The “Enterprise Startup”. A new, proven business model

By Roger Gorman, CEO and Founder of ProFinda

There’s a lot of talking around The Workforce Of The Future (WOF). Namely the new, ‘better’ more futuristic company.

And rightly so. Companies who don’t embrace this new speed of exponential change will be found in a future Google searches next to brands like Blockbuster and Kodak.

We also recognise that large firms wanting to change will feel like pulling out their own teeth, very slowly.

So in the discussion of how to help large firm transform (survive, evolve and ultimately flourish), it’s of course important to talk about the structures, models and systems needed to transition from an ‘old’ company to a ‘new’ agile firm.

But I think it’s equally and perhaps more critical and (forgive me) far more exciting to also embrace the attitude needed.

New fancy technologies, new hires and new processes are meaningless without the culture and attitude to support them.

And I say this as the CEO of a software business.

We are often the first to say that the outcome of real transformational change or firms is from 20% tech, and 80% culture.

And as someone who’s worked in both massive firms, and the founder of three start ups, the biggest secret ingredient to success I saw was the difference of people’s attitude.

The financial handcuffs

In a startup it’s mostly about a family — a team, all with a shared purpose working hard to solve problems in fast and agile ways. Typically start ups are brimming with people chasing a quest, a belief, they have a deep personal purpose.

From my personal lens, from my own experiences, the attitude however in big firms can too often be fairly self serving, and lacking creativity. It’s often ‘problem generating’ not ‘solution focused’ attitudes.

And while this reflects this author’s subjective opinion, as a CEO myself and as we travel around the world meeting the people who make up the world’s largest companies, it’s these folk too often who also agree with this notion. I think it’s safe to say most large firms can be ‘tough’ places to work.

But not everyone of course is a problem generator, of course! There are many incredible people in large firms, I’m simply referring to a large number of employees.

If you still don’t believe me consider this; fundamentally we know many enterprise folk are not chasing a personal quest, but too often a fancy pay cheque. So how many CEOs of enterprise size firms could successfully ask their team to freeze salaries for a number of months to support the common goal? (note: of course it would be impossible for many to have their salaries stopped, but this comment hopefully coaxes out the theme of attitude and why we do what we do).

If this is true of a firm, of course the culture will suffer.

In large firms I don’t blame the company, nor the people. Often toxic attitudes are merely a symptom of scale, legacy, and old culture. But while it is ok that it’s not perfect in large firms, it’s NOT ok for anyone not to try to change everything, everyday!

So for large firms wanting to move into the WOF it’s mostly about the attitude and building a culture of values and intrinsic rewards to encourage the behaviour they need to see.

Attitude trumps everything!

So can we marry the good bits from a startup and the good bits of a large enterprise? If so, let’s think about a new term, ‘the Enterprise Startup’.

The Enterprise Startup

What do I mean?

To be clear I do not mean making the staff in profitable large firms to suddenly experience endless sleepless nights, wear t-shirts, risk a stable career while watching your friends get increasingly well paid jobs, while you’re still worrying about the rent, and all while working from your favourite bohemian cafe in Shoreditch — the classic early stage startup cliche.

I mean the convergence of the best bits of both the enterprise and the start-up, married in a perfect union.

So what are the best bits?

It seems increasingly clear the best bits from an enterprise are often the ‘tangible’ parts: the financial and brand leverage, resources, incredible minds, market access, etc.

In contrast the best bits of a ‘Start-up’ are often the ‘intangible’. It’s the fun, the employee-first thinking, the endless innovation, being agile, having the attitude that it’s ok to want to change and improve things, and an attitude of ‘let’s change the world’.

A seed of an idea — and a cautionary tale

As large firms begin to make the transition to the WOF please get the best tech, new better processes, new supply chains, new operating models. BUT please don’t forget the biggest area to invest in — attitude.

Commit to seed a real sense of startup attitude into the DNA of your business, everywhere, every time and forever.

As a guy that’s quit more large firms than I care to mention, I soulfully believe a startup attitude really is the oxygen of meaningful change, and the part that will ensure your investment in systems and process can and will now flourish.

One day soon, large firms will be able to fully leverage their amazing value and people, because this time they all have the attitude of a ‘startup with purpose’.

What a time to live, and to change the world!

About the author

Roger Gorman is the founder & CEO at ProFinda — connect with him at Roger[at], on LinkedIn and Twitter.