Start-ups have brought much creativity and disruption to the business environment. From revulsion to praise, start-ups elicit an entire range of responses as they go about shaking things up. No matter what you may think of them, start-ups are undeniably successful, and by no stretch of the imagination have we seen the last of them. What can corporates learn from start-up culture, and which start-up practices can traditional businesses adopt for success? Here are 4 of them.


Startups Embrace Innovation and Reject Red-tape

In the constant race to find new and better ways to deliver the goods and services consumers need or want, innovation is not just another business buzzword. In fact, ask any entrepreneur what the mantra of modern-day business is, and she is likely to say “innovation”. And nowhere is innovation taken more seriously than at start-ups. Innovation (and its many attendant qualities, such as being different, going against the grain, and breaking the rules) is what start-up founders and their teams live and breathe. It is what gives them their competitive edge, and it is also the reason for many startup’s existence. However, you may also notice that these same qualities – while no doubt useful in growing into multi-million dollar entities – do not go down well in the traditional bureaucratic environment. Start-ups do away with red tape because bureaucracy gets in the way of them being nimble and agile -two traits that are crucial to survival. That’s not to say that all start-ups act like reckless lawbreakers. (Afterall for every Uber, there’s a Grab). Start-ups gladly suffer the quite frankly undeserved reputation of being the rock stars of the business world. But ponder this: Wouldn’t you too if, in exchange, you get a chance to create the next business revolution? So if you feel your team has become more than a little stuffy, would it be so bad taking a leaf from start-ups and loosening the collars a little?


Startups Hire Talent, And Nurture Them

Talent is the lifeblood of any company. The success of any business – whether large or small, nascent or established – depends on the abilities of the employees. However, just as employees take care of a company’s business, employers also need to make sure their employees are looked after. You may think that long-standing corporates have an advantage over start-ups here – afterall, they’ve been around much longer.  Well, you may want to think again. As a business grows, the focus shifts towards execution. After product-market fit has been established, the challenge lies in continually getting product into the hands of consumers. As operations scale up, new problems and issues may surface, taking up precious time and attention. Meanwhile, emerging competitors, shifting customer appetites and other threats cast an ominous shadow. Most corporates know when they need to correct their course, yet many still fail to turn their sinking ship around. Solving a manpower issue by hiring is the obvious solution, but many corporates stop there. Simply hiring the best talent you can find is not enough. You have to nurture them so they become champions of your causes. Even the most talented employee will find it difficult to make any meaningful contribution if they aren’t given a chance to observe what’s going on, and to define the problems and challenges for themselves. In this, start-ups fare much better. The open culture of start-ups has everyone from the founder  to the intern working side-by-side, with daily challenges and problems tackled in a very real, unfiltered manner. This means that start-up workers often have a much deeper understanding of their business and it’s issues (even if they may struggle to define it when asked). It is this unfettered immersion in ground-level reality that gives employees the chance to show what they are capable of. Instead of trying to achieve KPIs that make no sense without context (as routinely encountered in larger organisations), start-up employees can define the challenges pertinent to their work. With guidance from management, they can formulate a plan for how to tackle them. This also means that instead of merely trying to fulfil a job description, start-up employees are free to play to their strengths, amplifying their chances of delivering great results. Yes, start-up culture often lack the orderliness found in most corporates. However, in exchange for a little messiness, talented employees are gifted with unparalleled opportunity to grow and to shine.


Startups Engage With Their Customers

If it’s one thing that start-ups of today are undeniably good at, it’s engaging with their customers. You see, there is a difference between talking with your target audience, and talking at them. In the former, a business takes the time and effort to engage its customers in an ongoing conversation about what matters. It strives to understand their pain, the reasons why they use it’s products and services, and what the customers want more/want less of. Start-ups then take the data and insights collected to come up with a better product-market fit, streamline their processes, or simply to fix what (they didn’t know) was getting in their customers’ way. Instead of simply announcing a sale and hoping for the best, a start-up may instead ask customers to fill up imaginary shopping carts if they were given, say, $100. Based on the products/brands they choose, these customers will then receive vouchers they can use during the sale itself. This simple exercise fulfils 3 functions: 1) it tells the start-up which brands and products are highly desired, and 2) it generates buzz for the sale and 3) it attracts and encourages participation in the actual sale event (by giving out vouchers for products customers want.) On the other hand, an older business may choose to spend marketing dollars on an advertising blitz which generates lots of noise, but little else. Any customers insights will have to come after the sale, which puts the company on a passive foot, leaving it unable to react to customers wants. Imagine, say, there’s a hot new product that everyone wants. Yet, because you had no insights of the trend, you understock, and are sold out barely hours into the sale. You’ll have missed out on a huge business opportunity, while leaving a horde of frustrated or disappointed customers which you’ll have to spend resources to win back later.


Startups Leverage the Gig Economy

Corporates are only just now becoming aware of the benefits of the gig economy, something that start-ups have been leveraging to gain an important edge. The fact is, the gig economy is here to stay. Start-ups have long relied on freelancers, part-timers and the ilk to provide targeted support that allows them to meet critical deadlines. By hiring on a project basis, start-ups keep their overheads down while ramping up their productivity. That’s how start-ups do more with less, sometimes even outperforming their corporate counterparts. And going one-step further, start-ups even adopt practices like unlimited vacation days, and remote working – utilising the best features of the gig economy to keep employees focussed and motivated, without risking high turnover due to burnout. 


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