Building out a company and a business has been my greatest challenge so far. The company’s mission is built around continuous integration and continuous improvement, the constant drive of always getting better at what you do.

As engineers, we’re trained to fix bugs, to build out new features, to hold postmortems where we analyze what didn’t work and how we can improve things.

As founders, we follow a similar pattern. We have a ton of ideas on what we want to improve, where we want to get better, what part of the product still isn’t good enough, how many more customers we want in the next 12 months. After all, our product only needs one more feature and it will finally break through, right?

Scaling up a business is, at least in the early stages, a lot about iterating on the product. We strive towards acquiring more and more customers by building more and more features, and we want to continue doing that, just like we did in the early days, because it worked so well.

Do you know that feeling? You’re never fully happy with what you have, because you have so many things that you like to improve around the product and around the company. Once you’ve fixed one thing, you move on to the next. It’s a continuous cycle, and vicious one. Nobody deserves to be fully happy until you’ve fixed more things.

I’ve been in this very same cycle, and it’s a downward spiral, especially dangerous when everyone thinks that way. Remember, as a founder, you set the tone in the company more than anyone else. If you always insist on improving, never pausing, everyone else will.

What’s missing in this picture? In the picture, we run from one thing to the next. We’re always running, we barely look back, because we feel looking back isn’t yet warranted, not before we do a few more things. Looking back would feel like standing still, like taking a deep breath, and we don’t have time for that. It’s a competitive market, the next pivot is just around the corner, there are always more reasons to keep on running. You keep running towards an unknown future, barely appreciating what you have.

And therein lies the problem. Appreciation feels undeserved, it feels like you’re stalling. You can’t allow yourself to marvel at the thing you’ve built for fear of wasting time not improving that thing, for fear of appearing selfish or bragging.

It’s good to push further and improve what you have.

But if you never take the time to appreciate where you are, you’ll be running indefinitely, and you’ll expect everyone on your team to do the same thing. If you don’t pause to celebrate achievements, neither will they.

Travis CI is now a team of 23 people, it has more than 2000 customers all over the world, and it’s running more than 230.000 build jobs every day. The running self would tell us that we were probably lucky to get here and that we need to continue running to make sure that we can keep and grow those numbers.

A different kind of me can now pause, take a deep breath and be incredibly proud of what we’ve built so far, regardless of where it’s going in the future. This new me I only got to know this year, and I’ve even started accepting the seemingly selfish thought that I had a part in achieving that.

It’s okay and necessary to give yourself credit for something you’ve done, but to get to that point, you need to stop running every once in a while. Taking a moment and a step back to reflect and appreciate what you’ve already achieved can be a much more powerful and energizing experience than always looking for more things to improve.

There's a term which in the sense of hiring (and firing), is more loaded than anything else. I'm talking about the culture fit.

A recent post on the Lighthouse blog (a product I'm actively using and that I'm a big fan of, by the way!) states that not checking for culture fit is one of the eight interview mistakes that cost you great candidates.

The post brings up the most peculiar example in this regard, a company culture of drinking (disclaimer: I've been a non-drinker for more than 16 years now). If your company has a culture of heavy drinking, then you can be sure as hell that someone like me will neither fit nor want to fit into that culture.

Startup culture in particular is known for their silent rituals and expectations on new hires. If a mum or dad can't go out to a bar at night, that's a thumbs-down, right? After all, they're not willing to socialize, and your company is like a family. A family that drinks together to create and maintain bonds.

The word culture fit continues to be thrown around both as reasons not to hire someone and to fire someone. It's a simple explanation, and it should be clear to anyone on the team (and the person affected) why they're not a culture fit, right?

There's one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You're assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn't need to be changed.

Using culture fit as a reason to fire or not to hire says more about you than it says about them. It says that you're not willing to dig deep and figure out what exactly you think doesn't match in your expectation and a candidates personality. It shows that your culture is a fixed property of your company and team, one that can't be changed, one that is exactly where you want it to be.

Culture fit is a reason to continue maintaining the status quo.

But let's take it one step at a time.

What is culture?

Culture fit is a loaded word, because the word culture has so many possible definitions. There are a lot of layers in your company.

It's safe to assume that culture is represented by your company's and team's values. If you've poured lots of work into those, then you have a good definition of your team's expected behaviour.

