The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?” is written by Ross Mason, founder of MuleSoft.
Looking back when I first founded my software company MuleSoft, one of my biggest regrets was not moving to where the company was on day one.
I was living in Malta, a tiny independent island close to Sicily, and building the company in San Francisco. During this time, I was commuting back and forth. It wasn’t until the largest air traffic shutdown of the decade that I realized things needed to change. It was the spring of 2010; I was on my way from San Francisco back to Malta when our plane had to turn around due to volcanic ash from the eruption of Iceland’s volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Being stuck in San Francisco gave me time to reflect on what MuleSoft really needed.
In retrospect, it was obvious: the company needed its founder to be physically present every day. I needed to be there to be readily available to my team, providing guidance on the company vision and our mission to help our customers overcome connectivity challenges to drive real business outcomes.
In retrospect, it wasn’t practical to run a company from a totally different location. When you first start a company and even in the first few years of the startup, the company culture is formed around the founders. They are entrenched in the day-to-day and all aspects of business operations, especially the hiring process.
A company’s founder is an important influence to the overall perception of the company and its culture, including how the company is defined, what it stands for and who should be hired to continue to champion the company’s values. We needed to figure out what our culture would be. Initially I thought it was just going to be organic. Since I wasn’t here all the time, the culture wasn’t strong and we didn’t have a hiring strategy. The software could be virtual, but the core management team couldn’t. You can’t build a culture that way.
Culture doesn’t naturally develop at a new company. It is formed around the founders, the leadership and a strong hiring strategy. If I were to do this again, I would be very clear on what the company was and what it stood for at the outset. It is easy to assume people are on the same page when it is just four of you in a room, but quickly you grow and alignment with those early values is critical to cultivate a culture. Regardless of the product and your customers, you want to be able to answer this: How do you want people to view your company, and how do you want your employees to project themselves?
At the beginning, building a home for MuleSoft and having all of our U.S.-based employees work together in one place proved really significant for fostering our culture and expanding our team. This allowed us to come together to learn from our mistakes, celebrate our successes and move as a group towards a common direction.
From the start, founders need to establish that home base, create a culture defined by a strong local team as the bedrock for the company, and reaffirm regularly, especially as your company moves through each growth stage.