Anyone can type out a vision, mission statement, and outline some core values. But Bobbie Racette, the founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, took things one step further: she made sure it was posted at the entrance to the company’s office with messages of inclusion and acceptance.
She says those messages are a central part of the company culture, which she sees as a shared belief in acceptance that unites the approximately 50 people working in the company’s headquarters.
But even with such a visible statement, she struggled to maintain a company-wide focus as the start-up grew and expanded.
“Even though the pandemic was still 300 percent, year over growth, we broke internally,” said Racette. “Because our culture was just a mess.”
For Racette, it required her to realize she couldn’t just instill that culture and stress its importance to her leadership team, hoping it would trickle down. She couldn’t just put it on a wall. She had to model those beliefs and bring them directly to all of her employees.
And she had to listen.
So, what really is culture?
The struggle of building and maintaining culture through rapid growth isn’t rare. The start-up world is littered with companies that lost their way.
Culture is no small thing. It’s the foundation of a business and helps guide decisions — from the big to the mundane. If the focus is sharp and the will is there, it will help guide who is hired and how they fit into the larger team.
It’s not about what the office looks like, or free lunches and abundant snacks — the sort of perk-heavy, laid-back office that has come to be associated with tech startups. The atmosphere of a place is not the core of what it means to work there.
Finding and nurturing that core is particularly important for Racette and Virtual Gurus, which provides companies with remote workers on everything from social media to accounting, and focuses on providing employment for underrepresented communities.
“I realized I had to pull back some of the perks and then push the values and I had to essentially retrain everybody to think, ‘wait, if I’m gonna get the perks, I gotta live with the mission, vision, and values, not the other way around,’” said Racette.
The culture she wanted at the company prioritizes inclusiveness, but also innovation, agility, and positivity. Racette realized it was critical to screen out those who didn’t buy in or could be toxic to the kind of workplace she needed for her company.
“I truly believe that in order to get comfortable, you have to get uncomfortable first. So our entire company had to go through an uncomfortable moment,” she said.
And those values she’s so determined to nurture are personal and hard-earned.
“I have lived through the barriers of being an Indigenous woman, a queer Indigenous woman, who has tattoos and… can’t get a job,” she said at the recent mesh conference in Calgary.
How do you maintain culture through growth or scale-up?
When Racette started the company in 2016, maintaining that culture was easy.
She was the only employee.
Then came funding rounds and growth. More employees in the office, but also more and more virtual assistants — over 1,000 at last count — spread across North America.
“You can run a company all day long, but when you’re scaling, you have to pivot left, right, and center all the time,” Racette told mesh conference attendees.
“And so when you pivot, you have to take your whole company and pivot with you, and when you’re doing that you have to keep the culture during that.”
Screening out those elements toxic to the culture at Virtual Gurus was an important step. Research has shown that toxic culture is a big driver of what’s been dubbed “the Great Resignation.”
Racette also followed the advice from organizations and other businesses when it comes to managing growth and culture — from hiring to setting targets and ensuring she is accountable for both change and cultural stability.
Communication, she said in a recent interview, was key.
“I send out weekly CEO updates by email, and then we’ll have all-hands meetings twice a month, and I host those,” said Racette. “So I’m very communicative about why and how the culture is changing.”
Central to that communication is allowing staff to offer feedback, listening closely to what they’re saying — and not being afraid of criticism. She now does what she calls a daily “lion hunt,” going through the office and checking in with employees.
She also says there has been an increased focus on all of the virtual assistants who form the backbone of the company, but who can’t be there in person for her walks around the office. The company has created a virtual hub to maintain those connections, providing incentives and perks, while also emphasizing the importance of the company values and mission.
“We don’t just treat them like a number,” Racette said.
But like those words written at the entrance to the company office, it takes more than spelling it out and carrying on.
“You can talk about it all day long, it’s actioning it,” said Racette. “And that’s one thing I’ve noticed with us is we were talking about the culture, but we weren’t actually actioning it.”
