This is a guest post contributed by Corey McAveeney, founder of Kulturenvy LLC, a cultural strategy company based in Boston. 

What is Startup Culture?

At the most basic level, startup culture is an opportunity to hack growth. And Boston is an easy sell. We’ve got thriving startups plus a community of people who see the advantage of being part of the culture conversation. The term “startup culture” is not a mere reference to making employees feel warm and fuzzy; it’s a substantial part of many teams’ operating strategies, not to mention their brand strategy. Startup culture is used to leverage risk, improve performance, and implement innovative initiatives. The term “startup culture” is used heavily in our innovation community, but to truly understand what it is, it’s best to differentiate it from what it is not: corporate culture. However, companies that are beyond the definition of a startup can also have a startup culture.

Startup Culture Origins

In 1985, photojournalist Doug Menuez began photographing Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley icons from companies like Adobe to Microsoft. In his words, Menuez was “… documenting the process of innovation and development of technology through the human story.” Menuez spoke at Flash Forward, a photography exhibit at the Fairmont Battery Wharf last Spring to promote his forthcoming book, Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution 1985-2000. At Flash Forward, he spoke of his time with Jobs and more notably, his unique position to watch the cultural transformation that was happening at these tech companies in the Valley.

While in Silicon Valley, Menuez recalled, “everything that was analog became digital.” He recounted his story of how engineers like Jobs dismissed corporate culture in favor of a more radical and impassioned approach to work. This new work culture was more than a paycheck; visionaries and engineers were working constantly and fueled by a desire to change the world. Menuez witnessed culture at tech companies evolve. He believes Jobs played a significant role in helping influence the current state of startup culture that has spread far beyond California. Many of us take our work environment for granted or believe that we have a lot more to do in the way of progress; but today’s startup culture trends sprung from leaders in tech innovation during a period when other industries were far more rigid in their cultural norms and hierarchies.

Startup Culture in Boston

The people who are joining startups at entry level and straight from school are driving Boston’s startup culture as much as the city’s startup founders and everyone else in between. Expectations and demands for flexibility, transparency, and authenticity make startup culture more appealing than the fate of other job opportunities. What’s driving many to be part of startup culture is the quest to contribute to a mission and make a noticeable impact; the concept of working beyond the paycheck.

With a town full of certifiable geeks, culture is fast becoming a component of the growing startups’ quantitative toolkit as well. Measuring growth and tracking the development of culture (especially in real time) adds an actionable and data-driven dimension to aspects of engagement, performance, hiring, etc. The quantified company culture can be just as fascinating as your REM sleep patterns and with Culture Amp*, Sociometric Solutions, and 15Five, the possibilities for analyzing a company’s culture are endless. Take, for example, Matt Lauzon, former CEO of Gemvara. Lauzon was so inspired by company culture that he’s now working on Dunwello, an app that streamlines employee feedback and fosters engagement.

The startup culture network in Boston has grown noticeably, and become synonymous with collaboration; start-uppers view each other as valuable resources for sharing experiences and inspiring change. The success of coworking spaces, the emphasis on non-profit oriented organizations like TUGG (Technology Underwriting the Greater Good) and Impact HUB, and the existence of meetups like the Greater Boston Startup Culture* talks are testament to the fact that people are seeking a place to collectively add value to their work. First time founders most regret not paying attention to their culture soon enough. Those with more experience provide valuable insight, mentoring our startup community. Culture is not limited to those in leadership roles. It boils down to the old adage “be the change you want to see”; people realize they have the power to participate in their workplace culture, and so they lead by example.

The best part is that the future of startup culture is in our hands.

Have a startup culture story worth sharing? Reach out to me at corey@cultureamp.com.

*McAveeney also works with Culture Amp and Greater Boston Startup Culture, at which she organizes events around culture. 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons