How To Maintain A Startup Mentality

How your company can always operate like it's 'Day 1'


It seems to be a widely accepted fact in popular culture that startups are absolutely always fit to burst with new, brilliant ideas, perpetually braced on the cutting edge of youth culture and innovation. By contrast, larger, more established companies are mythologized as doddering, old ignoramuses, unable to break their own foolish shackles, rusty from years of doing things a fixed, outdated way. You need only cast your mind back to that classic example of Blockbuster turning down the opportunity to purchase Netflix for $50 million back in 2000 for concrete evidence of their idiocy.

OK, so I may be being just a little facetious. In reality, this is largely an unfair stereotype. Just looking at the retail colossus Amazon and their consistently successful innovation - including the recent introduction of the Amazon Go, the first checkout-free convenience store - shows that this isn't quite the case.

That being said, the startup mentality is one which has consistently produced highly-successful innovation, and many larger companies aspire to maintain this atmosphere across their business. In a letter to his shareholders, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, put the organization's success down to the fact the company has always operated as if it were 'Day 1'. "Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death," he said. "And that is why it is always Day 1."

So how can companies maintain their existence in this perpetual state of 'day 1-ness'? We spoke to four of our speakers, past and present, about how they keep up a startup atmosphere that's ripe for innovation.

"I like having the mindset that 'whatever you think you're creating, there's probably 10 other Companies around the world that are working on the same thing'," says Dr Nikhil Poovoah, founder of CancerAid, ahead of his presentation at the R&D Innovation Summit, March 21 & 22 in Chicago. "It's important to continue to be agile and not relax too quickly when things are going well."

"The number one strategy critical to achieving the speed and growth of a startup is consistent, pervasive customer feedback, and the adaptation to that feedback," Matt Hubert, Co-Founder at Bitmatica said in an interview with us. "When ideas come from within, particularly from management, they are often misaligned with the goals of a customer base, slowing adoption and growth. Meanwhile, because startups are obligated by their minimal funding to achieve product market fit as quickly as possible, the successful cases focus relentlessly on the needs of the market, and build to those needs."

Josh Oxlee, who is speaking at our Chief Strategy Officer summit in Melbourne, March 15 & 16, believes investing in people is the way forward. He says that "having worked with both large organizations and start ups I feel that the corporate world needs to embrace their human capital by giving them more decision making power. The world moves so quickly these days that employees need to be able to make firm decisions without the time it takes to move decision making up and down corporate hierarchies."

"The biggest challenge is culture – the concept of ‘we have always done it this way’," Rajesh Aggarwal, Senior Vice President for Strategic Business Development at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, told us. "And associated with this is the concept of de-innovation which is far less talked about. There is only so much bandwidth for companies to undertake innovation, with respect to operational demands. It is thus necessary for innovation either to be the underpinning strategy of the company, such as for a new start-up, or for an established company looking for a major turnaround, or to be firewalled from the operational constraints of the company itself, so that the ‘innovation group’ can be nimble, opportunistic and take risks – which if successful would then be implemented across the rest of the company."

Continue following the debate at our Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, April 25 & 26.

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