San Diego Startup Week: Why Startup Culture Is Important


When bootstrapping a startup, money is always a factor. Growing a strong team with a limited budget is difficult, and even if you can get talent on board within your budget, keeping them can still be a challenge.

The entrepreneurial fervor that fuels the team’s excitement and drive to create a big success only lasts so long; other factors must keep it going. Culture and community are two overlooked assets that can continue to fuel that drive and excitement through the highs and lows of early stage startups.

The startup road is a rough and bumpy one, yet entrepreneurs find themselves trucking day in and day out toward an uncertain outcome. In the startup world, there isn’t a work-life balance; it is your life and so it must also be your passion and something you’re thoroughly devoted to. Our work goes home with us, comes to parties with us, and can haunt us in our sleep. You need to maintain the support of everyone around you to keep persisting. That includes your family, friends, and especially your team. Maintaining a healthy, fun, competitive culture is critical to keep support going. Entrepreneurs experience the best and worst with their teams, and your startup culture emerges during this constant hustle. So embrace it when is comes—culture can help you lead a team, gain respect, and differentiate you from the 9-to-5 corporate world.

San Diego Startup Week_Alternate_logoCompany culture is developed around a core interest in a common subject. Outside of shared business initiatives, culture can emerge from sharing leisure time, community, and environment. It can range from riding your bike to work to enjoying a happy hour with your team. Games also can serve as a common ground for a team’s culture. Chess, foosball, and video games are great outlets for that. Small triumphs encourage teamwork while keeping momentum up and avoiding a stale atmosphere. Examples range from foosball and beer drinking to rock climbing and video games. Particularly in the later stages of startups, having “work” not be the only thing at “work” provides another level of excitement and distraction from the heavy day to day. Like minds are in the startup world to be challenged; it’s important to cycle through new activities and to keep participation fresh.

An alternate channel for maintaining startup energy can be generated by creating common enemies, i.e. competitors. This is achieved simply by aligning yourself against an “enemy” product or service, and creating goals with your team to beat them out. The rival becomes a shared goal for everyone on the team; focusing on their defeat creates camaraderie through scheduled triumphs (e.g. product releases, sales metrics, growth goals etc.). In fostering this mentality, however, be careful not to pit teams internally against each other, as hostility is not good for culture. Also note that this approach to creating a “culture” should not continue outside company walls, as that is where local community can provide an alternate source of culture to fuel momentum.

Teams can also create/find culture by hosting and participating in community events. Community events can affect a team and its startup culture positively or negatively. Let’s first consider events that might be negative for community. If nationalism were simply defined as aligning yourself against the enemy, then events that encourage product competition on a local level would naturally pit local companies against each other.

I’ve witnessed a few common effects from local events like these. One example is team A deriding team B (whose target markets aren’t even close) because of a monetary prize or temporary limelight.

Another common example is when a team does not finish in first place and stops participating in events due to resentment. These gladiator-like events might have a place outside a community, but they can be poisonous internally, and counter-productive for local community and team growth. Competition is healthy, but not at the risk of losing support for each other within our community. If competition is prevalent in these events, the subject should not be the companies, but rather the subcultures of the community or teams. Events that foster friendships and alliances will allow a community to rise together.

Simple things like sharing alcohol and food while discussing an engaging subject can bring people together. Relaxed environments where everyone can mingle without fear of criticism fosters the kind of engagement that binds us together, in the same way internal teams can form strong relationships. We shall not align against another, but rather support each other in success within our community.

We can take advantage of our community in the same way we support each other internally through our team bonds and company cultures. If we choose to use a competitive enemy approach within our community, let it be directed toward another city, not between companies. Become aligned with the nearby teams you once considered competition. Open your doors and host events that encourage community growth. Find yourself using products created in your community while pushing them in your business-to-business relationships. This is the kind of stuff that helps both the entrepreneur and the community grow.

Randy Apuzzo is a Web developer, entrepreneur, bootstrapper, and architect in the digital world. He is the founder of San Diego-based, a cloud content platform for building websites and distributing content. Follow @

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  • Austin Neudecker

    Great post Randy – couldn’t agree more!

    Building community is all about being accepting, collaborative, and helpful. I am not a fan, like you, of things that pit startups against each other (I’ve tried to get the founders of “fight night / brawl” to tone down the language, but I think they like the verbiage just to fill the seats, not to actually cause any resentment, so I am not overly worried). What I am more concerned about is people getting bitter about not being selected to demo or attend events (a few events have capacity constraints and it is important to maintain a certain level of quality to actually be an affective event). Sadly, the few can be loud enough about their discontentment to influence the opinions of others rather than acting in a positive direction (volunteering, hosting events) to move the ecosystem forward. Zesty is doing a great job here – and I thank you and your team for that! Cheers,

    • Darin Andersen

      Austin – I agree with you. We need to focus on creating a collaborative spirit amongst startups but also the organizations supporting this engine of growth. Startup organizations including incubators and civic based groups need to be inclusive yet focused on moving the startup scene forward in a positive and construction way not jockeying for position against one another. I am optimistic on the direction this is all taking.