Answer by Auren Hoffman, LiveRamp CEO. Started & sold 5 companies (and many more that failed), on Quora

A corporate culture is what makes your company different. Culture is defined by differences.

So if you are a start-up and you require everyone to wear suits, then that is part of your corporate culture. But if you are a start-up and everyone wears t-shirts and plays ping-pong, then that's not a corporate culture (because 99% of start-ups wear t-shirts and play ping-pong).

A "great" culture for one person is a terrible culture for another. As a start-up, your goal is to create a company that appeals to under 5% of people--but make it really appeal to them. You don't need the other 95% of people to love it (they can even hate it) for you to be successful. In fact, having some haters of your culture will likely make your company more successful.

Oracle has a very distinct company culture. Some people absolutely love it. Some people absolutely hate it. But Oracle has been one of the most successful and enduring tech companies. Having a culture that drives strong positive (and even negative) emotions is a huge plus.

If you have a distributed workforce (where people work from home), then that is a defining part of your culture. If you are a start-up where everyone has a private office, then that is part of your culture (because it is really, really rare).

If you are a start-up in the Bay Area where people bike to work (or drive a Prius), have food sourced at Whole Foods, do yoga, have an open floor-plan, and have tequila Thursdays ... well then that's what most every other start-up has ... so your culture is about something else. Those things are great--but they don't define a culture in a start-up (though they might if you worked at a large bank).

Often, getting the heart of culture is about how decisions get made. Is decision-making centralized or decentralized? Is it done through large in-person meetings or via chat?

Often, culture is defined by the types of people you hire (and sometimes the hiring process). If you have a rule "we only hire outside managers after exhausting all possible internal candidates," then that's likely part of your culture.

Culture is also clearly defined by rules (both written-down rules and the unwritten rules).

Culture is not all-good to all-people. If 99% of people in the country agree with company's culture statement, then it is not culture. "We treat people with respect" and "we value the customer" are not core values for a company because presumably almost everyone aspires to treat people with respect and value the customer (though not everyone actually does it).

Culture is also about what type of employee is most important. In most start-ups, it is obvious who is most important. It could be sales, engineering, product, marketing, etc. ... but usually one group is the privileged group. Favoring one group is not necessarily better, it just shows the differences.

In the end, culture is about how your company is different from other companies, not how it is the same.

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