Building Culture on a Startup Budget

Kaleah Baker

Kaleah Baker, COO and Co-founder of BridesMade – Canada’s only bridesmaid dress rental service! After growing up in small town Saskatchewan, Kaleah completed her BBA in Marketing & Management at Bishop’s University, and her MBA at Wilfrid Laurier. Both schools are known for their tight-knit communities, so it’s no wonder that a collaborative culture would be a must within her own business. From startup to standout success story, Kaleah loves telling her entrepreneurship story. 

Some questions I ask:

  • How do you build a team of millennials leading millennials? 
  • If everyone isn’t full time, how do you motivate them? 
  • Your team is a well-travelled startup having gone through multiple incubators & accelerators. How have these experiences changed your company and what elements of their cultures have you adopted into yours over time? 
  • As a female-only team, how do those dynamics affect your team and what is your plan for the future to grow your team? 
  • What are your tips, from experience, for navigating fast-growth?

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Finding people who have previous experience with high-level performance such as in sport or music is an excellent way to build a team that can perform at the high level required in a fast-growth startup. 
  • Ensuring there are elements of fun in people’s lives is profoundly important to startup culture. 
  • In a monthly All Hands Meeting, allowing for people to ask the leaders ANYTHING can be incredibly helpful in preventing conflict or issues down the road 
  • Within the incubator setting, such as at Communitech, there’s a concept of “accessible help.” Kaleah’s advice comes with a caveat however, you can book time with her or anyone whenever it’s needed… but it’s your responsibility to know what you want to talk to about and clarify that the meeting is between the correct people. At Communitech, she mentions that when people ask for your time, you typically give it to them with undivided attention… as long as it is with the right person to be respectful! 
  • In a bridesmaid dress company, women TEND to be a bit more passionate… so that extra 5% of passion does go a long way to hiring females. It is complex in a female-focused brand to integrate that first man onto your team. The plan for now is to see at a point of exponential growth (~50 people), men will certainly be part of the hiring plan. 
  • Ask your people what they want and avoid assuming or telling them what they do. 

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How To Build a High-Performing Company of World-Changing Millennials

Victoria MacDonald

One Canadian organization that has made one of the greatest global impacts is WE. We have the honour of hearing from Victoria MacDonald, their Chief People Officer today for a brilliant discussion of millennials, translating values into actions & leading a team in a hyper-growth mode! 

Victoria is a 20-year veteran HR professional who is known for building cultures of alignment, accountability and high levels of engagement without pool tables, beer fridges or free food. 

Some questions I ask:

  • How do you come into a company as a new executive to bring change in a well-established, already world-class company culture? 
  • WE has an incredibly diverse set of roles in their 1000+ person organization. How do you hire so that across the organization, in the variety of roles & the types of people each require, to still hire aligned to your values?
  • How do leaders, many of whom are struggling with this, translate their values into behaviours people know how to demonstrate at school?
  • Are there tools & technology to help reinforce core values? 
  • What are some key learnings you’ve found that millennials need to thrive in the workplace? 
  • “Working with a purpose” is incredible, WE may even have it more easy than most, sometimes work still gets monotonous… how do you keep your workplace invigorated? 

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Heading into a major growth-period that involves maturing as a company is highly complex. Adding a more diverse workforce (in WE’s case, adding more tenured employees bringing the average age from 24 to 30 years old). Most elements of your people programs much change including your offer letters, performance management processes, the way you set goals, even your career development conversations. 
  • WE sets out to always continuously improve, Co-Founders Marc & Craig Kielburger never let themselves think they’re “done.” 
  • WE doesn’t see their quarterly employee engagement surveys as a way to figure out whether people are “happy at work.” Rather, they use their surveys to find out: 
    • what is working, so they can do better at those 
    • what needs to be tweaked or changed > create plans against these things 
  • When Victoria created her detailed HR Roadmap, every item on this plan is directly related to something that has come out of their surveys. 
  • Hiring for core values such as “we move for purpose & positivity,” guide their interviews. 3 Day Orientation is also integral to having people understanding how to display values at work, this achieves cultural cohesion. Because this occurs in all offices around the world, there’s a similar employee experience across-the-board. 
  • What’s rarely discussed is that millennials go to work everyday to create a sense of community and to be with their friends. Nurturing that and giving people the opportunity to work with their friends is really important. 

Learn More

Connect with Victoria:

More about

WE is a family of organizations spanning from charities to social enterprises. One of their most famous events, WE Day is the greatest celebration of social good on earth. A multi-million dollar event where you can’t buy a ticket… you only get in through service & volunteering. World-leaders, celebrities & outstandingly brave people gather with and youth activists arena events to inspire the next generation.

