Nanette Collins: Startup Culture is Critical

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, EDA, skmurphy, Startups

I am happy to be able to offer another guest blog by Nanette Collins, her first was on “Volunteering, Lessons Learned from the Trenches.”  Nanette is an entrepreneur in her own right, she is the principal at Nanette V. Collins Marketing and PR with offices in Boston and San Francisco and one the web at

It’s All About Corporate Culture by Nanette Collins

In the 15 years that I have owned a marketing consulting business, my focus has been on working with entrepreneurs and startups in the EDA and semiconductor area. This has given me a ringside seat to grand successes, gut-wrenching failures and plenty of case study material. I have seen a lot and learned a few things in the process.

If an entrepreneur were to approach me for advice on the first steps to starting a business, I’d recommend thinking carefully about the kind of culture he or she wants to create. This effort will set the tone and help lay a foundation for success. A corporate culture based on a strong value system and an implicit understanding of ethical business practices will engender loyalty from the team, customers and various other stakeholders.

Corporate culture is much more than Six Sigma, the business management strategy du jour, or Quality Circles implemented by many large companies in the 1980s. It’s also more than the detailed corporate identity list of must haves –– name, logo, tag line, website and so on.

Instead, it’s a careful assessment by a company’s management on how it should operate and be perceived, based on a standard set of ideals that reflect its goals and objectives. The corporate culture should be fluid enough to be able to integrate attitudes, behavior, experiences and personal and cultural values.

A great example is a long-gone EDA startup called Viewlogic that hired the Boston Public Relations firm where I worked as an account executive in the mid 1980s. What quickly became apparent was the thoughtfulness and care the five founders –– Sal Carcia, Alain Hanover, Will Herman, Ron Maxwell and K.S. (Sri) Sriram –– had placed on building the company’s corporate culture. Maybe it was instinct. It may have been good management skills. More likely, it was the experience that they gained from working for a large corporation before going off on their own.

Whatever the motivation, it was the right thing to do, but it took a year’s worth of meticulous planning before they launched themselves. This company taught me many things, but the most valuable insight was the need to pay attention to corporate culture.

As a regular visitor to this company long acquired by a larger vendor, it was clear to me that the focus on corporate culture instilled a set of shared values with employees. The entire team seemed to have a set of customs and traditions that was this company’s and none other, which made it a terrific client and business partner.

Employees were dedicated, focused and all had a sense of purpose. That’s because they understood where they fit within the culture and knew what was considered appropriate behavior. During new employee orientation, Will Herman proudly carried into the session a three-ring binder with the presentation on the company’s corporate culture. This emphasis helped the company navigate through tough times and encouraged the team to keep going. After all, even with a well-conceived corporate culture, it wasn’t immune to the vagaries of a new business.

As the company grew in size and got more successful, a plaque was hung in the reception area outlining its five-point value system, underscoring the corporate culture. Many of the specific points seem to have been forgotten over time, but there are a few that stand out:

  • The first is an emphasis on professionalism and personal integrity that started with the founders who set the example for all.
  • A focus on ensuring a return to all stakeholders –– investors, employees, customers and partners –– may seem obvious, but well worth articulating to the entire team.
  • Providing value to customers may seem obvious as well, but who hasn’t experience lousy quality support from a formerly valued vendor? In recent years, many a large consumer company has been resoundingly criticized for their lack of customer service. A corporate culture focused on successful customers has to be a winning strategy.

I have worked with more than 30 startups and see too few founders give enough consideration to the culture of the firm that they are building, an unfortunate miscalculation. Too many entrepreneurs seem to think this is trite, quaintly old fashioned or don’t consider it at all. And yet, the benefits are numerous, from employee recruiting and retention to loyal customers and repeat business. With a strong corporate culture, there will be no ambiguity about behavior or ethics or what a company stands for.

Just as every startup has a product strategy and roadmap, it should also develop a set of corporate guidelines. It may be the blueprint for success.

I have included a 1985 article on Viewlogic for some background for readers who may be unfamiliar. The company was a pioneer in EDA but does not have a Wikipedia page or definitive history on-line that I could find. It’s from “D&T Scene,” IEEE Design and Test of Computers, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 10-15, May/June 1985, doi:10.1109/MDT.1985.294730

Viewlogic unveils first CAE product at show Viewlogic Systems, a start-up company formed in October 1984, will show its first product, a desktop CAE system based on the IBM PC, at this year’s Design Automation Conference. The company also announced it has received $1.5 million in first-round financing, provided by company founders and venture-capital firms.

Viewlogic was founded by Alain Hanover, Salvatore Carcia, Ronald Maxwell, Sri Sriram, and William Herman, all from Digital Equipment Corporation. The company claims that its software addresses key elements of a design engineer’s desktop needs, providing facilities for design, documentation, and communication.

An open architecture approach gives users access to a reliable electronic design automation system that fits into existing CAE environments.

Sriram, Viewlogic’s director of marketing, says that the key benefit of the system is that it is priced at a level that allows each design engineer to have a system at his desk, where it is always accessible. The PC-based system is powerful enough for many applications, but the software, written in C, is also available in a version that runs on a DEC VAX operating under VMS for more demanding applications.

The software is currently being evaluated at five beta sites.

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment

Quick Links

Bootstrappers Breakfast Link Startup Stages Clients In the News Upcoming Events Office Hours Button Newsletter SignUp