Mary Jesse, the founder and CEO of group messaging startup Ivy Corp., is an electrical engineer and veteran startup leader who was instrumental in developing and deploying the first large scale wireless data systems in the U.S.

A veteran of McCaw Cellular, she was inspired by the way the wireless pioneer fostered a sense of company culture among its managers and employees. She reflects on that experience and draws larger lessons from it in this talk from the recent Seattle 2.0 Startup Day, presented by GeekWire.

Mary Jesse

For anyone who missed the event, or wants to relive the highlights, we’re rolling out video and related content from talks by Startup Day speakers. Watch the full video of her talk above, and continue reading for a few of our favorite takeaways. You can also access the audio here as an MP3, for listening on your favorite device. A big thanks to the team at Bootstrapper Studios for their help on all of this content

Where culture fits in: “You spend most of your time raising money, writing the software, and working with customers but culture is definitely something to consider.  The culture of your company matters.”

When to create a culture: “It’s a lot easier sitting at the beginning of a path and building a company to decide hey, this is how we want to behave, this is how we want to treat people, treat our employees, treat our customers, than it is once you’ve built yourself into a multi-million dollar, several thousand employee company. It’s a lot harder to change behavior than it is to get it in there, right at the beginning.

Why culture is important: “The thing to remember about culture is that you all are going to have a company culture. It’s just a matter of whether it’s by chance or it’s by design.  You can decide proactively what you want the company culture to be.  It’s got to be in the way you live and the way you behave with other people.”

The role of the leader: “Culture is something that can have tremendous impact on your organization but it has to be from the top.  The CEO has to set the example.”

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  • adamtheneighbor

    Smart woman, it really does motivate employees to work harder and *smarter for a company that treats them better, enough said.

  • Michelle Harden

    Such a great message, Mary! Well done.

  • Earl Bell

    The costs of bad company culture are numerous. To illustrate, employee turnover resulting from a bad hire due to poor culture fit can conservatively be measured at 1 to 1.5 times a person’s annual salary (think recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, recovering the value lost institutional knowledge, etc.) Do this a handful of times and the cost to a company can quickly approach a million dollars.

    Additionally, we all can point to the “accomplished candidate” that as an employee becomes toxic to existing culture. This employee usually finds ways to destroy morale amongst the rest of team. Who needs that headache?

    This is a great post – thanks for sharing information about the importance of defining and recognizing culture as a potentially valuable asset!

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