Creating A Great Startup Culture

This is an influencer post by Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight

A great office culture goes beyond the perks that come standard with any Bay Area startup these days (ping pong, beer on tap, catered lunches and Macbook Airs) – though these things are, of course, important both for creating an environment your team will love showing up to every day and for recruiting the best talent possible.


But a truly great office/startup culture is also about the people who work there, the connection they have to the company and the connection they have to each other. It’s about the right people, in the right roles, and giving them the right chances to do something great.

The right mix of people

Office culture starts with the people. At HotelTonight, we’ve strived to recruit a top-notch team with diverse backgrounds – people who might not have ever found themselves working together in previous roles, but who come together here to deliver terrific work, and have fun doing it. In fact, to create this diverse culture, we’ve consciously avoided hiring many people from the online travel industry.

Finding people who are a fit for your team culture is just as important as finding those who perfectly fit a job description. When bringing in a candidate, we schedule them for multiple interviews with people from across all teams. We’ll often invite interviewees over for lunch or happy hour at the office, or take them out for a drink or coffee in a casual setting, so we can get to know them outside of the more official interview process. And interviews go beyond asking about skillsets and past work experience – we like to engage in real conversation, asking where they’d next like to go on vacation, what they do on the weekends and about their favorite apps. No matter how important it is to fill a role, it’s even more important to spend the time finding the right person, who will mesh well with your existing team and bring new, complementary skills (and personality) to the table.

Foster cross-team connections

Our new office is much larger than our previous one, and after few months of settling into the space we realized we were just too spread out. So we recently held the “HT Slide,” where everyone shifted their desks 50 feet south to fill a gap between development and the rest of the company. A small change, but it went a long way in helping create a cohesive, undivided environment.

Similarly, we have a European HQ in London, a customer support team spread out across the country and handful of staff who work from home. Between the time changes and the lack of face-to-face interaction, it could be easy to feel disconnected. To combat that, we use free Google Hangouts instead of phone calls, we read notes from our (physical and virtual) Compliment Jar in our weekly team meetings, and we go out of our way to involve everyone in company-wide projects even if they’re not physically sitting in our SF HQ.

Give employees the chance to grow and develop their skills (beyond their job description)

Our dev team regularly holds hack days where they have free reign to create and develop new product features and cool side projects (including Twitter-enabling the HT Gong) and we recently launched a initiative where employees can pitch game-changing ideas to the executive team, recruit a team of collaborators and make their visions happen. I’ll share more in future posts, but these projects help HT team members grow their skills, build on their interests and collaborate with talented fellow HT’ers who they might not normally get the chance to work with on an everyday basis.

Make it easy to experience your company like a customer

Sometimes your team can be so close to your product that it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes, as an outside customer would. Providing your team with resources to genuinely use your product has a twofold benefit: it’s a great perk and it gives them a real-life user experience that’s incredibly valuable in their own work. We provide an annual travel stipend to the HT team to use on the app, which expires every year – use it or lose it. We look at the credits balances towards the end of the year, and if anyone hasn’t utilized this perk, we’ll make sure they do.

Make It Fun

And yes, those aforementioned perks do make a difference. Office-wide cornhole tournaments, flair bartending demos, comfortable work space, free snacks and meals, subsidized gym memberships and a trust-based untracked vacation policy – these things do matter.

But you don’t necessarily need a huge budget to keep your team happy. Find out what matters to them most – is it free snacks, or would they rather have breakfast once a week? Is a ping pong table a must, or would an old-school Super Nintendo be just as popular? Is the chance to pitch a wild idea and be given the resources to work on it more important than any tangible in-office perk? Send out a survey or engage in a conversation over lunch – learn what would make your team happy by asking what would make them happy.

Fostering a dynamic and open office culture benefits everyone – your team, your customers and you. I get as much of a kick out of seeing people from different teams coming together to build great things as I do seeing them posting pictures of their team pool parties or gathered around our bar on a Friday night because they genuinely like spending time with each other (and not just because the drinks are free).

How do you/would you create great office culture?

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Disclaimer: This is an Influencer post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire and the editor(s). This article was initially published here

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