Winston Utomo, Founder and CEO of IDN Media, and Andree Susanto, Founder and CEO of Waresix - Building a company culture that lasts
East Ventures


3 May 2024

From Portfolios

Building a company culture that lasts: Tips from profitable startup founders

If an average adult works eight hours a day, five days a week, they will spend roughly a third of their lifetime, totaling 90,000 hours, at their workplace.

With offices reopening post-pandemic, companies aim not only to fill seats but also to bring back company culture, which has taken a backseat for many throughout the remote-working era. During this time, workers’ attitudes and priorities have shifted, and how companies approach culture, human resources, and teamwork is entirely different than just a few years ago.

One of the most important things for startup founders and leaders to do in the beginning is they need to make sure they set their company up for success through company culture. How do you build a system of people that can continue to foster a positive work environment as the company grows and more people come in?

Key takeaways:

    • Company culture is the values, beliefs, and attitudes shaping interactions and operations within an organization.
    • Company culture is important because it silently influences work dynamics, productivity, and the success of the company.
    • Four tips on building company culture:
    1. Solutions reveal themselves when you are calm
    2. Integrate company culture into business processes
    3. Find balance in leadership
    4. Prioritize smooth transitions

Company culture is the set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that shape and silently governs how work is done within a company. Culture grows and forms organically over time from the cumulative traits of all the people in the organization. It can boost employees’ confidence and fuel their drive to perform their best, or demotivate employees and cause high turnover, which affects a company’s bottom line. Hence, for founders, it is important to shape the company culture that you want at the earliest stage.

Tips on building company culture

Winston Utomo, Founder and CEO of IDN Media, and Andree Susanto, Founder and CEO of Waresix, are the founders of two profitable companies with over 700 and 500 employees respectively. Leveraging their experience, they offer four key tips to startup founders on establishing a strong company culture from the outset.

1. Solutions reveal themselves when you are calm

Though every company culture is different, as employers, it is our responsibility as a company to create an environment where people can work comfortably and effectively. Be calm when things are not going well. You have to be calm in order to see problems clearly. Expressing your anger never solves problems, but explaining and articulating it does. It is important to create a culture of acceptance, inclusion, and warmth so that leaders and employees can regulate their emotions and handle problems with clarity and understanding rather than negativity. This approach will foster trust and respect in the workplace so that employees are more likely to accept any further specific traits as company culture.

2. Integrate company culture into processes

While many companies may have a desired culture, they may struggle to make it tangible and actionable. Integrating culture into business processes means aligning the company’s values with its goals, strategies, and day-to-day operations. By doing so, culture becomes more than just a poster on the wall; It becomes a guide for how work is done, and decisions are made at all levels of the organization. Setting clear expectations is crucial in helping employees understand how company culture translates into day-to-day practices. When employees know what is expected of them and how their actions align with the company’s values, they are more likely to internalize and uphold the desired culture.

3. Find balance in leadership

Once you have embedded company culture into your business processes, leaders must find the balance between overseeing the big picture and delving into day-to-day operations. Company culture cannot be forced or imposed from the top down. Instead, it should naturally evolve as a result of the collective behaviors of the employees. By embedding cultural values into processes and then stepping back, the company culture can take shape authentically. If the desired culture is not observed despite efforts to integrate it, leaders should focus on identifying and addressing critical issues that may be hindering its development. Let the team contribute to shaping the company culture to create a sense of ownership from everyone.

4. Prioritize smooth transitions

When a company grows from 10 to 50 or 100 people, there is a natural shift in the dynamics of how work is done and how individuals interact within the organization. This growth brings about new challenges related to individual differences, and it’s crucial to preserve the company’s unique culture. So, the company must design a clear onboarding process where the new hire can integrate into the team and align with the company culture.

Lessons learned from IDN Media 

At IDN Media, their company culture, fondly dubbed Timmyness, embodies three core values: Integrity, Inclusion, and Growth. From its inception, Timmyness has been deeply ingrained in every employee, reflecting the founders’ belief that ‘people and culture must always remain fundamental to every company.’ IDN Media upholds Integrity through trustworthiness, honesty, and accountability, while Inclusion aims to free employees from negative stress, allowing them to grow from positive stress. Meanwhile, Growth promotes personal and professional development for every employee, both within and beyond their tenure at IDN.

In his journey building IDN Media into a profitable company with over 700 employees, Winston recalled a critical moment between the company’s Seed and Series A funding that became a valuable lesson in building a lasting company culture. “If I could turn back time to 2014, the first thing I would do is recruit a Head of People Operations,” Winston remarked. “I believe this is crucial so as a leader, you should be able to have a bird’s-eye view as well as jump in on the details when needed.” 

“When starting this company, we focused on building the best product,” he explained. “But as the company grew to 50-100 people, we should have shifted our focus to becoming a company builder, not just a product builder.” 

Lessons learned from Waresix

Waresix has a company culture centered on three values: Customer First, Ownership, and Open Mindedness. Like IDN Media, Waresix knows the importance of people and business alignment. The agile business model necessitates a Customer-First company culture, particularly as the organization expands. Ownership encourages collective thinking for the company’s best interests, fostering a sense of responsibility among employees. Lastly, Open Mindedness encourages employees from diverse backgrounds to adopt a growth mindset and always be objective.

In 2024, Waresix thrives as a profitable company with a strong company culture and over 500 employees. “We have made many iterations and mistakes along the way, might it be changes in organization structure or hiring, but that’s all part of growth. But if the transition isn’t smooth during periods of change, we aren’t setting our people up for success, but rather confusion and failure.” Therefore, Andree emphasizes, “As we grow, it’s important to get into the habit of documentation. Proper documentation is how we prevent misunderstandings and build lasting company culture.”

Andree also notes the direct correlation between a strong company culture and the quality of long-serving employees. Waresix hopes to see an increasing number of employees progress from executors to managers and leaders—a testament to the organization’s company culture.