If you’ve seen any of the buzz that’s been circulating the internet the last few years, you might think that tech company culture is all about catered lunches, ping pong tables and allowing dogs in the office. (Which totally misses the mark, but more on that later.) So does this mean that every company that has these perks has a great culture, or that more traditionally structured companies will never have a positive culture? Not at all! 

Having a great company culture has a lot more to do with leadership than beer-on-tap. And company culture isn’t just important for employees, it’s important for the bottom line too. Research from Gallup shows that companies that prioritize culture have 60% lower turnover, 10% happier customers, and 20% more sales than those that don’t. So what’s the best way to align company culture with your values and goals? And what can you do to ensure that everyone in the organization feels valued and respected?

For this week’s episode of the Igniting Startups podcast, we wanted to try something a little different. We asked 10 different CEOs, executives, and other leaders around the Powderkeg community “What is company culture?” to hear their perspective company culture: what it’s made of, how to build it, and what to look for when you’re interviewing for a new role. Tune in for more!

In this special Powderkeg episode, you’ll learn:

  • Strategies to build company culture
  • What to look for in a company’s culture during a job interview
  • The bottom-line value of company culture
  • How core values relate to company culture
  • Methods to keep your culture authentic and organic  
  • What is culture fit, and how to find it  

Please enjoy this conversation!



If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powderkeg Podcast.

Quotes from this episode of Igniting Startups:

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Companies and organizations:



What stood out most to you in this podcast?

For me, it’s how core values relate to company culture.

You? Leave a comment below.


To subscribe to the podcast, please use the links below:

Click Here to Subscribe via iTunes.

Click Here to Subscribe via RSS (non-iTunes feed).

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show and its ranking in iTunes incredibly! Thank you so much!


Episode Transcript

Hey there, Patrick fans. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And this is powderkeg igniting startups, their show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators building remarkable tech companies and careers in areas decidedly outside of Silicon Valley. Today is going to be a little different. We’re talking all about how to build a positive company culture. We’ve asked people from around the community to get their perspective, we highlighted 10 leaders, building company culture at innovative companies in the Midwest, really excited to share with you. Number one reason why people take a job at a tech company, it’s company culture. It’s also the number one reason why people quit a job at a tech company. This is a really important topic because we spend a third of our waking hours at work, so why not work with people you love? company culture isn’t just important for employees, it’s important for the company’s bottom line. Research from Gallup shows that companies that prioritize culture have 60% lower turnover 10% happier customers and have 20% more sales. Our team asked tech leaders from around the powderkeg community to get their perspective on company culture. In this video, you’ll meet CEOs, executives, and other leaders building company culture at 10 Different tech companies located outside of Silicon Valley, whether you’re building a startup or a high growth tech company, or you’re looking to join the right one where you can truly reach your full potential. You need to understand company culture, culture is insanely connected to revenue. I talked to a serial entrepreneur, and employee experience expert Jeff banner. He’s also a good friend of mine, I consider him a mentor as well. He’s a CEO of bartable, a board management software tool based in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s got over a decade of experience building tech companies. And I love getting his perspective on culture, his jet

company culture is something that permeates every aspect of your employee and customer experience. So it’s, it’s your brand, it’s your office, it’s your conversation, it’s your values, the values you have as an organization, defining those values, and in refining them over time. And even in updating them with it’s super important to keep a healthy culture.

And that’s a really great point. A June 2019 article from Harvard Business Review explores the connection between employee experience and customer experience, citing research from nit that companies in the top 25% of employee experience are twice the amount of revenue from their innovations as those in the bottom 25% of employee experience. So if you’re looking to boost revenue this year, figure out how you can improve your company’s culture. company culture influences everyone who interacts with your company. And it’s not just your employees, it affects your customers two great leaders understand that company culture influences both their team and their customer base. Haley Ullman is the founder and CEO of Doc sleep, her company is directly involved in the customer and employee experience. You see, Haley’s a lawyer with extensive background working with venture capitalists and founders. And our company doc slate is built for attorneys to transform that archaic process of managing legal transactions into a simple software process, she had some great perspective on creating a winning culture and celebrating together,

