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  • Hans Smellinckx

What we can learn from start-ups

The past years I worked a lot with start-ups and as a corporation or established business we can learn a lot from start-ups. Just a few learnings...


1. Sky is the limit


One of the main attitudes start-ups have is that anything is possible. If not in your country, than look for it outside your "square". They have understood that technology exists and can be bought at any place and at a cheap price. This means that you can rapidly wire frame a concept, build it "somewhere" and start testing it out within days.


If I compare that with my experience in the banking world (just to name one, can be also travel or HR or FMCG), than we talk about months and most of the time years. And no, it's even not a better process! Like coffee, the best aromas are coming out with an espresso, not a slow drip.


The concept of think-test-launch has become so crucial for businesses to survive that sometimes they start an innovation team. That's just an excuse of not being able to cope


with change. Rather look at concepts like the Adobe Kickbox. We tend to over-complicate processes and procedures the larger the company becomes and starting up an innovation team is just creating another complicated process (who approving, who is allocating budgets, etc).

Tools like Buffl let you test wire frames and ideas in a couple of minutes and platforms like Fivrr let you create something for just a dollar away (as a matter of speaking). By breaking the "difficult" processes down, you'll create also an environment of winners/creators/change advocates and people will start seeing the difference.


2. People are your religion


Most start-ups are a duo team with a third one recruited the first 6 months. This has a consequence that they feel immediately how crucial people are. In the first months of a start-up you need a good idea and business plan, but without people you can't do anything and the most difficult part of going from a start-up to a scale-up is not the funding (sorry, good business plan was already mentioned ;-) ) but how to get the next person in that suits the needs and above all, the mentality. Scale ups are sometimes even slowed down because they lack structure on the people level, they just grew and grew. But above all, it's just fun to work in a start-up. Hard work, but so rewarding and fun!


This last part we completely forgot in corporations. Make it fun for your employees to come to work (they are sitting more hours at a desk than at home). And this does not mean a fancy flooring or a kicker table in the restaurant. People don't want to work at Google because they get free food. It means you need a culture of transparency, direct feedback, trust and amaze them by surprising them with rewards (and no not the physical version, but the verbal version, just "you did a great job" works miracles!)... the biggest challenge of all for most corporations.


3. Never stop


In start-ups you know what customer service is, as every customer counts and the relentless search to improve your product or service is part of your DNA. Most start-ups will also know their customer database by heart. This is another challenge when you become bigger and for established brands we tend to loose the customer and an NPS is not giving you the best insights. But it's crucial to involve, as start-ups, your customer into your strategy or even the launch of new products or services. Talk to them, involve them and you'll notice that they will become your biggest ambassadors.


4. Follow your passion


You need passion in start-ups as you will work long hours and won't get rewarded financially for it (at the beginning). But this is one of the reasons I coach start-ups. I get energized by the passion of people starting up a venture. I lack that at so many large corporations. And the worst ones are where c - level thinks they have passion but never share that passion with the rest of the organisation. You miss out so much if your boss (read: company) is not passionate about his job.


So my question to you is... are you following your passion?




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