Market musings

Think Like a Startup and Grow Despite Uncertainty

by Sasha Viasasha
September 12, 2017

A startup isn’t necessarily a tech company, although technology empowers startups, and it isn’t just for radical new ideas. A startup can take a traditional product to market, innovating other aspects, like how it’s manufactured or delivered. Many startups bought, invented or built nothing new, but they still made a revolutionary impact by finding new ways to sell or market something old.

What really sets startups apart from other businesses and business models is agility; the ability to scale quickly, to pivot and to respond quickly to markets. And who doesn’t want that in today’s economy? Although some businesses don’t lend themselves to a startup model, most small businesses can benefit from taking some lessons from these next-generation companies.

Changing economic conditions, the rise and fall of global markets, and digital disruption will continue to reshape the business landscape, and startups are uniquely positioned to ride the waves, growing and prospering while more traditional companies stagnate or even fail.

Who benefits?

Companies that offer services, professional or otherwise, are in a good position to adopt this model, but companies that manufacture or retail products can also benefit. It’s all about perspective. If you have a solid product that you can produce without limits and healthy markets to buy it, you may not need a start-up model. But if you are worried about relying on a single product or market, and want to expand out or build upon your brand to diversify your economic outlook, thinking like a startup can help you grow.

Market focus

While many businesses are really focused on what they do or sell, startups have a more market focused attitude, which allows them to anticipate and answer the changing needs of their community.

They stay ahead of the curve, innovating products and services before they become irrelevant, and driving rather than merely reacting to change.

They do so by focusing on more than a single idea or product.

For example, startups carefully cultivate and nurture the following aspects of their business:

Reputation—Developing a reputation is important for businesses, and for startups even more so. A great reputation allows companies to outlive obsolesce by bringing new ideas to market, and relying on their brand for credibility.

Community—a strong community is the backbone of startup culture and allows companies to create better products, better messaging and happier customers. 

Talent—Developing and accessing talent is key to agility. Building a strong network of talent is a must have for any business, and for startups even more so.

Customer experience—Customer experience is at the heart of startup culture, and drives startup strategy, product development and marketing efforts. By focusing on the customer, startups create experiences and products that customers love to use.

Time for a change

Some indications that you should begin to think more like a startup:

  • You’re not growing or you’re even losing ground 
  • You’re worried about relying on a single product, service or market
  • You have a strong reputation in your community
  • You’ve developed expertise that is underutilized 

Although startups have gotten a reputation as edgy outsiders as an existing business, you have an advantage over someone prospecting from the outside. You already have an ‘in’, and access to established markets and customers. You can use your small business as a base to branch out, exploring new ideas and products.  

Key elements of startup thinking

Want to start thinking more like a startup? Here are some key elements to hone in on:

Scalability—Scalability can help you grow quickly when you find a product or service that resonates. If you’ve ever sold out of a popular item or had to turn away work, you know the pain of not being able to scale. Scalability is key to capturing rapid growth, but it’s also a measure of resilience. Companies that can scale up or down as conditions change have a much better chance of surviving the new VUCA world. Getting familiar with talent markets, creating a flexible business structure and forgoing Capex expenditures in favor of software and application-based infrastructure can help your company stay flexible. 

Niche targeting—Maybe you’ve always sold to the same customer, but what if your business just isn’t growing anymore? Startups and smart companies are always looking for new niches to reach, and learning their pain points and language. Localization isn’t just for global markets, you can find new markets right at home by keeping an ear to the ground and listening to your customers, and turning their pain into opportunities. That can make you and your customers happy!

Responsiveness—Responsiveness is the whole reason for agility. Being able to change your services or tweak your products can help you keep up with the changing needs and tastes of shifting demographics and new opportunities. Creating a more responsive organization means trusting and developing talent that can act quickly, and are invested in doing so. 

Technology— A startup is constantly scouring the tech scene for apps that work as productivity hacks and efficiency boosts. Drop your expenses and pour that money back into customer acquisition. There are plenty of ways to grow your business that don't include hiring.  You can eliminate the office expense and replace it with a coworking space. You can eliminate your desk phones and go with a fully mobile virtual phone system. You can partner with your other businesses in you supply chain to lower the cost of supplies. Question all of your assumptions and keep your eyes open for new apps.

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