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When discussing the importance of culture in start-ups and that of building communities, Nitin Jain, Co-founder and CEO, OfBusiness, says, “We realised one very important thing, that unless we build a culture of innovation and help each other in terms of SMEs and getting them onto one particular platform, where one SME shares its problems and innovations with the other SMEs, we will never be able to make it into a very successful venture. So, I think building communities in that respect around the ecosystem that you are operating in is extremely important.”
Khushnud Khan, Co-Founder and CEO Arzooo.com adds, “Culture is a collection of beliefs that displays in all your actions. It is very crucial in driving your style of functioning, your way of decision-making and of dealing with your stakeholders inside and outside business. It becomes even more critical when you are resource-constrained and you want to build a culture where, whatever limited resources you have, everyone has got enough room to think different, innovate, come up with their own ideas, and have enough space to do things that they want to.”
R K Rangan, Chairman, BlinC Invest has an interesting aspect to share now that he is into investing. He says, “Culture is the fundamental fabric of the enterprise or the institution. For start-ups, culture is the steering and the blinkers of the vehicle you are building. I think it is a challenge as you build a culture. But if the leadership is very focused on the type of firm they want to be, it gives a good guidance to the stakeholder or the community the kind of firm they want to operate. Also, culture is not always about growing things. Culture binds you together when you go even underwater. That’s the power of culture.”
Strengthening his view on culture for start-ups, Jain shares their strategies, “First thing we decided was, that culture has to be the same from top to bottom and horizontally and vertically. It has to be the same for all the stakeholders. The second thing that we decided was that we are going to empower every single person in the organisation and give them responsibilities, allow them independent thinking and bring out their best. We put in place very strong processes that we kept iterating over time that kept the motors of innovation alive, and at the same time kept everyone in check.”
Khan says, “In such organisations, the culture gives you an opportunity to fail and I think that’s where start-ups can contribute back to the young talent pool. Here, their potential gets tested and challenged, while being nurtured too. That is the true culture that every organisation needs to be really conscious about.”
Interesting views and facets emerge when speaking of culture given a crisis. Jain says, “Culture comes and outshines only in the time of crisis. During Covid, culture was a driving force, and the pushing force that actually allowed us or our customers to explode in terms of growth as well. If you are not customer-centric in the time of crisis, then culture actually is not culture.”
Adds Khan, “It is also supposed to give people an environment of learning and getting feedback on where they are going right or wrong. Culture also decides how you are giving people the feeling of security and that’s what gets tested in the time of crisis.”
Adding other factors that foster culture, Rangan says, “Inclusivity, communication and transparency to all in the community. So at all times, if you start communicating with them closely, I think that itself sort of fosters the culture of openness.”
Jain says, “It is very important to be transparent, from top to bottom and not try and only communicate what you think other people want to hear.”
Adds Khan, “There is no alternative to transparency. It is always the best policy to talk through and give them confidence by being transparent that you will sail through difficult times.”
Culture also determines how entrepreneurial culture evolves when a start-up transitions into a corporate. Rangan says, “When the organisation becomes large, people always talk about a flat organisation so that the information and data is provided to the decision-maker as quickly as possible. You will have to take extra caution, extra process, extra effort, so that the culture is sustained, irrespective of markets, size, product, or new technology, which is disturbing the market.”
Corroborates Khan, “The scale and pace of growth differentiates start-ups from corporates. One thing that’s very crucial for them is that they have the agility to take decisions fast, unlike corporates where stakes are higher and there are many stakeholders. In start-ups, if you are 75% sure, you have to go for it and then see how it pans out from there. This is how the environment changes when start-ups transition to a corporate.”
Says Jain, “When start-ups actually transition to a corporate if they have strong processes and keep the culture of innovation alive, I don’t think you need to change a lot.”