Culture Contribution Trumps Culture Fit

November 2017 — #Class of 2018, #Johann Bomman

Culture Contribution Trumps Culture Fit
On the 18th of November Chris Worsey, Chaitanya Dudda and I ran the Business Pitch Workshop class for SLP at our Deloitte’s office in London.  We are all fellows on the Startup Leadership Program (SLP) – a highly selective, 6-month education and mentoring program and global network for the next generation of founders and CEOs. Every class in the program is run by one (or more) of the Fellows who acts as class CEO(s).  Peer to peer learning is a vital component of the SLP program, Steven Hess, program lead and trustee calls this ‘entrepreneurial learning.’

At the business pitch workshop Fellows pitch their startups to a panel of experienced mentors. The mentors then provide in-depth feedback on the style and substance of the pitch, focusing on delivery, messaging, business models and the unique selling proposition. This year we had 5 mentors in a morning session and 5 in the afternoon.  We have access to the incredible SLP network, however we wanted to expand the network this year by adding experts from outside. This resulted in our fellow classmates introducing great people to be part of the day. I brought in the masterful Celia Delaney, keynote speaker, MC and comedian, along with Joyce Xie from IP Group. Other Fellows introduced Hardy Giesler from CFPro Ventures, Jose M Cobian, Peter Antenen. Internally, and already connected to SLP were Bruno Vinel, Harriet Jordan-Wrench, Giles Clark, @Patrick Newton and Suneet Shivaprasad, who made up the rest of the panels.  We were ably supported by Co-Program Lead Wenqian Chen and the team at Deloitte: Waz Ali, Kajol Patel and Tyrone Hunt.

These events can be a bit formulaic and end up feeling like a long day with little value add. With 17 startups pitching, there was a lot to get through. However, due to the incredible feedback and insights from the panels along with the fact that the pitches were recorded, we  ensured that the Fellows got the most out of telling their stories. A huge thanks again to the judges and Slava Baranovskiy for recording the session.

As a class CEO one is encouraged to think of a class a startup, and therefore run it accordingly. All startups have to have a good team. So a thanks to my partners in crime, Chris and Chaitanya, who helped to get this venture off the ground and assisted in letting it run smoothly on the day.

A startup’s aim is to approach each problem with a growth mindset – how to constantly improve and iterate to get better and better at the problem you are trying to solve.  I would say there are two unique things about the SLP. First is its culture of giving back and participating in the community. Steven’s view is that the very best entrepreneurs understand the network effect. The second is the program’s incredible diversity. This year we have a Fellow from Palestine working on a housing startup and Zimbabwean by birth who’s part of a startup teaching children under 4 to code. I have always held the view that cultural diversity is a far greater asset than cultural fit – Peter Drucker famously said Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.  Startups tend to prefer cultural fit when hiring as it means you can move faster (as everyone agrees). It’s perhaps no surprise then that pre-IPO, startups with cultural fit hiring policies tend to grow the fastest. However, post IPO it’s the cultural contribution startups that tend to outperform. Like the slow tortoise overtaking the hare. Cultural contribution means more voices around the table and different thinking. It requires strong opinions loosely held, the strength of your conviction along with humility to understand when your point of view might not only be challenged but completely wrong. So how does this relate to the business pitch workshop? 

We had two incredible panels made up of individuals with very different backgrounds and expertise.  I specifically made sure that the voices and opinions would be divergent and distinctive i.e. a cultural contribution startup.  The two panels by themselves were therefore incredibly different in how they jointly voiced their opinion. This meant the Fellows received diverse opinions on the day. The credit absolutely goes to the judges for this. They provided great value to us all. However, just like startup always looking to learn and improve, I think as the organiser I could have improved upon the day by better mixing the combination of the mentors between the two panels. Ensuring that some of the morning opinions and voices were present in the afternoon session and without question vice versa.

For the class of 2019 I would also encourage you, when running this day, to focus on cultural contribution not cultural fit. Yes, a panel of serial entrepreneurs will be incredibly valuable, but how diverse are their backgrounds and what other voices and opinions can you also add to the table? The greater the cultural contribution on the day the greater value everyone (both Mentors and Fellows) will gain from it.

Thanks to everyone who participated on the day. Fellows, Mentors and the Program team.