What can larger organizations learn from start-ups

I've done my whole career mostly in start-ups. I've worked for others and also founded some of my own ventures. It's very tough to be a start-up founder, it's always either the best or the worst day of your life and there is no other option, than to go all in. Otherwise your business is dead.

During the past year I've worked a lot with big media companies, trying to help them build new digital businesses. Against all my expectations, it's been extremely hard. I'm working with very talented and smart people, but still we are not producing the results we want at the speed we want. The reason for that is passion.

It's very tough to be a start-up founder, it's always either the best or the worst day of your life.

Challenging the giants

Few years ago I founded a venture to compete against one unicorn and two leading media players in the very crowded daily deal market. Everyone, literally e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e, including my own family, thought I was nuts and doomed the venture to fail. In two years time period we ended up buying the daily deal businesses from the media companies.

How did we manage against all the odds? Passion. 

I personally think, that to be great, you have to fight. We weren't more talented than the competitors, but our team outworked our competitors. In most big companies people are enjoying steady pay checks, and it doesn't really matter if goals are achieved or not, but with a startup it's a matter of life and death.

Everyone, literally e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e, including my own family, thought I was nuts and doomed the venture to fail.

Results, results, results

I've always wondered how does a high and steady pay check correlate with results? I personally don't value peoples time, I value results people achieve. I prefer to pay a lot for results, but nothing for time.

In a startup there is no other option, than to produce results. This leads the company culture to a very productive thinking, where all the time is used on tasks generating revenue or long term value for the company.

I prefer to pay a lot for results, but nothing for time.

Disrupting the old thinking

I don't really see, that the current salary models are pushing the people for results, which companies are desperate for in the digital transformation. But how can you actually move people out from the comfort zone?

The only option I see, is to find the peoples inner motivation by embracing companies' mission to be every ones mission. Simon Sinek, one of my favorite speakers, speaks a lot about the golden circle, how a company should communicate. Most people don't know “the why” – why the company does “the why” – why the company does what it does – even if they can answer to "what does the company do" -question. I bet, that if we asked 10 people randomly in a big organization, they wouldn't be able to tell the core or the belief of “the why” inside the company.

I bet, that if we asked 10 people randomly in a big organization, they wouldn't be able to tell the core or the belief of “the why” inside the company.

Always be the hardest working people in the room

My mentors set me a very high standard for work ethic, which hasn’t only shaped my own ethic, but also my style of leadership.

I’ve always been a leader, who never demands more from anyone else, than what I’m personally willing to do, and I’ve always been the hardest working person in the room. I have wondered, how can you demand more from other people than you are willing to do yourself? 

Most managers and bosses stay themselves in the comfort zone and send people to do the dirty work, which is 100 % against my principles. Leaders should go ahead, do more than anyone else and set standards for their employees. The old way, when managers managed and other people did the work, doesn’t produce results in todays world.

Most managers and bosses stay themselves in the comfort zone and send people to do the dirty work.

Not me, not you – it’s us

Is there anything more powerful, than a motivated team with a common goal, willing to die for their mission? This is the biggest reason start-ups succeed. They are very careful in recruiting, because there is no possibility to increase costs or risk the company culture.

In the start-ups there is not much politics inside the company. The whole team takes the credits for the success, and celebrates every ones achievements. Many people I have talked with have mentioned, that people don’t feel appreciated for their achievements, and even if they might do the hard work, someone else might take the credit for their effort.

Why is it so hard to go and look people in the eye and say: “You did a great job, thank you! We appreciate your effort”?

In the start-ups there is not much politics inside the company. The whole team takes the credits for the success, and celebrates every ones achievements.

How can you build a startup within a large organization?

As you can understand, many things in start-ups are done in a different way. The leadership, culture and the work style are very different comparing to larger companies. Placing people from the existing organization to run the start-up business within the large organization is doomed to fail from the start, because the people responsible will drag along the legacy of leadership and culture.

If a larger organization wants to be able to scale start-ups on their own, they need to be built from the ground up. The new start-up needs to be operated totally independently of the large organization, with its own rules, with its own management, with a startup mindset backed – and with huge amount of passion.

If a larger organization wants to be able to scale start-ups on their own, they need to be built from the ground up.