And, of course, incentives work too. Racette says employee bonuses worth four to eight percent of their salary now hinge on whether they follow the company values.
How has work culture changed over time?
Contemporary workplaces, and certainly startups, are a different beast than the offices of old. They are nimble and often more flexible. And unlike many formal offices, there’s no dress code at Virtual Gurus.
But it’s also about how company’s measure and value work — something that can have a profound impact on culture.
“I think it’s changed from being activity and action-driven to being more outcomes-focused,” said Racette.
At her office, employees aren’t judged for showing up late, or engaging in more activities that don’t necessarily lead to the right kind of results. If it takes five hours for someone to do all their work, then so be it.
Racette wants her staff to be accepting of those around them, and to be adaptable in the face of constant change. In order to get there, it only makes sense to put that same faith in her employees, leading down to nurture that all-important culture.
“You can’t fix your culture or have a good culture unless people have a psychologically safe space to work,” she said.
Stepping off an elevator and seeing a wall plastered with good intentions is one thing, but walking into an office where employees are all committed to goals based on those shared values is another, more successful thing altogether.
1 in 5 companies founded in 2021 closed within the year—a story all too familiar in the US
Whether a startup is successful in its first year depends on a variety of factors—from industry type and location to funding and money management strategies. PlanPros investigated what it takes for a business to make it through its first year—a milestone that 1 in 5 companies don’t achieve.
Entrepreneurship is a core tenet of American culture. As many as 55% of Americans have started at least one business in their lifetime, according to a 2019 survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor consortium at Babson College. In fact, there are over 33 million small businesses—which have fewer than 500 employees—in operation today according to estimates from the Small Business Administration. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that since 1994, about 20% of new businesses have not survived their first year.
The success of a small business affects more than just the business owners’ livelihood. According to the SBA Small Business Facts Report, small businesses are responsible for 2 in 3 jobs created in the past 25 years. Additionally, the SBA estimates that small businesses are responsible for about 44% of all economic activity in the United States.
According to a 2022 Skynova survey of 492 startup founders, 58% said they wished they had done more market research before starting their business. Put simply, market research involves evaluating how likely a product or service is to be received well by its intended customers.
Where a startup is based can have a significant effect on its finances. Business taxes vary across states, as does the availability of various government grant and loan programs designed to aid small businesses. Residents’ purchasing power also ranges geographically. The first-year failure rate for small businesses by state ranged from 18.2% to 36.6% in 2019, the most recent data available—California had the lowest first-year failure rate, while Washington-based startups faced the highest first-year failure rate.
Startups can face certain advantages and disadvantages depending on the nature of their industry as well. According to the Small Business Funding lending agency, small businesses in the health care industry have the highest chance of surviving to at least their fifth year at 60%. Conversely, small businesses in the transportation industry have the lowest chance of surviving through their fifth year at 30%.
Funding and well-managed cash flow
The primary reason new businesses fail is due to a lack of cash or available financial support in its absence, according to the aforementioned Skynova report. In 2022, 47% of startup failures were attributed to a lack of financing or investors, while running out of money contributed to 44% of failures in the same year. A 2019 study funded by the SBA of 1,000 startup small business owners attributes 82% of startup failures to cash flow problems and mismanagement. These data point out the importance of adhering to a strict budget and limiting expenses as much as possible in the first year.
It is also important to identify potential sources of funding or support in advance of any immediate need. This can help prevent running into unsustainable growth. Many government programs exist to help startups survive, including state and federal grants, some of which are designated for certain demographics and industries.
Even after a business is fairly well established, it is important to monitor cash flow closely. Businesses need to survive well beyond just the first year. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly half of small businesses fail within five years. After 15 years, about 3 in 4 small businesses will have failed.
But the end of a company is not necessarily the end of entrepreneurship for every small business owner. A study by University of Michigan and Stanford economists suggests that business owners who start a second business after their first failures are more likely to succeed on their second attempt.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.
