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How to Build Culture That Lasts

My name is Tyler Palmer and I have the privilege and wild luck of being Patreon’s first employee. Fast forward 3 years: I have the honor of personally on-boarding every new Patreon teammate through small-group culture training.

Despite putting this off for years, and after strong requests internally, I’m here to publish the exact culture deck I review with every new employee. It’s our secret sauce and the reason we’ve progressed as a team, culture, and business.

Note those three key words: team, culture, and business. The order of these words is purposeful. We believe that establishing the proper foundation with the right team and culture determines whether or not we will sustain as a business. Any business’s product will and should change over time. Aligning the team on cultural values will guide you through those transitions; an ill-defined or weak culture will fail you. That’s why we consider our culture a leading indicator of Patreon’s business success.

As a team, we went from a few of us conducting meetings in co-founder Sam Yam’s car, to a team that hires and retains high performing and highly compassionate, mission-driven individuals.

As a culture, we’ve expanded from a homogeneous group of like-minded men working in a small apartment, to a culture that:

  • Receives recognition externally for our efforts in building diverse and inclusive teams
  • Has an extremely low attrition rate where teammates leave at a rate 1/3rd of the national average
  • Answers 100% “yes” when surveyed anonymously and asked “Is the work your company does important?”
  • Answers 95% “yes” when surveyed anonymously and asked if they understand how their individual work contributes to the company mission
  • Celebrates our women who kick ass and lead major initiatives
  • Is recognized by the San Francisco Business Times and others as a top place to work in 2017

And, as a result, our business went from sending a few thousand dollars each month to creators, to a business that:

  • Has sent well over $100M to creators around the world
  • Receives a new recurring pledge to a creator every 7 seconds
  • Launches 1 new creator on Patreon every 2 minutes

How did we do this?

We did this by aligning early about how we would treat each other and solve problems. We knew if we got that right, the rest would fall into place. So we started writing down our beliefs, behaviors, and values early. And now, when new folks join Patreon, the very first thing we do is walk them through a culture deck that I’m about to share with you.

I’m publishing this culture deck for a few reasons:

  1. I want to encourage young companies to think about building culture early.

  2. Some of you are considering applying or accepting a position at Patreon, and I want to help you make a decision.

  3. I want to feel what our creators feel each time they publish something. Publishing is scary as hell, so I want to empathize with what creators do every day.

I would like to call out a few things before you jump into the deck:

Our culture will evolve over time. The material in our deck shows who we are today and what works for us right now.

Nothing in this deck is absolute truth. What works for our company might not work for yours.

It’s tough to capture who we are in a deck. My greatest fear in publishing is knowing that our culture is special and I worry that I won’t be able to provide enough context to do it justice. For example, nowhere in the deck do I talk about how damn fun it is to work at Patreon. I guess it feels too phony to try to place that in slides or in a blog post. I also feel my teammates cover that stuff better than I could in other places.

Lastly, I want to call out that we are far from perfect. We have imperfections just like your company. That said, I’m proud of our team for building an environment where teammates hunt for those imperfections and try hard to make things better. It’s the best thing you can hope for in a company.

Enjoy our cheat codes.

Embedded content: https://www.slideshare.net/TylerSeanPalmer/patreons-culture-deck

A few thank you’s:

Patreon team — While I am the one publishing this information, I know it’s not mine. It’s yours. Thank you for stepping up to say the hard things compassionately to protect the things we agreed upon in this deck. I wake up happy and excited to come to work every day because of you.

Jack Conte and Sam Yam — Thank you for the trust you’ve placed in me.

Maura Church — Thank you for being my partner assembling this deck.

Countless COO mentors — You know who you are, thank you for our countless meals that keep me learning and growing.

Kathryn Fulton — Thank you for your coaching and wisdom.

Taryn Arnold — Thank you for pushing me to publish.

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Tyler Palmer is the VP of Operations at Patreon