How can a startup survive in today's ever-changing Digital landscape?

James Murphy
Mar 28, 2019 · 7 min read

The world we live in now is a very different place to where it was 10 years ago in fact even to a few years ago! Being successful in today's fast-moving and morphing digital landscape is becoming increasingly tough for startups and their teams.

So what can you do? How can you help to stabilise and de-risk an early stage business?

Let’s start with 4 key problem areas a young business faces in today's digital, tech biased horizon and a couple of the tips and tricks both we and our clients adapt to help cut through the potential mayhem!

1. Product

Startups are all racing on product! There are views fairly abundant in the early stage world that drive startups to sometimes overlook fundamentals regarding their product. Is it true that investors won't look at you unless you have an MVP or beyond, even one that is making money?

What is an MVP and what should be included and do I need one? Something I have touched upon and something @Squid40 we are really passionate about supporting founding teams on.

“Release Release Release” was a statement heard cried by many of the cohorts in the startup and early-stage world — does this ring true?

What’s more important - user flow and interaction or making the product look amazing so it’s picked off the store and successfully marketed?

The questions go on and on and to cut through this, there really needs to be a focus in on validation and iteration based on user testing at early stages.

Your product isn’t designed and built for you. To get to the stage every founding team wants a MAP or a Minimum Awesome Product, you have to distill the problem statement you solve and what the absolute minimum that is required to have users adopt the product and in theory — make their problem go away. It's about users.

Validate the problem, validate the solution, validate the minimum set of features and ask the potential users what they require and how it should interact — keep it simple!

2. Focus

We go into the office or we work from home — or maybe we are a new digital nomad and we work from Starbucks or a trailer in the mountains; whatever, we still face the same old problem. Focus. Focus as an individual and focus as a team — doing the bit you do well and meaningfully for the bigger picture of your startup or established business.

You may think you are focused and delivering as best as possible, focusing on just a few tasks and splitting your day up into sections where you can tick stuff off, but I bet you are still checking emails and looking at your phone?

Context switching as its known or the practice of moving between communication methods is a productivity killer!

There is some amazing research by super geniuses such as @Cal Newport* and @Jim Collins* at the moment that states even if you just look at email or platforms and don’t respond to requests and actions, the residue that remains in your brain will keep you unclear for a great deal of time after — super amazing stuff!

Imagine how many times you look at WhatsApp or Slack or even Facebook…never mind LinkedIn! You are literally offering your brain chicanes and tight left-handers on what can be a straight road to effective focus.

So what can you do? Well, @Squid40 we are starting to implement Deep Working* and Digital Minimalism* and we are discussing it with our clients too.

Just dividing up your time, journaling and making lists of following routines does not cut it anymore — you have to cut out the ability to context switch and you have to adhere to set team times for collaboration which of course, is still as key as a singular focus.

3. Teams and people

This is perhaps one of the key areas in startup life, it’s a conversation that goes around and on and in many cases, as a solo element holds responsibility for the success of an early stage business totally — it’s that important and it gets more difficult and therefore requires more diligence and input.

Startups and early stage business may find difficulties in engaging stellar teams in order to reach critical early milestones. These potential employees and teams are hard to find, have expansive options and they can easily be lost. In order to overcome this obstacle, at Squid40, we offer tailored solutions up until and even beyond the point where your key internal team becomes attainable.

We have and will write expansively on this topic but all startups no matter what stage have to build their teams around culture and employer brand. You cannot and will not compete with those exciting tech brands who have Series A funding and have been through some of the pain you are experiencing and forget the tech superstars like Google and Facebook as these aren’t your threat either.

Candidates are looking for amazing opportunities; the cutting edge super funded names you’ve never heard of.

However, there are great people who have an open mind to ‘Green-field’ and they will follow an inspired founding team or CEO into battle.

Startups have to differentiate, you have to form culture and DNA that allows the best and most innovative people to come together and flourish.

Bean bags and foosball tables just don’t cut it anymore, the team have to be ‘on’ the journey, they have to affect change, they have to feel valued and see value in what your product and awesome idea solve a problem statement and of course how.

The founder’s values and what they stand for has to literally drip from the walls, it has to be tangible and infectious and it has to feel achievable and yet, the team has to be at the centre... sounds tough right, that’s because it is.

That’s why working with teams who can get you to milestones where the internal dream-team becomes more attainable, is sensible.

Some last points here:

  • Please hire around personas and mind-sets not skill-sets;
  • Put a bunch of amazing people with a bunch of diverse skills at hand in a room;
  • Results will come — usually more than what you actually needed or wanted in the first place;
  • Empower those people, support them and give them trajectory and an aligned mission;
  • Be aware of diverse cultural aspects and build teams that are happy and healthy;

Three of our core values are collaboration, empathy, and self-accountability — these have so far rung true in all our teams and people.

4. Innovation

Innovate or die — rings the mantra! And to a certain extent, this is true.

However, innovation and constant enhancement, iteration and ideation can also be dangerous to a product that has the chance to succeed but hasn’t been developed in full yet.

In 2018 we saw the demise of quite a few big brands and plenty of SME’s and of course, business models, digital landscape enhancement and trends such as mobile will be responsible for these downfalls.

Startups must adapt, be agile and rapidly react to users rather than just reinventing the wheel again and again.

Innovation for innovation's sake can be dangerous — having a ‘think tank’ or container that focuses a lens on relevant market and consumer trends allows for a controlled safe space to discuss innovation and implement accordingly — structure and alignment is key.

Teams are again part of innovation. A good unit or team will do what the business and leaders ask and beyond; a great unit will also do this whilst simultaneously understanding a better way and switching when appropriate whilst advising the leaders (as they feel they are entitled and empowered to do so).


There are of course many other key risk areas early stage business or startup faces — operational strain, financial management, increasing governance and data-driven restrictions or constraints not to mention security. Security of your IP, of your team, of your customers from about 1000 different forms of attacks!

All of these, of course, can be planned for in some instances but the key we have found speaking and working with many startups is to speak and engage the specialists. This is a team.

Surround yourself with doers and people you trust to make the right decisions.

I hope that some of the above help in the areas highlighted. We, at Squid40, started with why; learned how from others and adopted awesome insights into our own culture and environment.

Learning/Reading is one thing, Implementing/Adopting is another.

Explore best-in-class digital product delivery. Start your game-changing journey today!


A digital product development agency designed for side by side early stage & sharp startups — building awesome digital products for inspiring people & teams. 🚀

James Murphy

Written by

CEO/Co-founder @Squid40 — Innovating and re-shaping resourcing/people centric solutions for over a decade. Startup and scaling business specialist.



A digital product development agency designed for side by side early stage & sharp startups — building awesome digital products for inspiring people & teams. 🚀

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