We all know there are a lot of factors that go into the success of a startup. There are seed factors, like whether the founder has the drive and relevant experience to push the company to succeed. There are external factors, like whether the economy makes it hard to get the funding you may need to expand at a critical juncture. But there are also organic factors, like how productive the company atmosphere is, how good your hiring process is, and a zillion other things.
This last category feels a little fuzzy to me as a person coming from a technical background. It's hard to get an idea of what a "good" internal culture is, much less how to cultivate it. I've found it interesting food for thought to read about the internals of companies like Fog Creek Software, 37signals and others that have good reputations within the software industry, but I've stumbled across most of this information by accident.
Does anyone have recommendations for companies I should learn more about to further my understanding of the organic factors in corporate success?
If you're interested in being a little radical (as opposed to conventional), I would recommend reading Ricardo Semler's books Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace and The Seven-day Weekend: A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century - they are quite easy and enjoyable to read and they make you think quite deeply about what drives company culture. His company called Semco and is based in Brazil - they've enjoyed pretty dramatic growth and very low turnover over the past 20 years - he talks about it a little in this video .
Semler's key insight is that your staff are adults and should be treated as such, rather than trying to manipulate/control people by the usual carrots and sticks, the best thing is to set up an environment where people feel trusted, and are truly empowered to fulfil their roles within an organisation based on intrinsic (i.e., built in) motivations (see also Dan Pink's thoughts on motivation). Semler refers to this as the democratic workplace.
Another good example of corporate culture is Southwest Airlines. If you read the book "Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success" it gives a pretty good look into how and why Southwest has a great corporate culture.
I actually did a study on Southwest in graduate school. Not a huge study or anything like that but just a presentation on why they are successful.
Before our presentation, I called up our local Southwest office to ask for some peanuts, napkins and cups (we wanted to mock up an inflight experience). Not only did I get it for free (I was prepared to pay for it), they got it to me that day and as much as I wanted. This seems trivial but that's the kind of thing people remember. I don't think any other company has better customer service than Southwest.
The book Good to Great by Jim Collins has factors his research project determined that made companies great. It's a good read and lists the great companies. What is interesting is the leaders of these great companies are modest, humble people as opposed to many of the in the news CEOs we hear about.