Consumer retail spending holds steady as recession worries drag on
Spending for in-person and online goods and services has moderated over the past year after seeing outsized growth during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decline in sales growth has forced some retailers to roll out discounts. Others warn sales could drop further as consumers feel the squeeze of college debt payments returning this fall and still-rising prices for everything from weekly groceries to back-to-school clothing.
Retail sales data can offer broad inferences about the spending habits of consumers in the U.S. economy and can serve as an indicator of economic health. Business leaders and Federal Reserve officials watch the data closely for signs that consumers could be struggling with their finances.
The COVID-19 pandemic and job loss caused the economy to contract rapidly and enter a recession, briefly hurting retail sales. With the help of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment payments, Americans bounced back—and bought a ton of stuff: sporting goods, electronics, furniture, and new homes. And as COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, consumers shifted to spending on previously delayed travel.
Throughout 2021, a flood of stimulus money and rapidly rising profits contributed to a red-hot economy in which prices were rising faster than at any time since the 1980s. By 2022, Federal Reserve officials began raising interest rates in an attempt to cool down rising prices. So far in 2023, growth in sales has started to slow as consumers muddle through an increasingly expensive world.
Dom DiFurio // Shopdog
Pandemic boom in the rearview as inflation erodes spending power
Census data shows retail sales growth has slowed since federal officials began taking their fight against inflation seriously last summer.
Overall inflation was still elevated at 3.2% year over year in July, stubbornly higher than the 2% goal Federal Reserve officials want to achieve. The Fed began raising its benchmark interest rates in April 2022 to make it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow money for things like new business, a home mortgage, or a new vehicle.
When the Fed raises its interest rates, banks follow. A monetary policy like this aims to slow down an economy flush with cash so prices grow slower. It’s a policy experts argue causes necessary pain for consumers in the short term to avoid perpetual inflation in the long term.
So far, the Fed has seen inflation cool from a modern high of 9% last year, but in late August, officials said they need to see it decrease further before they pause rate hikes.
Dom DiFurio // Shopdog
Online retail spending is up 7.5% over summer 2022
Even as overall spending flattens, Americans’ online shopping habits have reverted to pre-pandemic trends. Consumer spending has steadily shifted from retail to e-commerce since Jeff Bezos had the idea to sell books online in 1994. That steady growth got a big boost in 2020 when online shopping often became the only way to spend money.
After correcting downward as shoppers ventured out of their homes, the portion of retail sales happening online is growing again at pre-pandemic rates despite the overall challenges faced by consumers.
However, signs are emerging from retailers that the typical American may be unable to keep spending on goods and services the same way in the second half of 2023.
QualityHD // Shutterstock
Stalled spending growth is cold comfort for nervous small retailers
Retail giant Walmart is raising its profit expectation through the end of the year, reporting gains in e-commerce sales. However, their projections starkly contrast with others in the retail space that are beginning to report gloomy forecasts.
Big sportswear retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, which usually benefit from a surge in sales during back-to-school season, have cut their profit expectations for the rest of the year.
And optimism is low, according to a 2022 industry report by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents the interests of America’s small businesses. Most small businesses believe the country is already in a recession despite no official call by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and they expect lower sales through the end of the year.
Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on Shopdog and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
The county in every state with the most new business applications
Entrepreneurship emerged in a big way over the past three years, and founders are not slowing down.
To get a more comprehensive view of where new businesses may have the most impact in coming years, PlanBuildr used Census Bureau data to find the county in each state with the most business applications per capita in 2022.
Business applications have fallen from highs in 2021 but remain well above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels at over 400,000 applications per month. There were a little under 5.1 million business applications in 2022, compared to a record-breaking 5.4 million in 2021 and 4.4 million in 2020. Through June, there have been 2.65 million applications, meaning 2023 is on pace to rival the 2021 spike.
Prior to the pandemic, entrepreneurship had been in a lull for decades. In 2018 and 2019, a typical month would see fewer than 300,000 business applications, and in prior years the levels were even lower, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. Now, entrepreneurs aren’t letting fears of a recession stop them. In July 2023 alone, more than 469,000 people applied for employer identification numbers—the primary way the government measures small business applicants—marking a 0.5% increase from June.
