What Creatives Can Learn From Startups

Step 1: Make Stuff People Want.

Note to regular readers: I usually write comedic things. This is a lil’ departure from that, so just a heads up in case you were looking for a laugh. Still, if you’re a creative guy/gal/alien, I think you’ll find it useful. Enjoy! -HSA

In the last year or so, I’ve ended up meeting more and more people in the startup world. At panels, conferences, meetups, even one time at karaoke.

As such, I’ve since become a HUGE fan of startup culture.

Among other things, I love how startups have to get creative to achieve their goals. With limited cash and resources, they’re forced to think outside the box to acquire new customers, get PR, and grow their business.

I think folks like me in the creative/advertising space can learn a lot from that mindset, starting with some of the following concepts:

Product/Market Fit

Coined by legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, product/market fit simply means creating a product or service that meets the demands of the market. In other words: Do people want what you’re selling?

I’m guilty of this, too, but a lot of whiteboard walls in creative agencies are filled with ideas that totally ignore people’s desire for them.

“Make something people want.” — Paul Graham, Y Combinator

As I pointed out in a previous post, ideas that offer utility, entertainment, and relatability generally connect with people better.

The Takeaway: Make stuff people want.

Cost To Acquire Customers

A key part of the startup business model is “cost to acquire customers.” Basically, what does it cost to get new customers? (Duh.) Of course, the goal is to keep that cost low. And that’s where startups have to get creative, with smart cost-effective marketing campaigns on social media, for instance.

In the advertising world, I’ve worked with major brands with giant budgets, and yet some of my most effective projects have been the scrappiest ones. The ones that forced me to stay lean and come up with creative workarounds to get results, all while keeping costs low, and still getting audiences interested in the brand.

The Takeaway: Stay creatively lean.


Startups can’t just cater to a handful of people. They need to grow in such a way that people can buy their product/services on a larger scale.

Similarly, while easier said than done, creative ideas should aim to be scaleable. Ideally, they should apply to more than just a handful of people.

Again, I covered this in a previous post, but good scaleable ideas tend to be ones that most people can relate to. They’re ideas built on a strong human truth. Those are the ideas the people will want to engage with and share with their friends online, allowing even more people to do the same.

The Takeaway: It helps to create an idea that a larger group of people can relate to.

The Part Of The Article Where I Cover My Ass

Of course, as any startup that’s gone under will tell you, there’s no guaranteed success, even if you follow all these steps. So I’m not implying that every creative idea that meets these requirements will be a hit.

I just personally found these parallels to be helpful as I approach my own creative process. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too. If not, I’m deeply sorry, and I give you permission to yell at me on Twitter.

Happy making,


One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.