Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast – Part 1

Please note: Bill Aulet is the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of ManagementHe is the author of the recently released book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup

Culture EatsI used to think corporate culture didn’t matter. Discussion of vision, mission and values was for people who couldn’t build product or sell it! We had work to do and this MBA BS was getting in the way!

And then my first company failed.

Cambridge Decision Dynamics did not fail because we didn’t have a great technology or a great product or customers. It failed as a sustainable, scalable organization because we had no meaningful purpose to create team unity to fight through the tough times. Now the company sits comfortably in a perpetual state of what I like to call “deep stealth mode.”

Compare this to the rapidly growing company Eventbrite that I visited recently with some of my students. Eventbrite enables event planners to manage ticket sales and RSVPs online, and its users have sold over $2 billion in tickets.

There was palpable energy and excitement in the air when we stepped in the door. Dozens of neatly parked bicycles spanned a row next to the smiling receptionist. The employee who gave us a tour proudly showed off their conference rooms named after big events that they had helped their customers pull off, including “Promunism,” which was a Communist-themed high school prom. That room had a conspicuous red rotary phone for the emergencies that might come up in planning such a large event, a clear and visible sign linking the company to its customers in a positive manner.

A minute later, we walked by a whiteboard with the prompt “Home to me is…” that was covered with enthusiastic employee suggestions.

So count me among the completely converted. When I talk to entrepreneurs now, before I get too carried away with the idea, I want to probe them about their vision, mission and values. Ideas are cheap – and tasty too. Culture eats them even before its pre-breakfast morning run