Beyond Breakfast Tacos: Keeping Your Culture as You Expand

Over the years, I’ve seen many startups go through a checklist to create what they perceive as “culture.” But building a strong company culture is not just about pool tables and breakfast tacos; it’s more about fostering great relationships between people and encouraging them to excel – ultimately, it’s about the entire working environment, and how work gets done. SailPoint was recently named one of the Austin Business Journal’s Best Places to Work for the seventh consecutive year. I’m particularly proud of this award because it’s based solely on employee sentiment, as represented in a survey administered by the ABJ.

SailPoint’s success is directly tied to our Core Values, also known as the “Four I’s”: integrity, individuals, impact and innovation. I believe that three of those – integrity, individuals and impact – are the cornerstones to establishing a strong corporate culture and maintaining your overall corporate identity. And, because they are independent of scale, they represent values that apply to large enterprises as well as brand-new start-ups.


Ideally, you have a management team of executives who not only understands your vision and values, but also demonstrates these same principles each and every day. As your company grows, you must increasingly rely on your management team to maintain that high level of integrity, which we define as “delivering on the commitments we make.”

While it’s important to define the company culture for employees, ultimately they will be looking for evidence of how “authentic” that culture is. Your actions regarding integrity are the key signal to the company as a whole, and you must walk the talk. For instance, if you say that “work-life balance” is important, make sure you do things like carve out time to be part of activities such as company meetings, parties and volunteerism. And importantly, make sure the rest of your leadership team is doing the same.


A strong team is the “magic” to making your company successful, and each employee is a link in the chain. It is critical to keep your focus on hiring only the best and brightest, because as you know, “A” players like to work with “A” players. We try to focus on hiring the absolute best employees, which includes the right combination of talent, commitment and humility in each person.

While I can no longer interview every employee who goes through the hiring process at SailPoint, we’ve built a team of hiring managers who also live our core values. They share a deep understanding of our culture so that our tradition of hiring “A” players continues. My co-founder, Kevin Cunningham, and I keep our fingers on the pulse of the hiring process at SailPoint by hosting new hire orientation and new employee luncheons to meet the new faces of SailPoint and establish relationships. When you outgrow the ability to meet with each candidate, you need to remain open and accessible. By meeting with employees in both established forums and ad hoc meetings around the office, you establish an open door (really an “open-ness”) policy.


A core tenet of a healthy culture is to always treat our employees like adults. In our company, we refer to this as “measuring and rewarding results, not activity.” For example, some employees leave early to spend time with their families, and then work into the evening after their children have gone to bed. It is critical for the success of your team that you create an environment in which your employees want to come to work because they are respected, treated like adults and have goals they believe are attainable.

Finally, we make it a point to recognize employees’ individual good work and dedication to the company, through a company-specific reward system or at our regular company meetings. At the end of the day, people need to know that what they are doing matters, that it is appreciated, and that they will be rewarded for their contribution to the overall success of the company.

Building a company culture is all about building relationships and respect. When smart people work on intriguing problems, and they enjoy coming to work each day, they can accomplish great things togeth