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Culture Shock: Lessons I’ve Learned about Building a Strong Company Culture from My Time at a Startup

Feb 22, 2023 11:09:18 AM | 5 min read


When I started at Suralink in 2019, I was employee number eleven. I’d come from a much larger organization, so the change to a startup—and everything that entails—was a bit of shock, to say the least. 

When I joined the company, our founders had done an amazing job creating a positive and supportive atmosphere. But then, like virtually every other company around the world, we went remote when Covid-19 hit. And the company kept growing. And all of a sudden, we were forced to face a few fairly obvious truths all at the same time: it’s easy to build and maintain a culture when you have eleven employees. It’s easy to get to know each other and learn about each others’ lives and working styles. It’s much less easy to maintain those types of relationships as the company continues to grow and you’re not seeing each other face-to-face every day. 

With that in mind, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned as we’ve struggled to build a supportive, inclusive, and positive workplace culture.

At this point you might be wondering why a marketing executive is writing about culture anyway. Isn’t that HR’s job? I’m glad you asked … because that’s the first lesson I learned. 

Your company’s culture belongs to everyone. It sounds trite, but it’s also true. I was the first executive leader to join the Suralink team outside the founders. And for the first few months while I was getting ramped up, I wasn’t as busy as everyone else on the team. So with that extra time, I decided I’d start supporting our company culture however I could. 

Creating a company or a team where people want to work has always been important to me, so I decided to step in. Was I the only choice or the best choice? Probably not. But it was something I felt passionate about and I was given the runway to make things happen. 

So we just figured it out. Everyone pitched in. We created a culture committee made up of employees from a variety of different departments and encouraged all employees to share ideas for culture and team building activities. We created our corporate values. We encouraged employees to recognize each other on a daily basis. We started our yearly in-person summer work week. 

We didn’t (and still don’t) always get it right. There have been more than a few culture fails. But I hope we’ve built a culture where each individual employee feels like they are both the creators and owners of that culture. Because the responsibility of a truly powerful company culture is a responsibility that belongs to everyone.

The second lesson we learned, and I’m sure it seems obvious, is to hire good people. I don’t mean talented people, although that’s important as well. I mean good people. People with integrity. Who are team players. Who want to contribute to a healthy culture. Who want to participate. 

I always hear that culture starts at the bottom, or that the executive team shouldn’t be responsible for the company’s culture. And, in a way that’s true … as I just talked about, your culture belongs to everyone. (Although, it's almost virtually impossible to build a healthy culture if your leadership team hasn't bought in.) But for a good culture to thrive, it must be driven by good people. And who is in charge of hiring people? Executives, managers, and leaders. 

In my personal experience, people tend to hire other people who share their core values. So if you have executives and managers who are genuinely good people—meaning they have integrity, they’re honest and transparent, they care about their employees beyond wringing every drop of work out of them, and they’re empathetic and compassionate—chances are they’ll hire other people with those same qualities. 

This isn't always as easy as it sounds. It takes dedication and time. And sometimes it means passing on a wildly talented person who you know doesn't share your same values. And sometimes it means taking months to hire instead of weeks. But in my experience, it's always worth it.

Fostering an amazing culture was relatively easy when we were a startup. We’re long past the startup days now, but the lessons we’ve learned have continued to serve us well as we’ve tried to grow and maintain that culture.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a magical key that will unlock the type of culture you’re looking to build. But by bringing your employees into the decision-making and culture-building process, and hiring the right kind of people, you’ll be at least one step closer. 



Meghan Mitton is the VP of Marketing at Suralink. Meghan has more than 15 years of experience building and managing marketing teams in the B2B tech space, including in communications, product marketing, demand, and creative roles.