The culture that has given you so much success and brought you so far will, at some point, prevent you from taking your company to the next level.

There is an interesting pattern that happens in virtually every successful startup, regardless of their industry.

The business starts with a Visionary (founder/owner/entrepreneur/whatever) and a dream. He or she adds a handful of like-minded Operators who get an incredible amount of work accomplished. Morale is high, and stuff is getting done. It may not always be pretty, but it works. There’s a strong and unifying company culture though that culture is probably not the one written on their walls, t-shirts, and hiring ads.

As more and more staff are added, the culture starts to change. Infighting and silos, leadership politics, and departmental turf wars all start popping up. It affects every level of the company from the very top to the front line (and even their customers). That once-strong culture feels like it is long gone. In its place are a bunch of people who can’t seem to work together at all. Many in the old guard are struggling to keep up. Many of the new hires don’t seem to fit in. Then some good people who were there at the beginning are fired or leave. If the company stays there long enough, the great ones will leave too. It’s not pretty.

I’ve heard many business owners lamenting this reality. For them, it feels like they are the only ones dealing with it. For them, they wish they could go back to the way things were. They want their nimble, agile startup culture back.

The truth is the very same culture that created so much success is now in many ways the root of the problem.

The Model

In this 4 part series, I’ll use the Predictable Success model to help explain why this happens to every successful organization, what your “real” values probably are, why they worked so well then, and why they are causing so much trouble now.

The Predictable Success model has seven stages that every business (every organization) goes through. For this series, we’ll focus on the first four: Early Struggle, Fun, Whitewater, and Predictable Success and their influence on culture.

Culture in Early Struggle

Quite honestly, we can summarize the culture of a business in Early Struggle in a single sentence:

Say yes, and do whatever it takes.

We don’t say this. Instead, we like to put all kinds of makeup on this statement. We call it innovation, passion, boldness, and agility. But the truth is, if we could get paid well for something that isn’t innovative, we’re going to do it.

I would go so far as to take the highly unpopular stance that in Early Struggle, culture is an unaffordable luxury. If you can afford to be choosy on culture and invest hours upon hours in crafting a mission statement, you are either overfunded or wasting precious time, and your business’ chances of survival are scary low.

When you’re just starting out, and your bank account is going down every day, your cultural obsession should be the one thing that will enable you to survive: finding a profitable, sustainable market.

To help lighten this article up a bit, here are five values that will help you survive Early Struggle:

  • Determination
  • Enthusiasm
  • Resilience
  • Frugality
  • 100% done (80% right)

Yes, these are real values

Some of you may be wondering, are these real values, or are they just strategies. Frankly, I’ll leave that debate to the academics, but what I will say is this. There is an 80% chance your business won’t survive Early Struggle, and the only way that you will make it is to have values like these at the core of your business.

Stay tuned for the next article where we’ll see what culture looks like in the next lifecycle stage.