One of the biggest struggles for any startup founder, and one that typically receives a lot less coverage than topics like “how to raise capital” or “how to split equity among founders,” is how to create and maintain their company culture.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to establish all the elements of a company culture from the beginning. You can’t know who you are as a company until your team is in place and your business is off the ground. Even then, culture is dynamic, and if not continuously monitored and reinforced, it tends to wander as a direct result of growth. We recently designated one of our team members to be the Chief Culture Officer, tasked with propagating and reinforcing our company culture.
At Venga, we believe a key aspect of our culture is a close connection to the restaurant industry. Unlike many of the tools our clients may use, Venga exclusively serves restaurants. Our product was built in close collaboration with our first client and continues to evolve in direct response to the feedback and ideas we get from the restaurants we work with. Understanding the challenges and opportunities the industry faces is critical to our being able to deliver a valuable product to our clients.
Like most companies, we strive to immerse ourselves in our customers' business line through industry associations, partnerships, and customer relationships. We take building and maintaining our connection to the restaurant industry a few steps further through several key initiatives and activities that set us apart:
We hire team members with significant experience in operating restaurants. Our current and former team members have served as general managers, servers, trainers, and hosts at Levy Restaurants, Forever Resorts, BR Guest, Clyde’s and Darden Restaurants, to name a few. We leverage their restaurant experience in making decisions about our product and how our product is best implemented by our clients.
We maintain close relationships with educational institutions serving the restaurant industry. Cornell University, which is home to one of the pre-eminent hospitality management schools in the country, is an investor in our company and Venga co-founder Winston Lord is an entrepreneur-in-residence there. Sheryl Kimes, a professor of Operations Management at the school, serves on the Venga Advisory Board. We also provide our software to the student-run restaurant on the campuses of Cornell and Capella University. Through these relationships, we’re exposed to the latest hospitality ideas and research coming out of academia which then shape our offerings.
Last, but certainly not least: As a perk for our employees, and to maintain our connection with the industry, we take all our employees out to lunch to a different restaurant each Friday. We’ve eaten with our hands at Ethiopian restaurants, stuffed ourselves at Fogo de Chao’s all you can eat meatfest, and experienced the highest level of service at the restaurants of Michelin star chefs Jose Andres and Chef Fabio Trabocci. Through these “Food Trip Fridays” as they’re known around the office, we see first hand what makes for positive and negative dining experiences. It helps us empathize with our clients and witness the challenges they face and see how our software helps streamline their operations. Our Food Trip Fridays are also a time for employees to engage with each other on a personal level. Although most of the conversation is unstructured, each team member takes a few minutes to offer a few thoughts from their week. Specifically, everyone shares the highlight of their week at work, a challenge they faced, and one interesting thing that they read or listened to that week.
Company culture is the stock of our business. In the same way that a stock is the foundation of cooking - used in sauces, soups, braising, poaching and more, our company culture permeates through every aspect of our product and service.
Making a perfect stock requires time to get the best flavor and attention to avoid it turning cloudy. Venga’s culture was built over many years of trial and error and we are constantly monitoring, tweaking, and investing in it. Our culture, and in particular, our connection to the restaurant industry, is a source of pride for everyone here at Venga and we hope that it shows through in the way we go about our business. So if you’re in Washington, DC on a Friday please drop us a line and join us for lunch. We’d love to show you what hospitality means to Venga!