How to Establish a Sticky Startup Culture - a case study of DumaWorks

Creating a “sticky,” or simply put – AWESOME – company culture is something we pride ourselves in having built at Duma Works. We’d like to share some of the tricks we learned along the way – what works and what doesn’t work – to build an outstanding company culture at your company.

What is Duma Works company culture?

We get a lot of clients who come to our office and tell us that they want us to help them hire a team that’s like ours. 🙂

Most people who come to our office says it looks like a really fun place to work, but seems like everyone is working hard. It’s also not weird in the Duma Works office for someone from the Placement team to sit in Product space to discuss something new and exciting.

How did we build a great company culture at Duma Works? It didn’t happen overnight, and there were definitely a lot of hiccups along the way!

I’ve taken a minute to jot down some of the key learnings we’ve had at Duma Works when it comes to building an awesome company culture. Hopefully, this can help you – whether you’re running HR at a big company, or the founder/manager at a small company just getting set up.

What didn’t work for us at the beginning re: Company Culture

Aimless sticky notes

When launching the startup, we had heard very much about “sticky note” culture and thought if we did all of our planning and brainstorming in the form of sticky notes, we would somehow inculcate that “lean startup” “agile” mentality.

So what did we do?

We set up an entire wall of sticky notes, outlining projects we needed to work on, and colour coordinated the sticky notes that all fell on one category. It was quite cute, but maybe not entirely effective.

Because we hadn’t set up processes around where those sticky notes would go, how we would show progress over time, how we would ensure everything got done through work in progress limits, or how we would decide which ideas got put onto the sticky notes and which got discarded, the sticky notes sat on the wall as general guidelines, but did not serve a grander purpose.

So, on one hand, every visitor who came to our office saw the wall of sticky notes and thought we were a cool startup doing “lean” things, and sticky notes gave decision making at the company a lot of transparency.

But on the other hand, the sticky notes didn’t serve an active purpose in driving decision making or part of a larger, directed company culture.

Lesson? Make sure your sticky notes have a purpose if you want them to be a part of your company culture.

Unstructured “open” meetings

Speaking of sticky notes. Where did all the ideas on the sticky notes come from? Team meetings. What did we do at team meetings? “Brainstorm.” We wanted to make sure everyone at the company (then about 3-5 people) had a say in the future of the company.

The problem was that we did not give our brainstorms any structure. Typically, we would discuss a lot of good ideas we had, but not necessarily make sure those ideas were implemented.

Lesson? When trying to create a company culture of openness and transparency, you need to make sure that openness and participation are structured to gain maximum output.

One type of brainstorming

In line with this unstructured meeting learnings, I think one of the biggest issues we had was that we only created structures for brainstorming that favoured extroverts. This was also one of the first things Linus changed when he came in as CTO.

Our brainstorming process always involved speaking out loud, and therefore if there was anyone in the team who was less comfortable with public speaking, they would simply not participate.

Lessons? If you want to create a culture of brainstorming, make sure you create a system around how to brainstorm that includes different methods to encourage participation from both introverts and extroverts.

What worked for us to build an awesome company culture

Company culture playbook

In 2014, the Duma Company Culture began to take a more solid form.

We did a great exercise where we identified key character traits of people on the team that we absolutely loved. We wrote these traits down on a whiteboard next to every member of the team, clustered the similar traits, and took a step back to see what we had come up with.

We did the same exercise for the “less desirable” traits demonstrated by people on the team, wrote them down, clustered them, and took a step back.

What we came up with became the foundation for the Duma Works Company Playbook, or “Bible” as we like to call it. 🙂

Enforcing CORE VALUES consistently

Now, there is one thing to have values and another thing to communicate them across the team and ensure people love them and accept them.

What we did was to write down all the values and set up a meeting with the team to discuss how we arrived at them, and examples of times when these values could be demonstrated. ie. Placement Success Team has a difficult screening test to create for a software engineer. Here is when Oxytocin Junkie value would come up and someone from the Product Team could assist in the test creation and screening.

We were a small team at the time, so it wasn’t too difficult to communicate these values across the team.

As we grow, to make sure these core values are enforced, we’ve set up teaching moments and times to praise each other for living our core goals everyday.

Specifically, we take time at our weekly team meetings to talk about our core values. It’s a really nice section of the meeting to talk about how someone on the team has lived this value. ie. “People kneading to Maureen for making sure I learned how to read a bicycle this year,” or “Mad Science to Allan for trying the new sales experiment this week,” or “Instigation to Barbara for officially launching our marketing department.” (Real life! Snaps, Barbs! ;))

We also enforce our Core Values during our on-boarding process with new hires! Part of every new hire’s on-boarding includes going over the Company Bible and understanding what it means to live the company core values.

