Startup Culture Diaries: The least talked about, most important factor in startup success


Welcome to a new monthly series from Foko CEO Marc Gingras on the importance of building a positive company culture. In this series, Gingras will use personal and professional examples that outline Foko’s journey of becoming a culture-first startup.

Nike sells shoes. Yet, unlike so many other shoe companies, they’ve been able to re-invent themselves several times since the first pair of sneakers was sold out of Phil Knight’s automobile in 1964. How can a company that is over 50 years old still manage to push the boundaries of innovation and remain a market leader year after year? Speak to anyone at Nike, and they will tell you: “The key to our success is our culture. We know we sell shoes, but it’s about more than that. We have purpose.”

Startups make the mistake of treating culture as an afterthought. I’ve been guilty of this. It’s easy to see why. The daily pressures of just staying in business and maintaining growth often means that we don’t invest the time needed to share the values behind the company — and our purpose. This leads to team members losing perspective, which results in high turnover.

Culture is will allow us to maneuver through changing times, changing markets, and technologies. Culture will let us grow in areas that weren’t on our radar.

As the CEO of a technology startup, I’ve also been conditioned to focus on product-market fit, to hone in on our competitive advantage, to seize compelling market opportunities. But the truth is, all of these factors are ephemeral. Technology is evolving so rapidly that what is state-of-the-art today will be old news tomorrow. My five-year-old has never seen a CD, and will never need to remember a phone number. For him, calling someone is tapping on their avatar.

So, I came to the realization that if I want to build a fast growing business that is sustainable over time, our emphasis needs to be placed on company culture. Not as a second or third fiddle to product or sales, but as leading driver for growth.

Culture is what will allow us to maneuver through changing times, changing markets, and technologies. Culture is what will allow us to grow in areas that weren’t on our radar. Culture is what will make us win. It is my belief that when your culture is strong, it will attract like-minded individuals – who come to work every day with energy, who feel that their contribution adds value, who want to share in one other’s and the company’s success. It is this ethos that I hope will fuel Foko’s success.

Therefore, this year, we’ve set three core objectives:

1. Quadruple our revenue
2. Make Foko known locally, and in our market
3. Make Foko a place that exudes our culture

And it is on this third objective that we would love to have you ride along with us on our journey in coming weeks, as we take steps to codify and explore what it really means to make culture the foundation of our company.

Marc Gingras

Marc Gingras

"Marc is a Canadian entrepreneur and angel investor. He is the CEO of Foko, a visual communication platform for retail teams. He sold his previous venture,, to BlackBerry in 2011. He is the Chairman of Sopar, a non-profit focused on sustainable development and helping the poor in rural India. Marc holds an MBA from INSEAD, a MASc in Management Sciences from the University of Waterloo and a BASc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Ottawa