Right on, you got the title right. While I’m helping large companies implementing startup techniques in their work culture, it always leaves me surprised how young upstarts have an attitude towards learning from anyone else.
If you are a startup though, you shouldn’t forget that corporates are entrepreneurs too – they are just a bit different. And those differences are not necessarily all that bad; there are at least a few lessons you can take away from them.
So what secrets can startups learn from a big mammoth? Here are my favourites.
The company structure
Regardless of what type of structure the age dictates, be it a bureaucratic hierarchy or an upside-down pyramid: having one is a must. Responsibilities and rights management make life easier, especially when it comes to avoiding conflicts.
(If you are now thinking that as a one-man-show you are safe, here is another lesson for you to start with: learn how to delegate. Hiring an online assistant for a few hours a week will give you the opportunity to focus on what you are the best at – and eventually, to make more money.)
Within startups, it’s quite common to see programmers and graphic designers fighting over marketing questions. The reason is simple: there is no marketing guy in the team, and no one else has the right to make a decision alone. Working in such a structure is not only inefficient, but has a bad influence on the work morale too.
Clearly, the more people work together, the more support they will need on the management side, increasing overhead, making the hierarchy more complicated. All this is very unnatural for upstarts, but as the company grows, these questions will arise. The sooner you have the answer for them, the easier the transformation will be.
Do you know exactly, how long you have been working on this product? Do you know how much more time you would need to finish it? Do you have a marketing budget?
Most startups have difficulties answering these simple questions. Some can’t even tell how much money they will need to finish their only project. And even when they have the numbers, those are far from being usable: costs usually include everything around the development but not the product launch costs, maintenance, support, marketing (and sooo on).
Planning ahead is not easy, and any system that aims such has to be extremely flexible. Large corporates tend to suffer from strict policies, forcing managers to do those little cheats: buying chairs of the marketing budgets and what not.
Ignore the math early though, and it will put you in serious trouble later: imagine running out of cash the moment you finished the product – and with a zero marketing budget, you will eventually reach no one. Maybe except from those you are friends with on Facebook.
Good planning won’t save you from being unlucky. But at least, you will know when you are in the need of making a decision. When the project exceeds the budget only halfway through, you can decide to freeze the features, cut some of the marketing costs or handle the situation in any other way. Without budget expectations, you might learn about running out of cash too late – and end up with no money, no product – and no plan.
How many people do know about the company’s assets? Who has access to the bank statements? Who do your clients trust?
What happens if those people leave?
You may not be surprised how much it can cost you if a trusted employee leaves the company – but you surely would be surprised to know how much of that cost could be reduced by utilising the right concepts.
Corporates have to handle a huge fluctuation of employees and board members – and each time someone leaves, it turns out that none of those guys were irreplaceable. Everything works fine without them too, and – unless the ones just left are fishing in the dark -, the company’s assets and products are safe too.
The way they do that is having the responsibilities and rights set ahead. From this article’s point of view, it really doesn’t matter if you want your startup to be a place where everyone knows about everything, or, a company with strict data security policies.
The only thing important is being prepared to replace every single person – even a board member or a co-founder -, with having clear responsibilities and being ready to give and revoke access to any asset.
Using the right tools
Yes, large companies have a lot of cash. You can argue that for them better computers and a few more test devices cost almost nothing, or that they can share everything between many projects and employees.
There is nothing against being creative though. There is no need to buy a 3D printer to use one, and one of the big advantages of using co-working offices is to work close to similar startups. You can ask them to test your products, or lend each other all sorts of resources: graphic designers seem to be working on all sorts of projects in their empty hours.
The same goes to online tools.
Software, infrastructure, marketing is for free, one can say. Except that is usually not true. Surely, there are great opportunities out there, and the best form of advertising – word of mouth – is also free. But in most cases, you will end up investing something more important: your time.
Creating a circle around you where everyone shares their discoveries, newly utilised tools or just explains the ones you don’t have time trying out, is a good way to make the learning curves a little steeper. It doesn’t only feel great but is extremely helpful for everyone involved.
Large companies have huge numbers on the cost side – so they need to have big numbers in the income column too. One of the upsides of running a startup is to be able to keep the costs low – but it doesn’t mean you need to keep your income low as well.
As a startup, you are probably trying to find a nice niche in the market. But one of the reasons you have the opportunity to fill up your gap is that it is – a gap. A small, tiny piece of the whole cake. Now, it might be a really profitable segment and a very tasty slice, but there is a high chance that the whole cake would feed many more mouth.
There are plenty of reasons for being unable to immediately go for bigger ventures of course. It’s very unlikely for example, that an upstart animation studio would get the next feature-film deal from Disney. These trust issues and other obstacles can usually be hacked though, and the opportunities are always there. They are there for the ones who are looking.
So, keep looking.