Last week 321 Growth Academy geared up and went west to Vancouver to take in #TractionConf, a growth conference whose 2018 theme was (fittingly) Scaling Up.

Over a jam-packed day featuring a myriad of supercharged speakers from Box to Intercom to FreshBooks to Bumble (thankfully, a diverse lineup with nary a “manel” in sight!) we expected to hear stories, insights and ideas about growth hacking, lead gen and raising capital.  We did and they definitely delivered.

What pleasantly surprised us? An overriding theme of #TractionConf was all about People, specifically the role that people and culture play in starting and scaling companies.  After too long of being an afterthought, People has (happily!) come to the forefront of how Founders, Investors and Leaders think about growing successfully.  So what are some of the highlights? Read on for a recap.

Culture for Startups: Start Early, Stand Out and Keep It Real

We were happy to see the advice to Founders to start thinking about culture at an early stage, to make sure your culture is authentic and unique and to make sure your culture in action aligns with your culture as you articulate it.

Sameer Dholakia, CEO of SendGrid noted that early stage startups aren’t investing enough in culture early enough in their company lifecycles.  He noted (we hear you!) that

Building startups is hard and suggests that companies create core values at the start and cultivate them as you grow.  He shared the core values at SendGrid, called 4H

  • Happy
  • Hungry
  • Humble
  • Honest

Dholakia noted that at SendGrid they both named the core values and created descriptions of what they mean by these values.  Importantly, Dholakia also stated that startups have to make sure their values and culture are unique.  In his words: “Make sure it has edge. It can’t be ‘apple pie.’  It has to be unique.”

Culture as you Scale

What we heard here from speakers is to, as Dave Pickles at The Trade Desk put it: “pay attention to and plan for culture.”  Again, the theme of being authentic and real was prevalent. Dave’s advice: “Talk a lot about mission, values and culture.  Talk and do: if you talk about it and don’t do it, that’s worse; and Strongly reward people for collaborating and working together.”  We also heard speakers talk about how important it is, especially as companies’ scale, to get everyone involved in cultivating culture.  Culture is not just the job of the Founder, the CEO, the Leadership team or the People team.  Culture is part of everyone’s job.


We are big fans of employee experience and attribute-based hiring assessments at 321 so we were excited to hear this articulated by speakers at #TractionConf.  Sameer Dholakia, CEO of SendGrid talked about operationalizing culture by infusing it into the employee lifecycle.  Specifically, he talked about how SendGrid thinks about how their 4H values in Recruiting.  SendGrid uses the 4Hs (Happy, Hungry, Humble and Honest) to assess candidates and have developed templated questions to get at those attributes in prospective employees.  This approach was echoed by Max Lytvyn, Founder of Grammerly who notes that: “Values are a perfect filter for hiring.”

Overall, what we saw through the prominence of People as a theme at #TractionConf is the growing recognition of the importance of HR and Culture on the growth trajectory.  No longer thought of as transactional, secondary or stuff that just happens, People is taking its place as an essential element and driver of growth.  At 321, we couldn’t agree more.  In our view, People is one of the core growth areas, equally as important and super tightly integrated with Sales, Marketing and Product.

Here’s to more attention, focus and action on building better People practices and cultivating Cultures that grow!

If you’re looking to attract top talent to your business, check out our upcoming People Courses!

This post originally appeared on Alberta Enterprise Corporation’s Start Alberta portal.