Many discussions I have surrounding culture include what the company is doing for their employees (free lunches, gifts, trips, etc.) -- things that should be considered perks, not culture. The culture of a company isn't what founders provide for their employees in an indirect monetary way, in fact culture really has little to do with founders outside of hiring the first 10-ish people. From a founders perspective, after a candidate has passed all of the standard (skill, experience, etc.) check points, you have to examine their ability to make decisions. Hire people who given all the resources necessary, are capable of making the right decision about direction, work load, implementation, and priority -- because in the end they are the ones that will be growing the culture.
Keep in mind that you can't just expect to hire people, and wash your hands of any oversight. As founders it is your responsibility to ensure that you are transparent with what is happening, if your team members don't know what is going on, it will be impossible for them to make the decisions you are expecting them to make.
I think that one of the hardest parts of this topic is that not many of us have been through this, and therefore the stress that comes along with launching and growing a company is only magnified when you start hiring. There are two sides to this story though:
- Founders: You have a responsibility to create a company that people want to work for. The old-time mentality of "I sign your paycheck so deal with it" just doesn't fly anymore (never should have). Give your employees the access they need, to you and to the company. Encourage them. Embrace them. Empower them. Reward them.
- Employees: Your new employer respects you, a lot. You are likely 1 of less than 20 people, which means you are crucial to the companies success and the founders of said company will do everything in their power to make you successful and happy. But keep in mind, you joined a start-up -- founders are not experienced veterans in managing people, companies, clients, etc. While this is not an excuse for shitty founders, take it into consideration and offer your feedback to them before making any drastic decisions or comments.
Ultimately culture is something that an outsider can sense when they walk into your office. It's a vibe, an aura, and most people can read it like a book. If your company has a bad culture, you simply cannot cover it up with free lunch and week long trips.