Every Business Should Think Like a Startup

A startup’s secret recipe for success

What makes a startup different than other businesses? The answer is in how they think and operate. Any business can achieve similar success by adopting several key principles that startups live and die by. Here are some fundamental lessons every business can learn from successful startups. Follow these guidelines and your established company can also be as nimble and innovative as a startup.

Reinvent with Minimal Risk

If you’re an established business, how do you launch a new product or service with the least amount of risk? Start by determining what needs it will be fulfilling for customers. Don’t ask if a product can be developed, ask if it should be. Adapt quickly and cheaply and use a structured process for testing it. Many startups use the “build-measure-learn” process that helps to speed up the feedback-gathering process. To gather feedback, don’t waste resources creating a fully-developed product; instead, launch what’s known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP contains only the basic features necessary to give customers enough of an idea that they can envision the final version. Tweak and retune your new product with their feedback until you get it right. As it becomes validated by more customers, then put additional resources behind its development and promotion.

Fail Fast, Fail Often

If you learn nothing else from Silicon Valley startups, learn that it’s okay to fail. The “fail fast, fail often” mantra is ingrained in tech startup culture. Take the now global FailCon conference series for example. You certainly don’t want to strive for failure, so what does this mindset really mean? It means that all businesses fail at one point in time, whether it’s a new product that fails or a new partnership that doesn’t quite click. The lesson to be learned here is two-fold. First, you have to be willing to take a chance with a new idea. This goes back to the risk/reward ratio you learned in Finance class. Always playing it safe by sticking with the status quo will never afford you the opportunity to hit it big. Secondly, what you learn from your mistakes is invaluable and often leads to better ideas. The most successful entrepreneurs will tell you they failed multiple times before getting it right.

Don’t Lose Touch with Customers…

It’s easy for mature companies to get, and stay, off-track. You must keep a pulse on your customers and the market to ensure you’re aligned with current wants and needs. Successful startups constantly re-evaluate, but established businesses typically overlook this exercise. The relentless study of customer data and market research keeps you honed in on what’s really important and enables you to focus on what’s working and make necessary changes to product lines and customer service.

Or Your Frontline.

Keeping a pulse on your team can be equally as important as keeping a pulse on your customers. Your frontline is typically the closest to customers and can give you additional insight into their changing needs. But your employees’ opinions should not be overlooked either. Your staff has the most intimate knowledge of your product portfolio and your customer service. If you’re looking for ways to improve—or for a source of new ideas—try asking your team as well as your customers.

Be Customer-Centric, not Company-Centric

Make sure it’s your company culture to focus on the customer even if you’re a large or mature business. Combine statistical data like survey results with qualitative open-ended opinions of current customers and prospects so that you get a more holistic, ‘big picture view’. Then prioritize the feedback you hear most often and figure out ways to weave in suggestions to new products.

If you want an example of how an established company can leverage startup methodology to foster innovation, check out what former CTO Bruce Brown did at P&G, what former CIO Vivek Kundra did with the US government, or what current COO Brian Crotty is doing at Broadview Networks. Broadview is a great example of an established company thinking and operating like a startup. They shifted their company culture to focus on the customer and launched a brand new administration portal based on customer feedback. Their new MyOfficeSuite® portal takes personalization a step further by giving customers the ability to customize it to suit their individual needs. Try to design in a way that gives people options about how they want to use your product or service. By doing so, you get the best of both worlds: an established business thinking with the mindset of a startup gives you the edge over slower-moving competitors.

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