Before you get started, ask yourself...
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
If you are seeking to sell your company or spin off its intellectual property in the next few years, then building a strong culture is less important than if you’re building for the long term.
HOW STRONGLY ALIGNED IS YOUR CULTURE TODAY?
The less aligned it feels, the harder it will be to define values and pay off culture debt down the line and vice-versa.
IS YOUR TEAM ON board?
A risk of defining values too early is that without time and space to gestate, a company’s values may simply end up reflecting the founder’s personal values at that time, and not necessarily the company’s values.
You may also want to wait until you have most of your major departments represented at the company as they will allow you to see your culture through a different lens and notice things you didn’t before. For instance, at Artsy “Openness” went from being something we agreed with to becoming a core value largely due to the influence of our CTO and engineering team in making open-source a part of our culture.
Are you ready to scale?
Be aware that culture debt creeps up on you faster than you expect. Humans did not evolve an intuition for the notion of compounding growth. Like technical debt or financial debt, culture debt often catches companies by surprise. If you feel a large growth phase coming up, or you’re already in the midst of one, now may be a good time to create space to define values.
What is your financial situation?
If you’ve got a short runway then your energy should be focused on extending it. Having money in the bank and ideally growing revenue gives your company the mental space and freedom to do such a long-term, focused exercise properly.