But culture goes beyond that. Culture is what happens at your company every day. Culture includes founders buying themselves expensive cars from a secondary investment.

Culture includes silent expectations like going to socialization events in evenings, like drinking at bars, dinners and other company events. No one wants to put those on job ads, right?

Culture is how you write and phrase your job ads. Culture is whether you're looking for rock stars or want to build a great team and help people grow. Culture is how you pay your people. Culture is how a CEO behaves towards their team and in public. Culture is how leadership fosters and drives change. Culture is how you treat your customers. Culture is how you treat your team. Culture is how open you are to changing the status quo. Culture is a team that only consists of white dudes in their late twenties.

Culture is that ping pong table in your office. Culture are all those free and unhealthy soft drinks that your company keeps in the fridge. Culture is serving your team breakfast or lunch (or both?) every day to make sure they're in the office for as long as possible. Culture is talking about commitment issues when someone on your team needs to leave early because they have children to take care of.

Everything you do every day, in your company and team, is part of your culture.

If your assumption is that no one should be able to be a part of that and that it's written in stone and cannot be changes, then by all means, hire or fire based on culture fit.

Culture fit is a means to keep people out of a protected and privileged circle, rather than to protect that circle's values, which is probably what you think it is..

Culture fit is a means to avoid talking about whether your culture is healthy and whether it needs to be improved, and most importantly, to avoid actively changing and improving it.

Stop using "culture fit"

If culture fit isn't a reason for not hiring someone or firing someone, then what is?

Culture fit is a loaded word because it can have so many meanings, it can apply on so many layers of your company. Using it means you want to spend little time on figuring out where exactly someone isn't a good match for your own expectations and why those expectations exist.

The best way to avoid falling into the culture fit trap is to have an honest look at why someone doesn't match your expectations. Did they not match implicit or explicit expectations? If they're implicit, are they really a part of your company culture? If they are, why are they not explicit?

If socializing over drinks is an expectation you have, then you should be honest enough to make it an explicit expectation. Or, if you want my advice, you should revisit why and whether it's such an important part of your culture.

Because I can tell you right here, making it explicit will help keep even more people out of your precious circle. Parents, people of religion who don't drink, non-drinkers. You can be sure that those people will never be part of your team, and that your team will continue to attract the same kind of people that are already a part of it.

"Culture fit" hampers the biggest benefit of any great team: diversity. Stop using it and start looking at the real reasons why you don't want to hire someone. They might not be their flaws but yours.

Tags: culture

A reality where success isn't measured in the amount of funding rounds or size of acquisitions but in terms of monthly revenue and positive cash flow.

A reality where a startup's impact isn't measured with a hockey stick, but based on the impact it has on its community, its people and its customers.

A reality where startups acknowledge their own survivor bias and realize that not everything they've done has lead them to where they are now, but that they're here in spite of what they did.

A reality where failure is neither celebrated nor punished, but always used as an opportunity to learn and improve.

A reality where diversity is a requirement to build a great company rather than an afterthought.

A reality where co-founder isn't a badge of honor, but where everyone in the company focuses on what they do now and in the future, regardless of their past achievements.

A reality where humility rather than a big ego is a fundamental attribute of founders and teams.

A reality where startups focus on the good they can do rather than how fast they can grow.

A reality where startups are celebrated for how little money they needed to get to where they are rather than how much money was invested in them.

A reality where startups focus on work-life balance rather than try to keep their people in the office and focused on work for as long as possible.

A reality where startups focus on a great work environment and supporting a remote culture rather retaining their people by providing snacks, soft drinks, and other kinds of perks.

A reality where openness and transparency are the default modus operandi.

A reality where startups don't hire ninjas or rockstars or "the best," but on hiring great people and helping them grow.

A reality where talking about money, cash flow, revenue, profits, and costs of running a startup is a source of inspiration rather than seen as losing a competitive advantage.

A reality where startups acknowledge that there is no perfect reality, only experimentation and continuous improvement.

None of these realities exist in isolation, and none of them necessarily needs the other to co-exist. But imagine a world where a majority of them coincide.

Is any of these realities better? That's up to you to decide.

All of these realities exist today, in one way or the other. They're alternate realities, they're not dreams.

Tags: startups