Founder’s Corner: Developing A Company Culture People Will Love

May 1, 2014

Founders: Want to know the secret driver behind elevating your brand and winning more customers? It’s not your product, it’s your culture. Instructure CEO Josh Coates explains the difference between good and bad company cultures, and what it takes to develop a passionate base of customers and fans.

Product function and feature sets are nice, but that’s not what modern software customers ultimately buy, says Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure (an OpenView portfolio company). Instead, what they truly buy into (or run away from) is the passion and attitude you exude. In this latest installment of the Founder’s Corner, Coates offers his advice on what it takes to build a great company culture, and discusses the factors that turn customers into ardent supporters, rather than angry detractors.

Keys to Developing a Company Culture People Will Love

Whether you recognize it or not, your company has a culture. It encapsulates who you are, defines what you care about, and communicates why you exist. And, as Coates points out in the video above, that culture is either helping you by positively influencing buyer behavior and creating legions of brand advocates, or it’s hurting you by sending prospective customers running for the hills.
“It’s  important to be aware that the natural development (of your culture) is going to happen, whether your conscious of it or not,” Coates says. “And there are such things as bad cultures. There’s some really crappy cultures out there, and the customers know those companies have a bad culture.”
How can you avoid joining that group and ensure that your culture is something customers rally around?

3 Key Takeaways

1) The product may be amazing, but it’s a company’s culture that people really fall in love with.

A lot of products are similar today, Coates says, and businesses often fall into the trap of thinking they’ve got to compete on features and function. The reality, however, is that an outstanding company culture can trump those things.
“Even with products that are more mature and have a greater feature set, growing companies can come in with a smaller feature set and better user experience, and the culture of that new company really comes through,” Coates says. “People fall in love with that culture, and they’ll believe in that culture.”
It’s a cliche, Coates admits, but Apple is the perfect example. “A lot of Apple products don’t do everything that competing products do, but people have fallen in love with the Apple culture.”
What does a great culture look like? For more on this topic, read this post to find out how Hubspot edged out SEOMoz for the title of “Best Company Culture in Tech” last year.

2) Your company’s culture will develop organically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of and manage it.

Importantly, Coates says culture isn’t something that can be manufactured or manipulated. Instead, it’s simply about who you (the founder) are as an individual and how you run your company.
“Culture is something that naturally develops,” Coates says. “What’s important is to be aware that that natural development is going to happen whether you’re conscious of it or not.”
According to Coates, there’s a simple way to manage that organic development: Don’t try too hard and be yourself.
Read more: Why Company Culture is Cultivated, Not Created

3) Remember, every major decision you make defines your culture.

Ultimately, Coates believes culture develops from three key ingredients: the people you hire, the policies you institute, and the technology you use.
“You have 24 hours in the day — what you invest emotionally during that period of time, over time, defines your culture,” Coates says. “So, just be aware of what you’re paying attention to, what you care about, and the messages — direct and indirect — that you’re sending to your people.”
If you’re genuinely committed to delivering an outstanding experience for your customers (and employees), that organic energy will trickle down to your customer base, Coates says.

More Insights on Developing Your Company Culture

HubSpot Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah on Developing Remarkable Company Culture
What makes a thriving company culture tick? HubSpot co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah offers an inside look behind the company’s roadmap for developing what our readers voted the “Best Company Culture in Tech.” Read more.

Intronis CEO Rick Faulk on Why Total Transparency is Good for Business
Corporate transparency has its share of risks, but Intronis CEO Rick Faulk says the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, revealing your secrets and company’s inner workings can have a powerful impact on employee performance and morale. Read more.

Mike Myatt Shares 4 Keys to Developing a Thriving Culture of Leadership
Think the key to good leadership is being the smartest person in the room? Think again. Fortune 500 CEO advisor Mike Myatt explains how the most effective executives work to let go and develop a strong culture of leadership that relies on and empowers others.

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Photo by: Alpha du centaure


<strong>Josh Coates</strong> is the CEO at <a href="">Instructure</a> , a technology company committed to improving education and disrupting the Learning Management System (LMS) market (disclosure: Instructure is an OpenView investment). After his start in distributed systems research at the University of California, Berkeley, and Microsoft’s Bay Area Research Center, Josh founded Scale Eight, which closed its operations and sold its intellectual property to Intel in 2003. Josh went on to found Berkeley Data Systems ( in 2005, which reshaped the world of data storage with a ubiquitous remote backup solution. Two years later, EMC Corp acquired Mozy for $76 million. Josh became an early investor in Instructure before joining the board and becoming CEO in 2010.