Listening to Your People in a Fast-Growth Company


Tia Fomenoff has always loved helping others solve their problems—whether she’s placing people in their dream jobs, working with customers to make more money, guiding small businesses on the uses of social media or even recommending great restaurants to acquaintances. In today’s podcast, Tia shares in-detail how she and the leadership team have listened well to their employees, even adapted accordingly to the extent of giving a $2000 mental health spending limit for every employee! 
Her unconventional career-path began in northern British Columbia in the non-profit and tourism industries, then shifted to focus on digital marketing and customer success at high-growth tech companies Unbounce and Buffer. Tia is now the Director of People and Culture at Thinkific, where they build software that enables entrepreneurs to create, market, sell, and deliver their own online courses.
Some questions I ask:
  • What are company leaders today realizing is the most important thing for their businesses when it comes to culture?
  • Are you seeing a lot of mobility (people bouncing around) between startups in your city? How do you deal with that?
  • When a startup Founder & CEO decides to introduce a Director of People & Culture role, what are they thinking?
  • As a non-native People & Culture leader, what has been the most challenging part of stepping into your role & what have you learned about yourself?
  • How do you balance non-traditional experience with the need for the compliance that a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) brings? How do you split up these responsibilities on your team?
  • What is the difference between culture fit and culture add… and what does values fit seem to be something you look for when hiring?
  • How do we build cultures where people speak up?
  • How do we properly survey our employees? How do people at every level of the company bring forward ideas to leadership?
  • What mistakes have you made in your hiring over time?
In this episode, you will learn: 
  • Great recruitment becomes a primary competitive advantage in a high-paced, fast-growing tech cities
  • How to transition from a different area of business (e.g. in Tia’s case, she was in marketing) to People & Culture (P&C)
  • Having a non-strict-HR background can be an advantage for a leader in the P&C department, you can understand all the roles & their needs, how to help people grow & be happy opposed to having a key focus on compliance
  • Diversity is very challenging to obtain when looking for culture fit. When you look for a values fit however, you will be rewarded in the beautiful diversity you have in your organization.
  • Amazing to see that when people are encouraged to adopt the value of “We give a shit” how people will roll up their sleeves to pitch in when needed.
  • Set up a channel for communication of new ideas to leadership! Having a flat structure internally allows for people to bring ideas forward to their people leader, even one level above without much feeling they are stepping out of place.
  • Structuring your employee engagement surveys with (1) evidence-based questions, (2) net-promoter score (e.g. How likely are you to recommend working at Thinkific to a family or friend) and (3) free and open-ended questions (e.g. What’re your favourite things about working here? What are some things we can do better?).
  • How to act on your employee’s suggestions, group them into themes, and then make them fully transparent by sharing them with the whole company so people know of the progress towards change and understand what is happening!
Connect with Tia Fomenoff:
Also mentioned on this show:

Creating A Culture That Sparkles

Have you ever wondered what happens to those businesses you see on Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank? Well, today’s guest is one of those who has skyrocketed in growth, building a strong international reputation. Rachel Mielke, Hillberg & Berk‘s fearless leader is my guest today on The CultureING Podcast. Starting a jewellery empire from a prairie city in Canada of only 230k people is no small feat. From 2 commissioned pieces for Queen Elizabeth II and being featured on the red carpet at the Oscars, while becoming a staple jewellery brand for ladies all around the world. On this episode, we get the inside scoop on how Rachel built this wonderful organization, but more specifically, how she built a thriving company culture amidst the rapidly impressive growth! I’m just so impressed at Rachel’s character, helping women find their confidence and flourish, from the inside out. 

Some questions I ask: 

  • What was the moment when you realized company culture had to be top of mind? 
  • How do you know if people can rise to the challenge of being brave at work? 
  • How do deal with letting someone go? 
  • What does it look like for executives and leaders to invest in culture and keep a temperature check on their organizations? 
  • What other companies’ cultures have influenced the Hillberg & Berk culture? 

In this episode, you will learn:  

  • How to get to the heart of people in an interview. 
  • What it looks like to effectively stay up-to-date on the culture of your organization. 
  • How to make the decision to create a centralized HQ versus having multiple locations… and how to incorporate remote workers too! 
  • The importance of marrying points from your employee surveys with those from 1-to-1 conversations to understand the pain points in your organization that you need to address swiftly. 
  • The complicated task of integrating remote workers into your culture and setting them up for success. 
  • How it’s important to take the best practices and culture inspiration from other companies with a grain of salt and distinctly create your own unique culture. 

Connect with Rachel Mielke: 

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