Is culture more important than revenue?

Putting headcount and business growth ahead of values can wreak havoc on your company, exec warns

Is culture more important than revenue?
Putting your people before your company’s revenue might seem an upside-down way of approaching business growth, but for one start-up, it’s a crucial part of both its philosophy and success.

When Randy Frisch and Yoav Schwartz launched Uberflip, a content management platform, they would spend every possible moment with each new hire to pass on the values they wanted to instill in their company.

“We would transfer our passion, transfer our vision and, to a degree, our beliefs and culture – even though it wasn’t overly formed at that point – because we were bringing on people who would help be an extension of our efforts,” Frisch says.

But there came a point, as more and more staff came on board, where it became untenable to spend “every living moment of the day” with each, and so Uberflip’s leaders set about defining the company’s culture – one which would guide both their brand and business decisions.

“Culture, then product, then revenue. We put culture before all,” Frisch says.

He warns that taking the opposite path – especially at the expense of employee happiness – can see “a ripple effect on your core values and culture because you frustrate people in terms of what they have to build versus what the road map and the vision was”.

“When you flip that around, and you say ‘we’re going to put our culture first’, it ensures that vision is part of that. It allows us, in our case, to put product as the next [priority] – to say ‘what’s the right product approach?’. And in theory, revenue kind of sorts itself out.”

To define Uberflip’s culture, Frisch sought suggestions from his wider team about what they felt were the company’s core values.

“It allowed them to contribute, and when you allow that team dynamic to help inform what the culture is. You just get better buy-in, at the end of the day.”

One of the biggest mistakes he believes HR professionals make is assuming their existing culture is going to work tomorrow or further down the track.

“The culture that worked when you were 25 people versus 50 or 100 or more is not going to be the same – you need to allow your culture to adapt.”

Frisch also warns against HR professionals hiring willy nilly because they see headcount as a means to achieve business growth, instead of focusing on talent.

“It starts to be more about putting bodies in place versus putting the right people in place. That’s one we all fall guilty of.”

Frisch speaks from experience: Uberflip fell into that trap about 18 months ago, after setting very aggressive targets for revenue and headcount.

“We just started to take anyone who would take the job – and not only did it not work out, but it actually created a negative vibe for a short period,” he says.

“We identified that, we adjusted, we brought in a combination of better processes, some leadership that had to change as a result … A few different things to make sure that we’re bringing in the right people, they’re gelling with everyone, and that’s the key thing: it’s really not about filling headcount, it’s about filling it with the right people.”

Randy Frisch will speak on cultivating culture that guides company brand and business decisions at the HR Leaders Summit in Toronto in November.

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