Catherine M. Merritt

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News. Thoughts. Ramblings.

What startups can teach big companies

I was speaking with a startup professional a few days ago about why startups are such exciting places to work. He said, and I agree that one of the reasons people stay in the startup space, even if they know the odds are against them and their company’s success, is because of the energy and rapid pace of it. While there are traits that would be challenging to parlay into larger companies, there’s a lot they can learn from startups. I read that 40% of companies founded in the 20th Century will ultimately fail in the 21st Century. What does that tell us? The old companies that embrace their youthful startup counterparts have better odds than dinosaurs left for extinction.

1. Failure isn’t the end- it’s part of the journey

This may be a hard one to convince shareholders of, but it’s certainly a mantra that your people can and should embrace. The get the most out of people and your concept, it’s important to put things out there and roll with it when they don’t go according the plan. The learnings and experiences that come on the heels of failure are often the quickest path to a ‘what next’ that gets you closer to success. Teach your people that mistakes are part of the process- not that they should seek it out, but feel confident that when (not if) something goes wrong, they’re supported and encouraged to extract the lessons from why that happened.

2. Change is good and often necessary even if it brings discomfort

While it often creates uncertainty and discomfort, change is a necessity to keep growing and staying relevant. If a startup hasn’t gone through recent iterations of changes, that’s a very bad thing often times. For larger companies, they may not change to the degree that a startup will, but it’s important to build a foundation and culture that is malleable and adaptable. Change is our friend, say it with me.

3. Act quick, learn faster

Put something out into the world and see how it does. That may be counterintuitive to many companies who rely on revisions upon revisions, but often times if you share something with the world you’ll learn quickly on how it performs, what adaptations are necessary and how to get it to the right place. If your company moved at a turtle’s pace with evolving and innovating, your customers will often outgrow you and leave you behind.

4. Share the wealth and see the return

In a world where everyone is looking for a ‘what’s next’ the best way to keep top and rising talent is to let them have some skin in the game. When possible, give them some of the company and you’ll see the return on that is ten-fold. People want to be part of something, not just work for someone. Startups use equity as an incentive for their talent and the startups that takeoff have many founding members who have a vested interest in making sure the company succeeds.  

Catherine Merritt