Startups Don’t Have all the Answers… And that’s a good thing

Last week I talked briefly about the aspects of a startup that big businesses try to emulate. And thanks to everyone who commented by the way; this is indeed a hot topic area for Chelsea Apps Factory. 


Big businesses may well look to startups for inspiration but it’s important to recognise that startups do not have all the answers. Far from being a criticism, it is precisely this fact that sets them apart from established businesses. They understand they don’t have all the answers;  and that they will formulate their business as they go. In order to do this they know they need to be able to grow, change, move, and flex. 


I’m taking another look at my original list to see which aspects of startups big businesses have and which they struggle with:


1. Great People (YES)


2. Great Products / Ideas (YES)


3. Belief & Passion (HOPE SO)


4. Hard Work (HOPE SO)


5. Ability to Bootstrap (NOT REALLY)


6. Ability to Fail Fast / Pivot (NO)


7. Ability to Move Fast (NO WAY!)


And it’s these last three that are the challenge for big businesses.  So what happens when any business struggles with ‘the last 3’ and are unable to act like a startup? They go into paralysis. It’s not just that things are slow, they lose the ability to move at all paralysed by ideas, paralysed by technology, paralysed by process. This creates fear. People know they’re not moving in the right (or any) direction, but become powerless to do anything about it. It is just too huge a task to be able to operate differently.


Mostly, big businesses recognise this and in recent years this has led to a proliferation of Innovation Departments and initiatives. But larger organisations must stop being ponderous, using their incumbent methodologies of months-long strategic evaluations, new process implementations and annexed innovation departments. They need to get good at 5, 6, and 7 and quick.


At its core is this concept of being able to operate ‘without knowing all the answers’. Being able to invest in ideas, to test and learn fast, and to not know the outcome. Yes this means there may not be a proven business case BEFORE starting work. Fear, and outdated management practices stop this happening, but the big businesses that are thriving today are the ones that have understood this and are casting off the fear driven practices. The businesses that are going to make it in today’s uncertain world are the ones that are able to move forward without all the answers.