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10 things startups can teach large corporates

In the last few months, the world has been turned upside down and a number of business are laying off employees, applying for government rescue funds or filing for bankruptcy. In a more positive scenario, other businesses are reinventing themselves or changing their strategies to better serve more demanding customers.

Nonetheless, some things remain unchanged. Like the need for innovation. The world needs innovators ready to take upon generational challenges such as solving the world’s food, water, climate, energy, health, or education problems. Most of these innovators are found in the startup or scaleup world, and are pioneers in their respective industries. They are the ones who continue their disruption journey even in times of crisis, as they have a mission to accomplish no matter the economic or political landscapes. These innovators come from all corners of the world and seem to have had the world’s greatest online conference call, as they are all preaching similar things.

I’ve been working with startups for more than ten years. I have to say it’s a tough world to work in, but it’s one of the few areas where the words “it’s impossible” do not exist. So, if you think it cannot be done, just call an entrepreneur. You’ll be surprised by the solutions he or she will come up with. During these ten years I’ve met all kinds of entrepreneurs and had all types of experiences. I’ve also learned a lot from the way startups view business, build teams and products or how they market their solutions. Here are some of the most important and practical learnings in my view.

  1. Innovation is not handed to you

Innovation is not the title of your next meeting. Innovation cannot take the shape of a corporate responsibility program or PR stunt to get media attention or disrupt the competition. Innovation needs to be like a grassroots movement, it needs to come from your teams. What could you do to make it happen? Think of ways you could put together a team of innovators and have them and their chosen teams solve legacy problems for example.

2. Talent joins startups because they make meaningful impact

The main reason talent joins startups is because they can combine money and meaning. Even though in a different manner, employees can create impact within bigger organisations. What could you do to inspire them? Moreover, startups employees are their brand’s most powerful ambassadors. That is again because of the impact they can achieve. What could do you to reinvent your internal comms or employer branding? Better communication of how employees can contribute will attract talent.

3. Get the job done already

Startups have simpler recruitment processes and hire based on competencies not on how many MBAs one has. Large companies have several stages of recruitment which sometimes include 5+ interviews with multiple presentations. Right now, there is a lot of great talent out there that got laid off. Grab the opportunity and bring those people on board. Simplify all possible stages to make that happen rapidly.

4. Startups think about th​eir​​​ brand as they do about their MVP

Teams within startups are using core branding elements, well researched personas, and focus as much as possible on integrated and holistic experiences. They know that “most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think”, Jill Taylor, neuroanatomist. More on creating holistic experiences and on what is Minimum Viable Brand Experience in my next article.

5. Ideas are implemented with fewer decisions making streams

In the startups world timing is crucial. It’s a way of surviving. So, ideas are implemented with few(er) decision makers involved. And because it works most startups keep this structure after scaling up as well. If your company has several decision-making teams, what could you do to create a simpler and faster process? Implement faster, reiterate, and keep the momentum.

6. A lower Marcom budget does not equal lower results

Startups are famous for not having big marketing and communications (Marcom) budgets. This is true if we compare them to large companies. The situation is, of course, different per country or region. I would argue that startups are much more cautious with their marketing budgets. So, when creating a budget ask yourselves: Is this really needed? Can we use the resources we already have to implement this campaign? It’s not about cutting costs, but about investing wisely and always with a well-defined goal. Do consider investing some budget though, as people have more time to consume content and check out new products today.

7. Marcom and management teams

Your marketing and communications teams should have a decision-making role not only in campaigns or at the brand level, but also from a business perspective. If in your management team Marcom is not represented, that needs to be the first thing to change. It’s crucial to have Marcom leaders in the management team as they are, in most cases, the ones that know customers and markets’ challenges best.

8. Investors relations are always at the top of startups’ minds

Team, brand story and traction are essential for startup funding success, so over the years startups learned to focus. Large companies or multinationals have many KPIs and various internal and external teams responsible for them. Integrate your KPIs and find ways to have the same three or four overall KPIs for all teams. This will give them a sense of purpose, as they are all focusing on achieving the same goals.

9. Startups are getting better at Media Relations

Startups founders and CEOs are winning hearts and minds with their ‘why’. Use your company’s mission and vision to spark the fire again. Founders have learned to use the power of media and social media to showcase truthful missions to which customers can adhere to.

10. Measure everything

Show your colleagues how you and your team are driving growth. Perhaps your company is using different tools to measure impact and drive growth. How can you better showcase the results of your team? Make sure you have the right tools and that those tools do not measure the same things differently. I’ve seen a lot of global brands using different tools for the same success metrics. It only creates confusion and misunderstandings between teams. Moreover, make sure these tools are used correctly: how was the data sourced, is it unbiased, is the level of magnitude of certain results appropriate (e.g. tens versus thousands of people) and so on.

Finally…Stay genuine

Listen to customers and try to understand what they care about today. Treat your customers fairly and do not underestimate them. Be genuine and open in your communication and people will buy from you.

Veronica Fresneau
Veronica Fresneau
Veronica Fresneau is a tech and startups enthusiast, and an advocate for women in tech, startups and VC space. She has more than fifteen years of Marketing & Communications experience in several EMEA markets. Veronica is currently based in Amsterdam, where she coordinates brand & research for Rockstart, early stage accelerator-VC.

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