What big businesses can learn from start-ups

Having had the privilege of working for a start up and watching it grow into a thriving medium-sized business in just a few years, I have a certain affection for the ‘we can do anything’ entrepreneurial-mentality found in this environment.

Ah the good old days, when every win is worth a toast (or two), no matter how big or small, when the bookkeeper only needs to come every other Tuesday, when the MD sits next to the intern.
But as the office from which you took your first conference call becomes too small, and it’s time to upsize, the change seems to trigger a different kind of reaction amongst the ranks. The hunger, the excitement, the motivation, the fire in the belly, it all seems to fade as each new employee comes on board.
I do get it though, as a business expands things need to change on a purely functional level, and the lack of immediate connection to the senior managers may mean that the personal level of accountability and loyalty can get diluted.
More accounts means more responsibly and that can lead to more pressure, and suddenly the Friday Pizzas and pinball machine in the meeting area are a distant memory.
So how can you keep your 30th employee as enthusiastic as your 3rd was way back when, while adapting your business model to accommodate your growth?
I believe it all comes back to a strong culture, get the ground work in right at the beginning; know what you stand for and stick by it both internally and externally and keep it in the forefront whenever recruiting.
Practice what you preach and you can expand nationally, internationally…exponentially, while keeping your small-business mentality fully intact.
In this article Stanford Professor Lindred Geer eloquently puts it ‘In order to preserve the culture as they grow, startups must find ways early on to balance the need to motivate workers and give them a voice with competing organizational needs for structure and hierarchy’
Greer also goes on to discuss staying humble and lots of ice-cream as other ways to keep that start-up philosophy thriving, which I also think is sound advice.
Rickard Branson maintains that the trick to being global, but acting start-up is to never consider yourself to be big business. If you always think of yourself as an underdog you’ll never loose that passion to succeed.
So maybe it’s not really about the size if your business, but more about the mentality of the people running it – after all people make a place. Etch those core values so far into the psyche of the company that they’re never going anywhere.
Oh, and always remember to toast, there’s always an excuse for a toast.
I;d love to hear your thoughts on this article (or anything else for that matter – I’m not picky). Get in touch:

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