Why embracing a ‘startup mentality’ is good for business

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC
Photo by Shutterstock

Startups (and their fearless band of business builders) are often synonymous with their scrappy can-do attitudes, creativity, and sense of innovation. They execute to bring an idea to life through a mission-driven culture. One of the most prolific writers and professors on entrepreneurship, Steve Blank, once said, “a startup is “a temporary organization designed to look for a business model that is repeatable and scalable.” Eric Reis went even further and evolved his definition of a startup company to be more inclusive by opining, “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Under this definition, a startup is not limited by years in business, maturity of products, depth of management, or other arbitrary discounting measures typically used to define startups.

Imagine if every company thought about this paradigm shift through the lens of a startup. Today, unlike in the 1950s, the average longevity of a large publicly traded corporation is 20 years versus 60. Just last month, 172 CEOs were replaced in large corporations. The most important observation being the gap/need of these large companies of “adapting to changing technologies or finding new leadership based on changing economic conditions.”

So, everyone needs to think like a startup right? And even when you outgrow the “startup” phase, there’s something to be said for maintaining these values to enjoy continued growth. Here’s a look at how the most effective organizations grow past the startup stage while remaining grounded.

1)  The founder/leader makes a point to stay engaged on some level. The founder must ensure the original vision is communicated and articulated through periods of change. This message informs the reason the mission is meaningful, brings cohesion to all teams, and allows people to prioritize during times of uncertainty.

2)  The company must be open to change. Companies that rise from bootstrapped startup status to the likes of the eBays and AirBnBs of the world have one thing in common: they embrace a culture of healthy skepticism and curiosity. Such an environment can be a means to reinvent, repurpose, or challenge the status quo. The result? Better products, cheaper and more efficient services, and novel solutions to old problems. In other words, it’s good for business.

3)  The company values and rewards adaptive entrepreneurial leadership. Entrepreneurship gets its share of press, but adaptiveness is lesser-known. Connecting and rearranging the dots, intellectual curiosity, determination, tenacity, and seeing around corners is adaptive entrepreneurial leadership. CEOs need to build the capacity for this in their organization so that employees find game -changing (transformative) projects challenging and meaningful, which leads to higher engagement. Their passion and determination are contagious. As they grow professionally, so does the organization.

4)  The company must grow and scale strategically. It can be easy when “moving fast and breaking things” (as was the tech startup mantra), to do so with reckless abandon. However, companies that sustain long-term growth are selective, deliberate, intentional and targeted in growth, whether that be new customer segments, new employees, partners, investors, and vendors.

Hiring for cultural fit should be embraced just as much as technical expertise. Emotional intelligence cannot be discounted. Treat any interview as an opportunity to see if their personality, goals, and vision align with your company’s trajectory and whether the individual embraces the startup mindset.


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