think some company cultures are totally external, and they, they share it far and wide. And it becomes the fabric of how they position it to themselves. And we wanted to make sure that we had values that we could communicate to everyone and they are the core of like kind of how we how we want to build the business and grow Doxy but there is a part of like kind of the culture itself that is that is based on those values that has them as a foundation, but that are you know, that kind of evolve in terms of how we work together in terms of like the enjoyment that we have of working together. So we take that we win together and we we mean it to be our customers to we aren’t successful if they aren’t successful in how they use the Oxley, but we use it to say, Okay, we’re gonna win together. And to be able to do that we have to have, you know, a great environment that everyone feels like supported and everyone feels celebrated.

company culture grows and evolves over time as companies enter different phases of their lifecycle. And that process happens little by little every single day. being intentional about your company culture can boost employee engagement, but doesn’t happen overnight. So keep at it. I love this perspective from Ryan Brock, who’s the founder of autonomy media, an agency of creative writers that works with companies who have a story to tell. And often those companies have good stories because they have good cultures. I

think like a mission or a vision or even you know, a company’s perspective on how they do their work and why that work matters. Those are really nice, big things that people can sit down in a room and talk about for a little while and be like, yeah, those words sound great. Yeah, like that idea is awesome. But culture I think is is just a collection of every little moment, you know of these different people interacting with each other trying to work together. I think culture is something that you can be intentional about, but also like, it’s sort of passively creates itself.

I love the idea that company culture is a collection of every little moment. being intentional about those moments can bring huge dividends, like lower turnover, higher revenue, happier team, pay attention to each moment, as a culture, add order tracker, and encourage your team during the moments that add value to your culture. Culture is the heartbeat of your company. It’s what keeps people there, what fires them up each day. So how do you intentionally create and nurture it? Heather Haas is the CEO and founder of advisor, a company that partners with organizations to improve job fit and company culture through leadership development. She’s an expert in company culture, and has worked with hundreds of founders through the years, she believes that everyone at a company can make an impact on culture,

we would say that company culture is really the the feel of working at a company, it’s that feel is created by how people behave. It’s created by what people value. And the way that translates into the way decisions get made, the way that it translates into what kinds of behaviors get recognized and celebrated. So that’s why when leaders start to get a sense of how powerful it is, and start to think about the kind of culture that they need, the kinds of behaviors, the kinds of the feel, and the vibe that they need, or the heartbeat of the company, if you will, when they get their heads around what kind of culture they need to be successful, then they can start being intentional about creating it.

I love how Heather put that be intentional. As a company grows, the founders and leaders are really the guideposts of the culture. So if you’re looking to join a team, watch how the leaders act and what kind of behaviors get recognized and celebrated. That’ll give you a pretty good feel for what the company’s culture is, and whether or not you want to be a part of it. In a fast growing startup, nobody has time to micromanage. But core values can be really powerful for keeping the team on track. We all know that core values shouldn’t be stuffy words on posters or buzzword phrases, valuable core values have to be real, and authentic. Brian Wolf is the president and CEO at Parker technology, a company that’s changing the game in the parking industry with two way video inside parking garages. He’d been building and investing in high growth tech companies across the Midwest for over a decade. And she has a really unique perspective on why core values matter.

I think what’s so critical is that when you’re a startup, you’re in almost every conversation and every decision that gets made. But as the company grows, you can’t be at every decision point. And not only that, but as a CEO, I don’t want to be in every decision point, I tell my leaders all the time that I want to be in review mode, not in decision mode. And so the only way to build a cohesive company that where leaders are in review mode is to give people guiding principles around what we stand for. So the ability to have a high standard and expect things to get done in a high quality way. High touch is the ability to push that down into the organization so that everybody knows that when they deliver high touch high customer experience a quality experience for the customer that they’ve done the right thing without having to police and or micromanage every decision that gets made. I love

the way Brian talks about values as guiding principles for people to make decisions that align with company culture. That way the leaders are in review mode, and people are armed with what they need to make decisions so they feel confident and they’re doing the right thing. Give your team core values that act as guiding principles for decision making, and encourage them to make decisions on their own. So you can be in review mode and guide culture as a leader. Core values aren’t just posters, you hanging on the wall. They’re the thread that runs through every aspect of the business. Heather Haas, CEO of advisor leadership consulting, talks about how to give core values new life with alignment across the organization.

