Startup school lesson 6: Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast!

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack. Enough Said.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast! Or so says management guru Peter Drucker. Often we hear this line espoused for big type corporations with multiple levels in their chain of command. But did you know that for a start-up culture is still super important as well?

Simply put, you need to determine what your business stands for from the get-go. Having a great idea is awesome, having a unique selling point is super good too but guess what? Ideas can be copied as can business strategies and processes. Heck, that amaze-balls idea you have is probably just an innovative riff off some existing idea!

Ultimately what will set your business apart from others is what culture you choose to craft for your business. The terms culture and values are often mentioned in the same sentence and work hand in hand together. For example, honesty and respect are values and together they feed into creating a culture where honest communication happens in the organisation.

So how do you determine what your culture and values are as a startup? You might say; Sam, i’m just a one man/woman/non-binary individual set-up, I don’t really need to worry about this sort of thing – I need to worry about making $$$! That’s true, $$$ is important (that’s why we are in business) but what is more important is the sort of values we communicate to our customers. 

Let’s take this clog, for example. When I first started up, I just wanted to draw comics and write about accounting. Over the months, it has grown, its readership has increased and a few months ago I had to think about what my clog stood for, what its values were. After some thinking, I decided that FUN was what I wanted to clog to stand for because its about making accounting fun and accessible. From then on, it became a conscious decision to inject fun into all things published on this site. 

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few different values for the clog which I feel are important. One of them being respect – IE not writing about subjects in a degrading or humiliating way. Another one being honest – IE admitting what I know, what I do not know and making sure to not misrepresent information in any way. All these add up and start to form the culture and values of my little start-up. Has it worked for me? Good question – check again with me in 2 years’ time. 

This also means that you, dear reader who is setting up their small business can and should think about the values your business stands for which will in turn determine the sort of culture your business creates. If you already have a team working hard for you, it is even more important to have a clear set of values which define your business culture as having everyone behind a clear culture can do wonders for morale and productivity (really, just ask any business guru)!

So how do we get started thinking about culture and values?


Start with one word – any word that means something to you. Write a whole bunch of them on a piece of paper, make a list or record yourself saying them – whatever works for your brain!

From there you will notice that a few of the words sound the same or might even mean the same thing. You now have a better understanding of where you stand. From there, choose a central value to base your business on and add as many little branches with ideals that you want to be part of your business culture. Cool. You now have a little culture tree set-up.

This my culture tree. It Cute.

Be disciplined! Ensure that in all works carried out by the business and in all your engagements with team members, customers, investors, bankers etc., you live up to the central value and ideals set out in your culture tree. Be principled, stick to your guns and whatever chosen mysterious power you subscribe to shall reward you in kind!

Feel free to use the Culture Tree template below to get started. What is most important to you should form the trunk or the core of your tree and from there, work out what other values are adjacent to that which are important to you and your business as well! The culture tree template is distributed under a creative commons license – meaning that you are allowed to share it as long as you credit It prints really nicely on an A4 paper!

It is worth pointing out that the idea of a ‘culture tree’ is not my original idea. The template shown here is merely my simplified take on an already popular subject, as evidenced by searching the term ‘Culture Tree’ here.

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