No sooner have we decided digital is imperative than I.T., Marketing, Ecommerce, Tech and Communications descend into a bun fight.

When I thought more about the nest of snakes that corporate culture can be (be thankfully doesn’t have to be), I decided it would be more productive to dwell on the delights of startup culture.

Behind the workplace tropes (ping pong, beer, takeout) and seat-of-your-pants risk involved in working at an early stage startup, just what is startup culture?

What is startup culture? 

The chance of a promotion and a pay rise

This is by virtue of a startup’s growth.

Big corporates must emulate this and promote as much as is possible, something that banks have recently woken up to, as new talent begins to think ‘why the heck should I kill myself for you?’

Top MBA graduates are now 40% less likely to choose banking as a career, with some looking to tech instead.

Bank of America reacted by this year announcing earlier promotion for analysts and associates.


Again a virtue of diminutive organisation size.

Open-plan offices have been de rigueur for a while now at big corporates. But the advantage that startups have is that often their entire organisation is a cross-functional team.

As companies get bigger, Accounts, Sales and, crucially, Tech get their own domains on their own floors. I.T. can be thought of only as a ticketing system (however agile).

What co-location does is increase the efficiency of communication. Small issues can be raised without fear of bureaucracy or being ignored.

Meetings don’t have to be scheduled weeks in advance – minutes can be grabbed here and there, with employees empowered to act. 

Productive informality

I can’t remember where I first saw this phrase, but it was in an excellent blog post somewhere.

Productive informality is enabled by co-location, but it’s more than that.

It’s a get-on-with-it attitude that dictates a loose reign for managers who trust employees to tread the right side of ‘process’.


Getting on with it

Targets that are too prescriptive, too detailed and reviewed too seldom can cripple employees who are afraid of committing to something that ‘isn’t my job’.

The review process is ongoing, it’s the other side of a coin of responsiblity, opposite self-awareness (I’m writing quickly and don’t have the time to change that metaphor).

A focus on long-term revenue

A startup is all about money ‘then’ not ‘now’.

The focus to begin with is product and funding, then user adoption, then service, then marketing.

Only corporates that allow a division to take a long-term view can achieve new and disruptive product development.

Democracy (unless the founder weighs in)

There’s still a management structure in a startup, of course.

But every member of staff is invested enough in the project to be respected for their views.

Ultimately, the founder may say ‘we’re doing it my way’, but not until others have had their say.


If you watch Silicon Valley, the HBO series, you’ll know that the joke of series one was startups who said they were going to ‘change the world’.

It’s funny because it’s true. This zeal for product and company mission is what engenders ownership of brand and service.

Some of that startup confidence needs to be bottled, and pumped into ailing corporates. Never diss the product.

A ‘fake’ poster for Pied Piper, advertising the new series of HBO’s Silicon Valley.

pied piper

Recruiting for personality AND skills

This is what every company tries to do, big or small.

However, through sheer numbers of applications, HR departments in big organisations have to discount some people who haven’t ticked every box.

Goldman Sachs is using machine learning to better sort through the 40-50 applicants per position.

This is a tricky one to get right but it is so important. To quote Richard Branson from LinkedIn:

The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.

…Great grades count for nothing if they aren’t partnered with broad-ranging experience and a winning personality.

If you hire the wrong person at the top of a company, they can destroy it in no time at all.

Flexible working

Working all hours or working none. Working everywhere or nowhere.

There’s a lot of truth in Marissa Meyer’s assertion that corridor meetings are important – teams need to interact.

But quite simply, the employee who can stay at home and take delivery of a refrigerator/ fibre-optic internet connection/ leather swing without taking holiday is far more likely to double their efforts at home and when back in the office.

Those pesky millenials just love to sit in a Hackney/Williamsburg cafe on a Friday afternoon (stereotype alert).

Using the best tools

1. Can I have a Mac please? Can I use Google Drive?

2. Sure – as long as you use two-step authentication and never share outside our domain.

That is the response of an enlightened business owner.

1. What about Slack?

2. Is that a new band?

1. No, it’s a messaging tool that would really help some of our teams?

2. Great – I’m glad we hired you.

A healthy ratio of tech to non-tech

Techies should not be too busy to dip into ad hoc work (like everyone else in the office) because the I.T. Head has calculated exactly how much resource he needs to complete the current pipeline.

Access to the leader

Culture is passed down from the top and becomes dyed in the wool.

If the leader is only in the office once a month (and not just in his/her office), you should be worried.


All the above are perks (to those who have never known them).

Throw in some free drinks (without caveating their provision in a boring email) etc. etc.


Can big corporates achieve all of these things? I don’t know, but the challenge is their’s.

Better that than wrestling for ‘control’ of digital, something that should eventually be too pervasive to be wrangled by just one person, team or department. 

If you’re interested in talking to Econsultancy, check out our Digital Transformation resources.