Core values aren’t just ideals that hang on the wall. They should be translating into how people communicate, how people behave and how people make decisions. So creating that alignment between who we say we are, and how we market who we are creating an alignment between that and then who we really are when you like come to work here and interact with us as a customer is really important to long term success.

Core values are reflected in how people communicate how people behave, and how people make decisions. Get everyone across your team aligned on your values, and you unlock the power of culture to build organization that you want to build. Core values are a really big deal for getting your team aligned on culture. So how do you write core values from a founder perspective, it can be really hard. And sometimes your first draft won’t really hit the mark. Like everything else in tech, you have to iterate over time. Haley Ullman, founder of docs, Leah shares her experience, writing core values and how they’ve evolved.

Writing core values is is hard. I think the first time we did it, we came up with a bunch of words that we thought were really important, like, you know, collaboration and teamwork and things like that things that are nice to like thinking about, but those are buzzwords, they’re not necessarily a specific value. So we had to like so our first set that we did, we sat as a group. And we talked about like, all the things that were important to us that meant a lot, and what would be important to be a team member, and Doc’s, Lee, and then, when we wrote them down, we realized that these weren’t really like values. These are just like kind of ideas that are kind of like table stakes of what needed to be true.

Core values aren’t buzzwords, they’re guiding principles for the way you do business. And it’s okay if they change a little bit over time, or if it takes a few drafts for you to get to the right values that reflect the culture you want to build. Leaders shape the culture at a company. So look up to leaders and find out what the culture is like. And if you want to be a part of it. An article from first round review says that 80% of your culture is defined by its core leaders 80%. That’s why culture has to be so much of your mind shares a leader. So what does that look like from a team leaders perspective, Heidi Barker works with Brian Wolfe at Parker technologies as their director of marketing, and she shares her perspective from inside the team, while creating a unique workplace and culture at Parker,

a huge part of being happy in your job is enjoying your work with the interactions that you have with your co workers and having that collaborative environment. And so I think that having core values that align with your own, and also kind of identifying what some of those different aspects of the just like workplace landscape, I suppose you could say with, you know, when you need to be in there, if you can work remotely

30 of your life is spent at work. And it makes a huge difference in your quality of life. If you love who you work with, and the environment that you’re working in, find a company culture you’re pulled towards, and go have a conversation with someone on their team. You never know where it could lead. As a leader, everything you do influences company culture. But a big part of it is just setting the right expectations on the team for what behavior is encouraged and accepted. I learned this from Jeremy Rhymer CEO and founder of driver reach recruiting software tool for hiring licensed commercial and truck drivers. Jeremy talks about how to get everyone on the team rowing in the same direction.

Integrity more than anything is what oh, I mean, when you really get down to it, there’s accountability, there’s expectations of honesty and doing the right thing but and then that you have to hold people accountable. But you want to create a an environment where people expect and want to be held accountable to whatever you know, is their expectations are. And open communication. And candor is super important. You know, we should be able to be honest with each other good or bad, whatever the case is, we’re on the same team where we need to be rowing in the same direction. So I think those things are really important and, and I think they respect comes from that

getting everyone rowing in the same direction is where we’ll see some of the biggest benefits of having a good culture, like less turnover, better revenue. So hire people who are good fit with your culture, and you’ll see the return many times over. Hiring the right culture fit can be really tricky, especially when your team is growing really fast. And by fast, I mean tripling or quadrupling in size. But there are ways you can manage culture, even through that extreme growth. You can Montgomery is the Director of Marketing at demand jump, a marketing SAS company that’s exploded in size over the last few years.

