Insights from STL Startup Week
How Workplace Culture Showed Up
When I volunteered to sit on the planning committee for STL Startup Week my primary goal, aside from being forced out of my pajama pants, was to give back to the St. Louis community. While I’ve worked with startups and scaleups globally for eight years, I realized I had done a poor job of recognizing the thriving startup ecosystem in my own backyard. As a result, I became the Logistics Chair for STL Startup Week, which ran from September 18th to the 22nd. Alongside 14 other committee members, with Matt Menietti at the helm, we crafted a 5-day event that resulted in over 2,000 registrations, hosted 24 speaker sessions, highlighted more than 45 St. Louis startups at Startup Connection, and partnered with five different co-working spaces in the St. Louis region.
It involved long days and late nights, and while I may have eaten a breakfast turkey sausage off the floorboard of my car, I am so glad I volunteered for this event. I had the honor of meeting some of the most talented, passionate, and creative founders, as well as budding entrepreneurs. The St. Louis startup ecosystem is very much alive,
and the energy was palpable.
With 24 speakers throughout the week, I gathered countless key takeaways, so many that this would transcend beyond the acceptable length for a blog post. That said, I’d like to share how workplace culture showed up during STL Startup Week. It showed up in ways I had not expected, and it showed up A LOT. Here goes.
Top talent will be the first to leave a toxic culture.
STL Startup Week kicked off with a sponsor and speaker reception at Trust, TechArtista Downtown’s in-house cocktail bar. This was an opportunity for our event sponsors and session speakers to connect and set the energetic tone for the upcoming week. As I made my rounds and learned more about each individual (most of them Founders), I was curious to know why they had left a traditional work arrangement to start a company. Overwhelmingly, the response was, “because of a toxic culture.”
Y’all, this was a group of highly successful, driven, creative, passionate individuals who freely chose to leave companies because of culture. Imagine what these people could have achieved for their companies if they had stayed. The loss of talent, potential revenue, diverse perspectives, and impact is staggering.
Culture starts at the top.
Jenn Whitmer, Leadership Consultant and owner of Consone led a session on Building a Healthy Team of Self-Leaders. Jenn is a keynote and TEDx speaker who works with leadership teams, both big and small, helping them create positive cultures with complex people. She kicked off her session noting that, “Culture is determined by the leaders in the organization and you have to learn yourself first.”
Amen Jenn. The culture of an organization starts at the top, yet culture is often overlooked as a strategic function in many startups. I came across a comment on LinkedIn a while back that said, “If you’re hiring someone to manage culture, you’re doing it wrong.” Admittedly, I didn’t speak directly with this person so I’m not privy to how they defined culture. From my perspective though, culture is the foundation for how an organization operates. It’s the environment that will foster growth, develop talent, and create scalability. It also evolves as a company grows and adds more people. It’s important to ensure that at various inflection points, the culture is still conducive to growth and achieving business goals. This starts at the top, with leaders.
Culture is an evolution.
Alright, full transparency in this section, I was 100% fan-girling when Guy Friedman, CEO of SteadyMD, gave his keynote speech. I’ve worked with several digital health startups in the past, and healthcare holds a special place in my heart. SteadyMD, founded in 2016, has grown to over 100 employees and 500 clinicians, securing Series B funding in 2021. They power telehealth services in all 50 states supported by their clinician workforce, clinical operations, technology, and credentialing and licensing services.
Guy presented his Entrepreneurial Insights: Perspective on a Decade of Operating VC-Backed Startups. In this session, he covered a few major takeaways on topics including pivoting when necessary, fundraising, and, to my pleasant surprise, culture. Guy noted, “Let your culture develop, but keep what’s important,” and “What worked for a company of 15 people won’t work for a company of 100+.”
I think most founders grasp this conceptually, but a significant gap exists when it comes to operationalizing the changes associated with growth from a cultural perspective. When I’m working with my clients at Loam Culture, we ensure that culture is a key topic wrapped into quarterly business reviews, strategic planning sessions, and daily interactions.
Ready to design an intentional and high-purpose culture at your startup or scaleup?
Loam Culture offers Fractional Head of People services, culture clarity workshops, and project-based services. We believe that culture is equal parts people, processes, and technology and serves as the foundation for growth to take root. Visit our website to learn more, or schedule a free consultation now.
Founder, Loam Culture