Culture Matters: Laying the Foundation for a Great Startup

RhumbixJuly 19, 2017 • 6 min read

In the startup world, we’ve seen a lot of examples of the importance of establishing and maintaining company culture. Uber’s recent crisis is, of course, the prime example of what happens when a corporate culture goes bad. But there are others who are praised for their intentional approach to culture, like AirBnb who was famously told by Peter Thiel, “Don’t f*ck up the culture” in 2012 after investing $150M in their Series C.

Back in June of this year, we sat down with Jerry Chen, partner at Greylock and investor in Rhumbix. Jerry made an interesting statement during our interview about how culture is really part of the Intellectual Property of the company.

We couldn’t agree more. At Rhumbix, we’ve been very thoughtful about establishing the foundation of a healthy company culture. 

Early in our discussions as founders, Zach and I would talk about how a healthy company operates and what you need to establish as a foundation to make people successful in creating and embodying the ethos of the company. Our military backgrounds played a big role in these conversations, as did our time learning from professors and mentors at Stanford GSB.

Today, we continue to make culture a priority, and we’re experiencing the benefits. During our conversation with Jerry, three themes rose to the surface around aspects of our business that have been positively impacted by our early focus on building a strong, positive culture that I want to share about here.

1. Mission and Vision Attracts Talent

We’re fortunate to be building our business in the heart of the innovative technology culture of Silicon Valley, but the competition for great talent here is real. As Jerry Chen expressed in our interview, the technology industry is really a talent industry.

In recruiting, we’ve consistently found that culture, and specifically our vision to continuously improve the way the world is designed and built by delivering technology to workers first, is very attractive to prospective hires.

There is an inherent reward in creating a software product that impacts something you can see: bridges, roads, skyscrapers and other important infrastructure. You don’t find this kind of connection between technology and the built world at every company.

The other distinctive aspect of our mission is that we’re building solutions for individuals that have historically been overlooked by technologyConstruction craft workers are highly skilled, highly trained specialists that have spent years honing their skills. Nothing actually gets built unless these professionals do it.

And yet, most construction technology that exists today isn’t designed for them. We’re changing that paradigm at Rhumbix, and talented engineers, product designers and salespeople are attracted to the challenge of expanding the reach of technology from the home office to the jobsite.

2. The Veteran Mindset is Valuable in a Startup Environment

Going to war is unbelievable preparation for being an entrepreneur. At Rhumbix, 20% of our workforce is veterans, and they help reinforce the parts of our culture that are driven from that veteran mindset.

Since we combine that mindset with some of the culture best practices we learned while at Stanford and in Silicon Valley, Rhumbix team members that aren’t veterans have also found this combination to be powerful. They’ve gravitated quickly and have adopted the key tenets of the veteran mindset expressed in our core values

There are a lot of similarities between an early-stage startup and being in the military. For one, you’re working with limited resources, and typically with limited time to accomplish your objective. In this context, one thing we took away from the military was the importance of having people fully bought into the shared mission or objective. We replicate this value at Rhumbix by our “Workers First” mentality.

Small unit leadership is another similarity. The small unit leadership approach equips leaders throughout the organization to make independent critical decisions, and not just execute orders.

In the military, small unit leaders are trained and expected to make decisions with incomplete information in a rapidly changing environment. Steve Chiou, our Director of Product and Marine Corp veteran wrote about this principle in a recent post. Successful startups adopt a similar method of leadership. You’ve got to have a bias toward action because waiting is often the difference between winning and losing.

The first several years of the startup experience can feel like a roller coaster ride sometimes. One day, you’re on top of the world after winning a new contract. The next day, you’re sweating bullets because of a competitor’s counter move to your progress. This volatility is another aspect where the veteran mindset can make a big difference.

In a world where the average tenure at a job is one to two years, veterans come out of an organization where they didn’t have an opportunity to quit.

You get the job done.

You take the hill.

This is the attitude and ethos veterans bring to the companies and organizations they join.

3. Workers First: Our Contrarian Belief

In his book Zero to One, Peter Thiel talks about how important it is for an entrepreneur to believe something that few others do.

For us, it’s our belief that construction workers are honest, hardworking individuals that absolutely want to do better work but just aren’t given the digital tools they need to succeed.

We’ve had to defend this belief from pushback since day one, but we’ve stayed the course because we really, truly believe it.

And we want our team to believe it as much as we do.

So every single one of them spends time on the jobsite with our end users who are our champions. When we hire a new employee, we give them a hard hat, safety vest, and steel-toed boots because we expect them to be on the jobsite learning from our customers.

We don’t want this to be some abstract problem they’re solving. We need this to be something they’ve lived or experienced to the extent that all Rhumbix employees feel they really understand what a foreman and his or her crew need.

Our investors can attest to our commitment to workers because it comes up in every product decision, every marketing decision, every pricing decision we make. We’re constantly asking, “How does this impact the craft? How does this make their life better?”

Culture Sets a Company Apart

At the end of the day, culture is truly what sets a company apart. And beyond building great field technology, that is what we’re really looking to build at Rhumbix.

When we look at the future of construction, there are a lot of predictions for what that might look like, but one thing we see that will stay with us is the value of the people.

You can’t build great stuff without great people, and our focus is on creating an enduring company with a strong, healthy, positive culture that is putting the tools the craft workforce needs and wants in their hands.