To Be a Great Start Up, Set Up Your Core Values Early!

So you launch your start up and you are more than busy ever in your life with tasks such as delivering an MVP, establishing product market fit and speaking to potential investors.  The last thing that you are thinking about is putting together your Company’s Core Values.  Core Values are essentially a formalized description of your company’s culture.  What’s the rush in doing them now?  Aren’t they for big corporations?  Like Tony Hsieh of Zappos has reflected, putting together Core Values should be done at the beginning.  They are the guiding principles on how you plan to run your business.  How you and your co-founders work together, who you hire and how you treat your customers are all based on your Core Values.  You need to make sure it is clear what they are and are adhered to.  It was not something we did at Community Connect until 5 or 6 years after we started the company.  Not only did we do them too late but in really reflecting on it, we didn’t do a lot of things right in putting them together.  In working with start ups, I have a couple guiding principles in putting together Core Values:

1. They need to be incredibly important.  The rule here is that you need to be able to hire and fire based on your Core Values regardless of performance.  So for example, you may have an incredible mobile app developer which finding is like finding a unicorn.  However, if she/he doesn’t live up to any of your Core Values you need to fire that person right away.   Is that hard?  It should be.  That’s how big of a deal these Values are.

2. They need to inspire.  Be careful here.  You need to make sure  that they don’t get watered down and sound incredibly generic and corporate like “Teamwork”, “Integrity” and “Excellence” .  Zzzzzzz…..oh sorry, I fell asleep just writing them out.    Your values need to inspire and ideally feel different.  Think about what makes a cult a cult.  It is a group of people that is inspired by certain values or beliefs which they feel are different from how others think.  If you can get to a cult like level……you just crushed it with inspiration!

3. Ideally 3.  No more than 5.  Look.  Good Christians can’t even remember all ten commandments.  They do remember a few of them like “Thou shall not kill” and that was probably more important than “Remember the Sabbath day”.   So limit them to the few that most people can remember.  If people can’t remember then what is the point of having them!

4. Run Your Company on Them.  Always ask yourself in your hiring process and employee feedback or performance reviews whether or not the person lives up to your Core Values.  If you are not sure, make sure you find out.  Having just one person at your company who doesn’t live up to your Core Values will completely compromise your company culture.   This is a real discipline and needs to be driven by example from the top.  Bom Kim who is the founder and CEO of Coupang is the best entrepreneur I have ever worked with.  One of the key reasons why is that he is so disciplined at adhering to the Core Values.  I have talked to him about certain people that I thought were smart and talented and he would not have them in his company because he won’t risk compromising the culture at Coupang.  If your employees are making a Harlem Shake video (in Korea by the way) and feel compelled to put up signs of the company’s core values……I think that is a sign that you did a really good job.

When joining High Peaks Venture Partners, I realized that Core Values for the firm were never established.  Brad and I agreed that we need to have them in place as the basis of how we run the firm.  We did it with the entire team collaboratively and since then have used it incredibly often as we reflect on the direction that we want to take High Peaks.  Here are our Core Values:

1. No A–holes

2. Be the First Call

3. Do the Work

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