Seems cheesy, but it gives people a clear understanding from the get-go what is expected of them in terms of participation and teamwork.


Sticky Notes: Ok, we still do love sticky notes. BUT, these sticky notes now serve a purpose! We’ve now adopted a more structured approach to meetings. This means that we do put our ideas and strategies up on sticky notes, but they get funneled through a process on the wall to track their progress.

We also use sticky notes during brainstorming, but instead of just writing down ideas we’ve discussed, the sticky notes serve as a place for people who are less inclined to speak out to write down their thoughts and then present them to the group. No more stage fright!

If you come to our office, you will see it literally littered with sticky notes. It’s great because then people from any team can go check out what’s happening on another team at any point in time.

It’s also a great opportunity to get involved and give some oxytocin in case someone sees they can add value to the process another team is working on.

Board Room Level Insights: At Duma Works, we try to equip everyone at the company with an understanding of how companies work across all departments. We would love for Duma Works to IPO someday, and have everyone on the team go launch their own thing. 🙂

Because of this, we’ve taken cues from the visionary team at Buffer, and tried to be as transparent as possible about new things happening at the company – even to things at a Board level.

I think this is a risky move, chatting about investment, cash flow, etc., with your team, but it also helps people understand exactly where they stand, where the company is, and why leadership may be making certain decisions.

Overall, this transparency (often gawked at in the Kenyan ecosystem) hasn’t backfired, and I think has encouraged our team to think about the company more broadly, and has helped management become a much more transparent process.

CAREER Mapping

One new thing we’ve been implementing at Duma Works is career mapping for everyone on the team.

As Duma Works, we want to make sure no one at the company feels like they have hit their ceiling and then want to leave. The challenge is that not everyone has a clear way of identifying their own ceiling, and would just start feeling dissatisfied without a clear reason in mind.

To avoid this, we’ve decided to give team members a guide on how to think about what their career goals are, and what skills they need to pick up along the way. This way, we can identify books, articles, groups, and mentors for them to get involved with, and continue growing and challenging themselves.

We have meetings between managers and individuals on their team twice a month, and we’re going to begin discussing how career objectives and skills growth is going.

I’m excited to see what the yields, but I’m quite confident. 🙂


We say “we” more than “I” at Duma Works. We do this on purpose.

We also don’t refer to our team as “staff,” we refer to them as “team.” Also on purpose.

“Staff” just makes you think of a cog in the wheel…doesn’t it?


Anyone who’s been to the Duma Works office will tell you about our amazing space. I’ll be honest, it is amazing.

Was it expensive to set up? No! We designed our office ourselves, hired local fundis (carpenters) to design the furniture and cushions, and personally trekked out to River Road to buy the kitenge fabric ourselves (of course, followed by a delicious meal at Malindi Dishes).

We designed the office space with collaboration in mind.

We have an open layout with few closed rooms (for the super secret meetings ;)), bean bags, carpets to sit on, and balconies to get some fresh air at the scenic Adams Arcade.

I think our space is conducive for creativity and collaboration, and I think the team will agree.

Honestly, we spend most of our lives at the office, and we’d rather work in a place that is comfortable!

Highlighting hobbies & Passions

Lastly! Speaking of designing the office space ourselves – I’ll disclose why this was easier for us. one of our Talent Acquisition team members, Shiphira is actually an interior designer by trade!

At Duma Works, one of the things I love that we do is try to not only nurture the professional skills of our team, but also the hobbies.

For example, Kevin from our Placement team is a cartoonist, and we sometimes use his cartoons on social media to highlight his passion.

People are more than just the skills on their CVs (or Duma Works profiles!), and we like to acknowledge and appreciate that as much as possible. After all, people are so unique because of the intersections they have created for themselves in the world – intersections between theater and recruiting, between interior design and talent acquisition, between placement and cartooning…

To encourage people to grow personally, during our weekly goal stand-ups, we discuss professional goals, but also review personal goals, and how close people are to achieving their targets. Things like bicycle riding, weight lifting, book writing, fashion designing…etc.

In Summary

Phew! Long article, but hopefully gave some cool insights into our awesome culture at Duma Works and the levels we’ve pulled to get us here.

It’s not rocket science to develop a killer company culture at your company – regardless of the size. But it does take a focused development process, a well thought out communications strategy, and a smart implementation strategy so people feel like a part of something, and not just pawns in a corporate retention strategy game. 😉

If you have any questions, want to chat about your recruiting process, or want to learn more about Duma Works, please visit our website or reach out at . I’m always happy to meet new people, exchange new ideas, and build new partnerships.

Happy Hiring!

Digest Africa


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