Anthony Atti coined the term “Ride the Lightning” after countless Bay Area investor meetings in which he was told “You are nuts.”
Phononic, fast becoming a global leader in semiconductor innovation for the heating and cooling industry, was an expensive hardware play. It was taking on a powerful incumbent, disrupting an industry. Due diligence was long and hard.
“Ride the Lightning” became Atti’s motivation for his team back in RTP. The phrase eventually came to define the company’s culture as it raised nearly $160 million in venture capital and grew to 120 employees.
Now, the ability to Ride the Lightning is a way of evaluating potential employees to join the team, Atti told a crowd gathered for last week’s Startup Grind conference in Cary.
“Culture is the glue and the attitude that binds a company together and motivates it to do bold and audacious things,” he says. And hint: It’s more than offering attractive benefits packages or hosting Friday team happy hours.
Culture is becoming more critical in the technology community for a variety of reasons. There’s the increasingly heated competition for talent, the necessity to stand out if raising capital from investors or execute fast after raising money. Several speakers on stage at Startup Grind offered real ways their company’s success has come as a result of their unique culture.
Phononic, for example, landed Chinese venture capital after the investors spent two days with executives and technicians at the company while Atti was out of town. The culture was so ingrained that Atti trusted his team to present the company well. The investors left impressed and eager to get involved.
Dude Solutions built a reputation for being “high touch” and serving customers well with its practice of answering phone calls within three rings, said co-founder Lee Prevost. And Todd Olson, CEO of Pendo, spent the first 18 months of the company’s existence responding immediately and personally to support requests. There, customers still get the courtesy of a phone call if they have a question or problem.
“We’ve made customer success a core value and part of who we are,” Olson told the crowd. “It’s baked into our culture.”
Steve Malik, founder of Medfusion and owner of North Carolina FC, said both his teams work by the Dean Smith philosophy of “Play hard, play smart and play together.”
In fact, when he bought back Medfusion from public company Intuit in 2013, he walked in the first day wearing a “Get Shit Done” shirt, and handed out a whole stack of those shirts to the rest of the team.
“Folks only focused on the end goal as opposed to what it takes to put you in the best position, those folks fail,” he told the crowd.
For each of these founders, culture happens when teams are empowered to take ownership over their roles and the company’s future success. The happy hours, benefits packages and other perks only sweeten the deal.