June 15, 2021
8 min Read
There is something snazzy about being called a startup. What comes to your mind first? Flexible working schedules, unicorns, colorful open offices, pizza parties, and free snacks, or maybe family-like teams, countless hours on a laptop, and endless uncertainties?
In its purest form, a startup is defined as a company in the first stage of its operations, usually seeking proof of concept, market validation, and funding in order to scale. This definition has been expanded to include more ideas that make up a modern entrepreneurial company. While we do have a clear idea of what a startup is, there has never been an apparent line as to when a startup stops being a startup.
When does it really become a “company” in its traditional meaning and definition? And could a full-fledged company still keep some entrepreneurial elements in its approach and execution even after 5 or 10 years of operations?
We can refer to startups as the difference makers and the dreamers – hungry for achievements, desired to develop a unique product or service and bring it to the market by disrupting it. Likewise, Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, describes a startup as a company designed to grow fast with no time limit present. However, it still seems that such market-changing players like Uber, Amazon, Tesla are no longer called startups despite their continuous growth.
There have been many attempts to set a numerical limit on what separates a startup from a company by the number of employees, revenue, profit, funding specifics, and more. One of these, called the 50-100-500 rule suggests hanging up your Startup Uniform if any of the following guidelines could be applied to your company:
So what if your company achieved or surpassed these numbers but still feels like a startup at heart?
When being asked to define their company’s culture, employees often start talking about the flexible working environments, cool offices, attention to work-life balance, original events, and dynamic team structures. What truly is missing from these descriptions is the ability to articulate a company’s true identity, since “putting a ping pong table in the offices of IBM won’t make it a startup”.
“Entrepreneurs should play with and explore ideas, letting their strategies evolve through a seamless process of guesswork, analysis, and action” – has been stated in Amar Bhide’s How Entrepreneurs Craft Strategies That Work back in 1994. Via such play and exploration, startup culture has grown in stature over the last decade, creating an entire movement of companies that developed exciting, progressive, valuable products and services.
Thanks to innovative companies like Netflix, Facebook, Airbnb, and more, the startup mindset is now a relevant section in the modern business dictionary. Hence, this forward-oriented thinking is characterized by opportunity obsession, idea-drivenness, focus on execution, and readiness to change the course.
The research published by Harvard Business Review shows that there is a certain energy, or soul present in startups, which inspires employees to contribute their talent and enthusiasm, investors and customers to commit their money, and founders to believe that their ventures were something above their missions and business models. Based on such findings, the startup soul is laid out into three key principles, which help a company remain innovative and maintain continuous growth:
Company culture is never built in a day and is not just limited to organizational values and guiding principles. The major challenge is keeping these three elements on top of a business strategy and daily activities in order to preserve the startup soul and maintain entrepreneurial flair during the growth.
Hostinger was bootstrapped in 2004, and we’ve been on an epic ride ever since. It is already a fully-fledged, profitable business model that is rapidly scaling and leaving the original startup definition behind. The necessity to start talking about the culture at Hostinger arose when we began to look for a business approach on how to evaluate an employee’s performance without going into the emotional and personal assessment of work. Values of successful entrepreneurial companies like Netflix, Google, Amazon were the aspiration for us.
Therefore, from our perspective, startups are about the culture – the freedom to act, make decisions, follow principles and values as a guiding line in all business activities.
Culture is how we behave when nobody is watching. This is how we see the culture, and it is reflected in the principles of our work. High-pace, high-standards, result-orientation – this is a culture that encourages personal and organizational learning and growth.”
Gabija Marganavičė, Chief People Officer at Hostinger
The freedom to learn, investigate, make mistakes, experiment, and grow comes with considerable responsibilities. Since our culture stands as a merger between the guiding principles and the team, the people’s success is the company’s success at Hostinger.
Challenging stereotypes and standards in a multinational environment is a daily process here at Hostinger. Due to the current pandemic situation, more than 1000 employees from 35 countries worldwide work remotely. Culture is the central element that unites us all, and there is no recognized need to localize it, according to Justina Telyčėnė, People Partner at Hostinger.
“Subcultures occur, and they are greatly determined by the multiple localities at Hostinger. No matter which country our employees come from, our strategy and goals remain the same, requiring similar tools to achieve our objectives. Perhaps, one principle will appear more in one location than in the other, but the cultural environment must still be the same. Subcultures are acceptable as long as they work together towards a unified purpose and according to the same principles.”
Justina Telyčėnė, People Partner at Hostinger
By not localizing the culture, we aim to ensure that we are all on the same page and can accurately measure our culture’s individual and organizational impact. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Team Pulse methods are applied to work on the culture and improve it.
Based on NPS data, we can see whether employees are willing to recommend Hostinger as a place to work, followed by questions of what could be done better if the evaluation does not meet the maximum score. Accordingly, a monthly Team Pulse survey focuses on the five principles that an effective team must follow (psychological safety, dependability, structure & clarity, meaning of work, impact of work).
Here at Hostinger, we’re building a plane as we fly. As a startup expands, additional formal structures and processes must be added and applied to manage the business. And nothing is wrong with healthy corporate environments – they can bring transparency and simplicity if processes are efficiently arranged. Consequently, Hostinger’s example illustrates the new type of corporate structure, which includes business intent, customer connection, and employee experience as the main ingredients, all with an entrepreneurial flavor.
Unlike huge corporations, startups don’t have the luxury of a slow crawl – customers do not have the time to wait for a startup to adapt, and unfilled gaps to satisfy their needs are speedily filled in by competitors. Therefore, Hostinger’s true self consists of speed in decisions, testing through errors rather than waiting for the best option, and delivering quality results fast. Gintarė Stundytė, COO at Hostinger, defines us as “a bunch of people united by a few key elements: we like to deliver results, learn a lot, and do things fast. We know that happy customers are critical for a growing business, and we want to prove that Lithuania is a place where Unicorns are born.”
“Customer Obsession is what you live, eat, and breathe every day, 365 days a year. It is simply the way you run your company… always putting the customers’ well-being in front of everything else you are doing”, as stated by Blaine Millet, describes Hostinger’s customer connection as the key element of this new type of entrepreneurial corporation. We extensively research and strive to understand our customers better, working with great effort to earn and keep their trust.
Employees’ emotional ties with the company form gradually and exist as a two-way relationship between an organization and an employee. This kind of bond needs a constant boost to grow both individually and as a team. Therefore, in a fully-fledged organization like Hostinger, startup culture serves as an accelerator for employees to deliver results. And this is what we think motivates and makes the best people stay – curious colleagues and a fast-changing environment composed to deliver results.
From Hostinger’s experience, we’ve recognized a need for a startup to incorporate discipline and order into its business activities as it grows. Higher efficiency, maintained customer bond, and team connection are expected if such adjustments are implemented thoughtfully.
The culture will change together with the startup, whether we want it or not – and that is not something to be afraid of. Company culture stands as the only element that can never be copied by competitors.
These are some practical tips from Hostinger to maintain a startup culture even when you’ve made it big:
As a startup is driven by entrepreneurial ideas and the aim to create a sustainable business model, we could state that once a venture has proof that an idea works and achieves its potential by the growth of scale and revenue, it is no longer a startup. And we are not an exception here – being technically not a startup anymore, Hostinger still keeps an entrepreneurial flair at heart as it scales. “It doesn’t matter how good your original product is, if you can’t build a great company around it, the product won’t endure” stated by Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, summarizes it all. Even after reaching the big leagues and getting out of the startup arena, maintaining a startup culture is what creates the magic and ensures continuous innovation and growth.