Concur CEO Steve Singh: Startup success is entirely driven by culture

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LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce interviews Concur CEO Steve Singh at Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s “Entrepreneur University” day.

There are lots of ingredients to startup success, but for Concur CEO Steve Singh, one rises above them all.

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Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee with Concur CEO Steve Singh, COO Rajeev Singh and EVP Mike Hilton. Concur moved into its new Bellevue office in June.

Speaking at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s “Entrepreneur University” on Friday in Seattle, Singh said that company culture is the most important aspect of startup that founders must think about.

“Not only is company culture everything, but your success is entirely driven by your culture,” said Singh, who co-founded the travel expense software maker 20 years ago. “Your company culture is a reflection of you. Whether you like it or not — good, bad or indifferent — all attributes around you is a reflection.”

Singh began his most recent company-wide sales meeting by sharing a story about a conversation he had with a Swami, who asked him what attributes he inherited from his parents. That made him realize how much the 4,000 employees at Concur are a reflection of himself and his fellow execs.

Concur_logoReg_pms555U“The story of Concur started with us, but it goes forward with everyone else,” he said. “You have to decide how important culture is and how important it is to be able to share that viewpoint with your folks.”

Singh said even though employees that Concur hires will rarely see him or even know him, they still have to do what he needs them to do, and vice versa. It’s company culture that is key to tying that all together.

“One thing about Concur is that all 4,000 of our people, on any day I can ask them to run through a wall and they’ll do it,” he said. “The reason they do it is because they know I’ll do the exact same thing for them. They ask me to do something, I’ll go do that.”

nwenWhen deciding who to hire and what kind of culture to implement, Singh said that startup leadership teams need to decide what’s important to them.

“For me, these are my friends,” Singh said of his co-workers. “These are the people want to spend a good chunk of my life with. We’re either going to go build something successful together or we’re going to go fail. But we’re going to do this together, and that’s the style of our company. Every company will have its own style — you can’t be Jeff Bezos, you can’t be me. You have to be you. You have to decide who the heck you are and how do you share that across your business.”

Singh wishes he focused on company culture earlier on when starting Concur. There were people the company hired that may have been great at getting a certain job done, but it wasn’t the way upper management liked or valued. Realizing this forced the company to start thinking about culture.

“The ability to focus on culture is what makes culture a reality,” he said. “Back then, we decided that we had been asleep at the switch and wanted to solve the problem. We solved it by saying, ‘You have to live to what you actually believe in.’”

We’ll have more from Singh’s talk, so check back on GeekWire soon.

Editor’s note: Entrepreneur University” kicked off Seattle Startup Week this morning. Find out more about the great lineup of startup-related events here

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