As you grow, culture gets harder and harder to manage. But having those kind of three core pillars to fall back on and always guide us is, is I think, really important and tripling quadrupling in size. You’re bringing on people from all different backgrounds, you’re expanding the rules within the company. And yet, you still have to kind of keep stay true to your values and stay true to your core culture.

Staying true to your values is something that’s critically important to fast growing companies. It’s like cars on the highway, add more cars going in the same direction, and you work together to get to the destination. But if one car is going the wrong way, it’s a total disaster. Hire people who fit your values and it will make your company culture feel like magic. Hiring managers are like the gatekeepers to a company’s culture. It’s a critical role, and you have to be really intentional about it because your decisions will impact the rest of the team. And a jeweler role leads recruiting and talent sourcing at blast media, which is the PR agency dedicated to b2b SaaS in the United States. Their agency has won several Best Places to Work awards and accolades for their culture. So I was super interested to learn from Anna’s growth and experience.

I didn’t necessarily think about how specifically does our company culture and our core values relate to what I’m doing. And it’s, it sounds silly, you know, they should go hand in hand, and they should be important. But for us, a lot of that has been a little bit more organic, or at least from my standpoint, it’s been a little more organic, I think. Because at first, I didn’t necessarily know what I was looking for in terms of how to how is this person a culture fit, you know, you always hear this culture fit piece. And honestly, culture fit can pigeonhole you into picking certain people, if the culture is too narrow. So I think for me, those three core values that we have of seeking growth, hustling hard and enjoying life are a good kind of pillar for looking for the right people.

Good idea to keep things organic is really important. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to stay true to your core values, especially in recruiting. If you do that people who fit your culture will just gravitate towards you. When you know someone’s a good culture fit on your team, you pick it up right away. How do you know, you and your team are having fun. When a team is winning and having fun at the same time, you know, you’ve got something really special. Jeremy Reimer CEO and founder of driver reach, shares his experience building this kind of culture,

these people are working together every day, you spend a third of your day as sleep, the other third, you’re working with these people, you should like them. So that’s something when we talk about fit, it’s important that you like the people that you’re working with. And what is always fun to see is when they hang out with each other outside of work. That’s I think, when you know you’ve got good culture, and you’ve got a good fit.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that your quality of life will improve as you connect with and cultivate the right culture for you. Find your creative team you love and can win win. And you’ll see improvements across all aspects of your life. company culture isn’t about beer 30 ping pong tables or free lunch. So what makes an authentic company culture? Motivation? Daniel fuller is a VP of Business Development at full stack, a PEO with a culture focused approach to outsource HR for startups and small companies. He’s worked with dozens of tech leaders. And here’s what he has to say about creating authentic company culture.

Yeah, I would just say, focus on those leadership behaviors for culture. Because if, if you’re just focused on superficial things, people will pick that up quickly and won’t care if you have ping pong tables and free lunch. Are you authentic as a leader? And what’s what’s driving you? What’s motivating you? And how are you going to interact with me that’s really the make it or break it. We’re culture,

company culture is leadership behavior, its values, and it’s the overall experience. It’s also your vibe. Company. Culture is the heartbeat of your company. And it’s your competitive advantage for companies who want to work with you, and employees who want to work alongside you. Build a great culture and hire the right people who will nurture it and help you grow. That’s it for today’s show. Thanks so much for listening and watching. And a big thank you to all of our guests today. For links to their social profiles, as well as to the companies and the resources mentioned in this episode, head on over to powder keg.com and check out the show notes. So what did you think of today’s episode? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at Matt at powder keg.com And if you’re looking for a job in tech to ignite your career, go on over to powder keg.com/jobs To get started. And to be among the first to hear the stories about entrepreneurs, investors and other leaders outside of Silicon Valley. Subscribe to us on iTunes at powderkeg.com/itunes Catch you next time on powderkeg igniting startups