Ever since the two Steves headed down to the garage and emerged with their little, grey box, the startup has become a thing of legend. On the flipside, the stock of big, evil corporations seems to have sunk to an all time low. (Certainly not their actual stock, but you know what I mean.)
In fact, when I tapped ‘what can startups learn from corporations?’ into Google, eight of the first 10 results flipped the sentence. It seems the world is convinced that the behemoths should be observing the disruptors and not the other way round. But aren’t corporations just the 10% of startups that actually made it out the other side? Didn’t Google itself — sorry, Alphabet Inc — start off as two plucky nerds and a bold idea?
At their core, corporations are just successful businesses that have grown by providing products or services that people enjoy and rely on. In other words, they’re the point of it all. So, to increase their chances of actually turning a profit, is it time for startups to quit sneering and start learning from their established rivals? Let’s thrash it out.
Startups are rightly lauded for their innovation and dynamism. Their agile, cross-functional way of working and minimum viable product (MVP) culture lets them sprint to market in a way that leaves corporations looking like 50-year-old, chain-smoking joggers. Indeed, these wheezing giants are famed for their torturously slow ‘yes… but’ cultures, where every proposal is interrogated by a boardroom full of stakeholders and ‘Karen dialling in from the UK’.
However, this cautious, often painstaking, approach can be a time — and money — saver in the long run. To deal with the third degree, a thorough business case has to be meticulously constructed and potential challenges and conflicts must be confronted, rather than buried on the backlog or blinded by the euphoria that ‘we’re making something cool’.
Of course, startups live in the now — as in ‘now is their time’ — while the market is ready and the competitors are not. They need to be decisive and seize their moment. That’s 100% true. But learning from the diligence and composure of corporations could help them ensure they make the most of their moment, rather than jumping the gun.
Once startups begin to blossom, one challenge they face is prioritisation. What feature comes next? Which market? There can also be issues with staying on top of what their teams are working on. In such a fluid environment, it can be hard to connect the dots and prevent overlap. Are all the efforts contributing towards the ultimate revenue goal?
To keep everything in line, startups (whisper it) can learn from the management structure of corporations. Yes, these are often overly rigid, but, ask an engineer and they’ll tell you: ‘structure’ isn’t a dirty word. If a startup’s setup is too ‘flat’, everyone can only see a tiny bit in front of them. In the same way, someone perched higher up can get a better vantage point. They can spot workflow and priority issues that might otherwise be missed. A bit more structure can also turn on potential investors, who are always looking to minimise risk.
I guess in a way I’m channelling my inner dictator. What I’m trying to say is ‘too much democracy can be a bad thing’. Startups are often allergic to traditional corporate structures and maybe they’ve got a point. However, dynamism, speed and innovation can all be stalled by flat structures that give everyone and the intern a platform to air their views. Corporations can gain greater clarity and speed with the quasi-dictatorial ways.
Finally, startups understandably put a huge emphasis on being the new kids on the block — often a self-styled gang of upstarts with nothing but a dream, a Mac and a rented, industrial-chic workspace. In corporations, there’s a less emphasis on youth. You get a way wider range of ages, making them more diverse places to work. Tapping into more work — and life — experience could be a huge benefit to startups hoping to make it.
In short, startups don’t want to become corporations in the same way we don’t want to become our parents. We want to be better, more exciting, different. But that’s not to say there isn’t advice we can’t heed along the way. So, startups…respect your elders.
Five lessons startups can learn from corporations:
- There’s a difference between getting there first and getting there ready
- Structure isn’t a dirty word
- The UX lead doesn’t need to weigh in on sales messaging
- A bit of life experience can go a long way
- No one is cool forever
Are you in a startup? Or a corporate? Than impart your knowledge below. And if you want to see how startup mentality can actually help a corporate change his ways, take a look over here.