they learned – behaviors can change, but you need the principles and ideas that are unique to you.
    • What are the 3-6 unique things. What is different about you than every single other person??? Do this exercise for yourself and your company.
    • They hired their first person after about 6 months. It took reviewing thousands of applicants to hire their first engineer.
    • 2 of AirBnB’s 6 values
      • Champion the mission – they want people to be there because of the mission, not the job/valuation/etc.
        • Their mission is to give a sense of belonging wherever you go. They will always be about the that mission, regardless of whether they are actually
        • “if you had 10 years left to live, would you take this job?” if what you are meant to do is something else, you should go do that.
      • Another value: be a serial entrepreneur. They believe constraints bring out creativity. You need to be scrappy and frugal.
  • Issues with the culture
    • nobody ever tells you that you need to build a great culture
    • it is hard to measure
    • it doesn’t pay off in the short term
  • Culture
    • what is unique to you that you stand for
    • hire and fire based on these values
    • When you interview, make sure they are world class, and they fit the culture
      • They have value interviewers as well: not technical people that are just gauging the values
  • Culture vs. Branding
    • Brand is the promise outside the company
      • your brand evangelists are your employees
  • AirBnB wanted to make travel make you feel more like a human.
    • Hosts are partners, and they should have the same values you do.
  • Companies need a mote to protect them: AirBnB had the largest network effects, they share a lot of open source tech.
  • Best advice from Paul Graham: it’s better to have 100 people that love you than a million people that sort’ve like you. Do things that don’t scale.
    • They created a button that sent them a message and they would go to peoples houses to take professional photos. They automated it only after they knew what the perfect way to do it was.



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