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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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:

Turning Your Culture Around & Getting Out of the Way

On this week’s episode of the CultureING Podcast, we are joined by Matt Diteljan!

As the Founder & Futurist of Glacier GenZ Advertising and Cascade Influencer Marketing, he gets to see things from a bird’s eye view and focus on the future. Matt first grew Glacier from his dorm room in University to an international multi-million dollar company with hundreds of clients, 50+ employees, and a well-respected name in the Higher Ed. marketing sector. When he’s not at the Cascade office, Matthew is very active on several boards including the Entrepreneur’s Organization and the EO Accelerator Program, or you can likely find him sending it down a mountain on his mountain bike.

Some questions I ask: 

  • How to start being proactive about helping people with their career plan, especially in an organization that is primarily of the same age demographic (e.g. millennials). 
  • How do you let your culture mature enough to authentically dictate your values, mission, vision & cultural framework? 
  • How can you funnel back to your organization the futuristic, lofty plans & ideas? 
  • What does a leader need to do to maintain open-handedness around control over all decision making, growth and ideas? 
  • What is the leaders preferred way to receive constructive feedback from a “lower level” employee? 

In this episode, you will learn:  

  • How to take your culture from fear-based culture to a world-class culture 
  • What it looks like to recognize you are standing in the way of the company’s growth 
  • How to transition from CEO to Futurist & Chairman 
  • How do you create a leadership vacuum that continually calls people higher and leads to internal promotions & increasing levels of leadership 
  • What it looks like to take a financial hit on the journey to fighting for your values 
  • How to manage the dynamic of a futuristic leader working alongside a day-to-day CEO 
  • How to bring your whole team into the future idea and have them begin thinking of how their role will need to change to fit into the strategic direction moving forward 
  • Futuristic thinking about whether or not we really have to fire people 

Also mentioned on this show: 

Connect with Matt Diteljan: 

Company Culture is Everyone’s Responsibility

Thane Marcus brings such spice to life and is a wizard when it comes to personal and professional development. As we continually examine the wonderful world of company culture, it’s always important to remember how much culture is influenced by each individual in our organizations. So is building an amazing culture the responsibility of the leadership team? Nope. It is shared. We all have a part to play. So this episode can help anyone from a CEO to a new grad, become an incredible individual contributor to a company culture you can be proud of. 

Some questions I ask: 

  • What does it look like to build a “teachable” culture in our organizations? Is there a way for both employees and leaders to learn from one another. 
  • What might be some examples of personal systems that people can use to become a more high performing and effective at their jobs, especially when there are predefined systems in the workplace that may, or may not, be conducive to our personal growth? 
  • Why do we need to be healthy? 
  • If leaders are doing something that is actually compromising employees’ health, are we actually shooting ourselves in the foot from having high-performing teams? 
  • What does it cost our businesses when we don’t make room for people to show up as their full selves at work: Body, soul & spirit?! 
  • What are millennial wanting to see in the workplace of the future that they’re not seeing right now? 

In this episode, you will learn:  

  • Thane discusses that in a recent blog that self-employment is most certainly not for everyone. 
  • It can be extremely beneficial to begin to train ourselves in leading up the chain of command. In a way of honour and respect, we can gain influence and empowerment when we learn this skill, benefiting both parties. 
  • Our performance is tied to sleep, recovery, and self-care. Contrary to popular belief, sleeping less, eating terribly, avoiding exercise will not get us ahead, but rather, hold us back. 
  • Leaders have a responsibility to steward their roles well specifically by learning what makes millennial tick and helping them to use those traits as their advantage. Creating an atmosphere that leverages who millennial are, and how they’ve grown up is key. We can use who they are to better support who they can become as professionals in our organizations. 

Also mentioned on this show: 

Connect with Thane Marcus: 

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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