Additionally, small businesses and startups continue to grow jobs, increasing overall employment despite high-profile layoffs at larger corporations. Nearly half of all workers have jobs at small firms, so continued entrepreneurship keeps the job market strong. What’s more, the pioneering spirit keeps overall economic productivity strong.
Business owners told the New York Times their experiences in the pandemic had “recession-proofed” their businesses. Now they know how to pivot and survive while financially strapped. But interest rates are up, and investors have pulled back, raising the stakes for new business owners.
Groundbreaking companies, like Uber and Airbnb, have emerged from past recessions. While consumers may be more hesitant, hiring is typically easier, and business costs are less expensive amid downturns. From offering new products to creating jobs to upholding economies, new businesses create ripples across their communities.
Read on to see which county in your state saw the most businesses set the groundwork to build their legacies. The data used on new business applications are tallied from applications for employer identification numbers from the Census Bureau. States and counties that allow business owners and operators to incorporate without residing locally may have inflated per capita numbers. Counties with fewer than 1,000 residents were excluded from the analysis.
Alabama: Mobile County
– 2022 applications: 9,792 (23.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 8,782 (21.3 per 1,000 residents)
Alaska: Skagway Municipality
– 2022 applications: 29 (26.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 10 (8.8 per 1,000 residents)
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock
Arizona: Maricopa County
– 2022 applications: 83,305 (18.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 83,458 (18.6 per 1,000 residents)
Arkansas: Phillips County
– 2022 applications: 328 (21.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 347 (21.9 per 1,000 residents)
California: Alpine County
– 2022 applications: 21 (17.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 23 (18.6 per 1,000 residents)
Colorado: Pitkin County
– 2022 applications: 671 (39.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 727 (41.9 per 1,000 residents)
Connecticut: Western Connecticut Planning Region
– 2022 applications: 11,118 (17.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: Not available: Prior to 2022, data were collected for Connecticut’s former counties rather than its new planning regions. (0.0 per 1,000 residents)
Nagel Photography // Shutterstock
Delaware: Kent County
– 2022 applications: 12,961 (69.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 11,552 (62.7 per 1,000 residents)
Florida: Miami-Dade County
– 2022 applications: 127,895 (47.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 136,137 (51.0 per 1,000 residents)
Brett Barnhill // Shutterstock
Georgia: Fulton County
– 2022 applications: 50,118 (46.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 60,986 (57.4 per 1,000 residents)
pikappa51 // Shutterstock
Hawaii: Maui County
– 2022 applications: 2,778 (16.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 2,935 (17.8 per 1,000 residents)
Idaho: Teton County
– 2022 applications: 298 (23.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 308 (25.1 per 1,000 residents)
Illinois: Cook County
– 2022 applications: 93,690 (18.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 118,523 (22.9 per 1,000 residents)
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock
Indiana: Marion County
– 2022 applications: 22,226 (22.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 25,352 (26.1 per 1,000 residents)
stivanderson // Shutterstock
Iowa: Jefferson County
– 2022 applications: 221 (14.1 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 225 (14.3 per 1,000 residents)
TommyBrison // Shutterstock
Kansas: Lane County
– 2022 applications: 45 (28.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 22 (14.0 per 1,000 residents)
f11photo // Shutterstock
Kentucky: Jefferson County
– 2022 applications: 12,082 (15.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 12,973 (16.7 per 1,000 residents)
Louisiana: Orleans Parish
– 2022 applications: 9,408 (25.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 12,809 (34.0 per 1,000 residents)
Joseph Sohm // Shutterstock
Maine: Cumberland County
– 2022 applications: 3,670 (11.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 3,803 (12.4 per 1,000 residents)
Maryland: Garrett County
– 2022 applications: 748 (26.2 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 579 (20.1 per 1,000 residents)
Massachusetts: Nantucket County
– 2022 applications: 433 (30.0 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 344 (23.7 per 1,000 residents)
Michigan: Wayne County
