How We Keep the Startup Culture Inside a Bigger Company

0f236d6Last year our startup WeHostels was acquired by StudentUniverse, the leading online travel agency for students and youth. The complementarity between the two companies made the deal a no-brainer: we were mobile-first, they were web-first; we focused on accommodations, they focused mainly on flights; we were in the startup-innovation stage, they were in the scaling-growth stage.

Acquisitions of startups have been a great source of innovation for big companies in the technology world, as suggested by Clayton Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Solution. Great examples include Priceline’s acquisition of Booking.com, which became their main source of growth, and Google’s acquisition of Android, AdSense and YouTube. However, acquisitions sometimes can go horribly wrong, especially when the entrepreneurial culture is lost post-acquisition. Knowing that, we have made a conscious effort since closing the deal to maintain our unique startup culture inside the bigger organization, while adapting and learning the best practices of a more mature company in its growth phase. Here are steps we’ve taken to maintain our startup culture:

1. We stayed at a co-working office space, surrounded by other startups

We believe that an entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the key elements that fuel innovation in startups. That’s why we decided to stay in New York at WeWork, a co-working space for startups and creative entrepreneurs instead of moving our team to the main Headquarters in Boston. This way we remain surrounded by other startups also creating innovative technologies, thus allowing “cross-pollination” and creative serendipity to work its magic.

2. We continue running lean, agile development

One thing that we learned in our time as a startup is the importance of agile development and constant iteration. As many entrepreneurs these days are familiar with, our bible is the “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. We try to keep this way of working on our current projects by building MVPs, validating assumptions, failing fast and be constantly learning.

3. We balance work and play with a casual, informal environment

We continue being very informal and playful on our office space. At the office we play ping-pong, chess or guitar hero, and every so often we grab beers after work. These past weeks we’ve been watching the World Cup games on a side screen, often sparking more than the occasional soccer debate. Keeping this relaxed environment allows us to be creative and brings the best in us.

4. We keep our curiosity for new technologies and tools

Entrepreneurs are generally early adopters of new technologies and that is what helps us be ahead of the curve on technological developments that drive innovation. We value our curiosity for new technologies and tools and push these novelties to the organization. Through HackerNews, ProductHunt, and Panda we discover cool new products and tools that can enhance our products and way of building things.

5. We keep the “Hackers” mentality

Although we now have to be more careful because there is more at stake (millions of users using our services, and big name companies as partners), we try to maintain a good quota of “hackers mentality.” For us, this means finding creative ways to solve technical problems, figuring out shortcuts, thinking outside of the box and building stuff rather than staying paralyzed by analysis.

With these points in mind and the great support that we have from the leadership of the group we feel confident that we will able to keep our entrepreneurial culture and contribute with innovation to the company (btw, we are hiring!). I hope by sharing this experience that it can be useful to others trying to keep a startup culture on large organizations.

How do you find ways to create an entrepreneurial culture at your company?

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