Six ways to keep a startup culture in a corporate world

If you do an image search online for ‘startup culture,’ you probably won’t be surprised by what you find. 

Mostly, you’ll see a group of people huddled around their laptops in a basement, all clutching cans of Red Bull; a young guy in a hoodie and sneakers brainstorming at a white board; an office that looks a little more like an arcade or a theme park than a place where actual work gets accomplished.

What might surprise you is that while these examples may be accurate in some cases, they’re definitely not everything.

While I have personally never worked at a just-forming startup, I’ve been with Citrix supporting the ShareFile team for a little more than a year now, and I hear references to our startup culture all the time. But, we have close to 500 employees working in our office now; we’re no longer the new kid on the street. And yet, our culture still feels new and exciting, and well, awesome.

So, how did this office, which started as one person and an idea that turned into an acquisition and the nearly 500 employees we have today, get its original and amazing culture, and more importanty, how did it keep it?

For the answer to this question, I sat down with my good friend and colleague Laura Ivey. Laura joined ShareFile back in 2009 before we became a part of Citrix, which made her ShareFile employee No. 28. From that group huddled around laptops in a room to our current place at Citrix, she’s seen it all.

What she had to say didn’t surprise me. As it turns out, it isn’t our bean bag chairs, our pool table, the unlimited snacks and drinks in the kitchen or our special treats on Snack Wednesday that make a startup culture. Those things are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not what makes us special.

Here are the 5 things that she thinks allowed Citrix ShareFile to have and keep its culture, from day one until now.

  1. We work at all times to deeply understand and serve our customers’ needs
  2. We are data driven
  3. We try to raise the bar for customer service
  4. We hustle each day like the world depends on it
  5. We learn from our mistakes and successes so we can improve every single day

I’d like to add a sixth thing to her list. People.

It’s the people like Laura, who were here at the beginning, that know that what we have is more than pool tables. More than free protein bars and even the yoga studio at our new office, our people really are our most valuable assets. It’s talented people we’ve recruited before and since that keep our culture strong, even though we’re no longer a startup.

What values do you think allow a company, big or small, new or old, to still be a startup at heart?