When should a founder start to think about startup culture?

Holly Liu / November, 2017


Holly Liu founded the venture-backed mobile gaming company, Kabam in 2006 with UC Berkeley alumni. Kabam was sold to South Korea’s Netmarble Games for a reported $800 million in 2017. Holly led the design for Kabam’s award-winning “Kingdoms of Camelot” franchise, which has grossed over $250 million in less than four years. Watch this video as she shares Kabam’s culture in the early stage to growth stage.

Video transcript:

When should a founder start to think about startup culture?

I think a startup founder should actually think about the culture from the beginning. In the beginning, I think culture looks very different. It’s very important that the founders are aligned in values but they can be diverse in skillset as well as the kind of working styles, as long as you can work together.

But as long as values are similar as well as the mission and the goal of what they want to do with that startup are similar and in the same direction, to me that’s culture and that should be thought about from the beginning. Or else you’re just going to have lots and lots of problems and we often talk about how many startups die not because of something outside but because of suicide. It’s a lot of these problems between co-founders or not being able to work fast enough to get into the market. Most of that comes down to kind of alignment in values and compatibility in working styles as well as similar goals and mission and vision around the entire startup and what your purpose is.

I would say we didn’t write them down until we started getting a bit larger and that’s been a process over time. I’d like to think about it as every kind of group of people actually do have their culture and their values. I do believe the smaller you are like a family of four you probably don’t have things written down because what I really like to say, which is true even at a larger organization, is that culture is caught not taught.

Often times because you’re so small there’s a lot of things where culture is just lived out every day. Because you’re so small it’s on the same page. In fact, it will slow you down if you’re going to sit down and kind of write it down. Writing is one of those things that is better to do at scale.

Some of the things that we found early on between the founders, in terms of similar values and kind of why we wanted to start something, was that we saw a problem. We thought we were the right team to fix it.

We were a very market-led co-founding team so if something wasn’t working out we were very open to changing it. In fact, you’ll probably have seen in a lot of the stories about Kabam is our favorite word ‘pivot’ and we have probably had about three different companies within the last 10 years. I do think because core to us founders as we were very market-led and adaptable on kind of the inside and we wanted to see where the market would lead us. That’s just an example of how we were kind of similar in our values and of how we came together.



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