– 2022 applications: 39,328 (22.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 47,565 (26.8 per 1,000 residents)
Minnesota: Cook County
– 2022 applications: 94 (16.5 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 81 (14.4 per 1,000 residents)
Mississippi: Coahoma County
– 2022 applications: 774 (38.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 754 (36.4 per 1,000 residents)
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock
Missouri: St. Louis city
– 2022 applications: 6,422 (22.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 7,803 (26.6 per 1,000 residents)
Montana: Flathead County
– 2022 applications: 4,219 (37.7 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 3,521 (32.4 per 1,000 residents)
Nebraska: Boyd County
– 2022 applications: 33 (19.0 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 18 (10.1 per 1,000 residents)
randy andy // Shutterstock
Nevada: Clark County
– 2022 applications: 49,369 (21.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 55,475 (24.2 per 1,000 residents)
Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock
New Hampshire: Rockingham County
– 2022 applications: 3,582 (11.2 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 3,559 (11.2 per 1,000 residents)
Mihai_Andritoiu // Shutterstock
New Jersey: Essex County
– 2022 applications: 18,114 (21.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 21,329 (25.0 per 1,000 residents)
Jimack // Shutterstock
New Mexico: Santa Fe County
– 2022 applications: 4,338 (27.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 3,683 (23.7 per 1,000 residents)
pisaphotography // Shutterstock
New York: New York County
– 2022 applications: 50,149 (31.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 53,217 (33.7 per 1,000 residents)
digidreamgrafix // Shutterstock
North Carolina: Mecklenburg County
– 2022 applications: 29,600 (25.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 34,052 (30.2 per 1,000 residents)
Traveller70 // Shutterstock
North Dakota: Dunn County
– 2022 applications: 88 (21.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 62 (15.4 per 1,000 residents)
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock
Ohio: Franklin County
– 2022 applications: 24,370 (18.4 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 26,733 (20.3 per 1,000 residents)
Oklahoma: Oklahoma County
– 2022 applications: 14,955 (18.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 16,158 (20.2 per 1,000 residents)
Oregon: Hood River County
– 2022 applications: 409 (17.0 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 352 (14.6 per 1,000 residents)
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia County
– 2022 applications: 29,166 (18.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 42,298 (26.6 per 1,000 residents)
Rhode Island: Providence County
– 2022 applications: 7,055 (10.7 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 7,450 (11.3 per 1,000 residents)
South Carolina: Charleston County
– 2022 applications: 10,138 (24.2 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 10,561 (25.5 per 1,000 residents)
South Dakota: Haakon County
– 2022 applications: 37 (20.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 19 (10.4 per 1,000 residents)
Tennessee: Davidson County
– 2022 applications: 15,302 (21.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 15,871 (22.6 per 1,000 residents)
Texas: Glasscock County
– 2022 applications: 30 (25.8 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 13 (11.4 per 1,000 residents)
Utah: Summit County
– 2022 applications: 1,291 (30.0 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 1,457 (33.8 per 1,000 residents)
Joseph Sohm // Shutterstock
Vermont: Lamoille County
– 2022 applications: 374 (14.3 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 322 (12.3 per 1,000 residents)
OJUP // Shutterstock
Virginia: Petersburg city
– 2022 applications: 797 (23.9 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 1,017 (30.5 per 1,000 residents)
Washington: San Juan County
– 2022 applications: 273 (14.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 356 (19.1 per 1,000 residents)
West Virginia: Jefferson County
– 2022 applications: 646 (11.0 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 569 (9.7 per 1,000 residents)
Wisconsin: Milwaukee County
– 2022 applications: 18,019 (19.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 19,542 (21.1 per 1,000 residents)
Ems Images // Shutterstock
Wyoming: Sheridan County
– 2022 applications: 22,389 (697.6 per 1,000 residents)
– 2021 applications: 17,043 (538.2 per 1,000 residents)
Data reporting by Paxtyn Merten. Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close.
This story originally appeared on PlanBuildr and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
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