Building the Right Company Culture in Your Ed-Tech Startup

When you are running a small company, it’s hard to devote any time or thought to how you are building your company’s culture. In the past, I’ve worked at public radio stations that already had a defined culture. Now, as the founder and CEO of Listenwise, I need to think about keeping my team cohesive, happy and focused, as we all work long hours in a startup. Building a strong culture will help.

When you build a culture, you share your mission and values. This comes from Gail Goodman the CEO of Constant Contact. She built a billion-dollar business in email marketing by hiring, firing and promoting based on culture. Her company was recently sold to Endurance International, which adheres to three main mottos: customers first, make it happen, and seriously awesome people.

As I grow Listenwise, I try to keep focused on our values, which I put onto paper in the early days of the business–when I was the only person running the business. The company values are: educate all kids, passion, team, exceed expectations and positive energy. But as I write this, I am aware I don’t spend much time talking about these values. They are often listed in our job postings. But beyond reading them on the job application, I doubt our employees even know the values exist.

In an ed-tech company, values are particularly important. While a company like Panorama Education doesn’t explicitly note their values, they do showcase their culture on their website saying, “While we share the same vision for a world in which all students get the education they deserve, we also share passions for great food, the outdoors, the city of Boston, thought-provoking poems, and witty puns. We work hard for the communities we serve and enjoy spending time together while we do it.”

EverTrue is another example of a company putting culture at the forefront. They say, “If you’re looking to join a passionate, mission-driven team, the EverCrew is it. We’re all about building relationships, and that doesn’t stop with our customers. The team eats lunch together, competes in Ping-Pong challenges and has game nights.”

After hearing Goodman, of Constant Contact, speak on the importance of company culture to building a successful business, and seeing what other ed-tech startups have explicitly created, I am going to dedicate more time to talking about our values and building our culture.

Recently, we had a great opportunity, as a company, to celebrate who we are. We changed our name. We will continue to bring the authentic listening experiences to your students, but with our name shift to Listenwise, we are now growing our focus on building valuable and lasting listening skills for 21st century learning. We are about listening, literally.

To celebrate, we ate cake together. In fact we often celebrate birthdays and achievements with cake or cupcakes. It gives us all some downtime to get together and chat … and eat sugar. Who doesn’t like that?

I realize bringing in a discussion of our mission and values will be important to these moments, but as the company has grown, I also realize it’s time to reexamine these values and bring more people into the conversation about them.


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