The Myth of “Startup Culture”

The term “startup culture” is often thrown around in the business world, conjuring images of casual dress codes, open office spaces, and a relentless drive for innovation. However, after delving into the operations of various startups, like Freetrade, it becomes evident that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all “startup culture.” Instead, the culture of a startup is what its founders make of it. If they’re intentional, they can craft a unique, thriving environment. If not, they risk falling into the trap of replicating the corporate world they once sought to disrupt.

The Illusion of a Unified Startup Culture

Drawing from the Freetrade example in the Raconteur’s article, it’s clear that startup culture is not about pool tables or artisan coffee counters. It’s about the values, beliefs, and practices the founders and early team members embed into the company’s DNA. For instance, Freetrade’s CEO, Adam Dodds, emphasizes comfort and output over strict dress codes, reflecting his belief in prioritizing employee well-being and productivity over superficial norms.

The Risk of Unintentionality

Startups that don’t intentionally define their culture face a significant risk. As they grow and bring in experienced professionals from various backgrounds, especially from large corporations, they might find themselves in an environment lacking clear cultural direction. Their natural inclination would be to implement what they know best, often importing practices from the corporate world. While these practices might be efficient, they might not always align with the startup’s original vision or values.

Intentionality in Crafting Culture

Being intentional about company culture means actively defining and nurturing the values you want your startup to embody. It’s about creating an environment where every team member understands and aligns with the company’s values, from the newest intern to the most seasoned professional.

When founders are clear about their startup’s culture and values, they can collaborate more effectively with experienced professionals. Instead of allowing a “copy-paste” approach from the corporate world, they can guide these professionals to implement practices that resonate with the startup’s ethos. This synergy can lead to innovative solutions that combine startups’ agility with established corporations’ expertise.


While there’s no monolithic “startup culture,” founders have the power to shape their startups’ culture actively. By being intentional about their values and guiding principles, they can ensure that their company remains true to its vision, even as it grows and evolves. As startups like Freetrade have shown, when culture is approached intentionally, it becomes a powerful tool for innovation, growth, and long-term success.

Have you witnessed or been a part of a startup that successfully integrated its core values while scaling, or one that lost its essence along the way? I would love to hear your experiences and insights on how intentionality in culture-building impacted the journey.


  • Alexis Monville

    Alexis Monville worked in multicultural and distributed environments for years, coming back from the US and now based in the southwest of France. When asked if he misses the work in the office, he usually answers that he spent half of his 30 years of management experience in diverse sectors outside of the office and a lot of that working from home. Alexis is Chief of Staff to the CTO at Red Hat, a long-time hybrid open-source software company with more than 100 office locations in 40 countries, where half of the 20,000 people work remotely. Alexis is a firm believer that change starts with the self. He is the author of two books: Changing Your Team From The Inside and I am a Software Engineer and I am in Charge. Alexis facilitates successful playful collaborations. He designs and builds sustainable and high-impact teams and organizations.

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