It might be cliché to say that people want what they don’t have, but it’s also quite often true, even in the business world. Just consider the world of startups: Startups, which are known for being nimble, fast-paced, and tight-knit thanks to their size, dream of becoming big companies.
But those same characteristics that set startups apart and usually contribute to their success often fade in its wake, as success inevitably means growth. The result? Startups are in a hurry to grow up and make it big, just as large companies try desperately to hold onto their startup youth.
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds–to become a big dog and still maintain that desired startup vibe?
The answer is yes, but it’s not always easy. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting was interpreted by many as an attempt to re-establish a tight-knit startup culture–but was also quite controversial. Other tactics are less controversial but increasingly standard; many established companies continue to offer perks and focus on fun, open work environments, for instance.
To truly get the best of both worlds, leaders need to take things a step further. Here are four of the most effective ways to ensure your company keeps its startup swagger even when it’s no longer a new kid on the block:
One cornerstone of working for a small, tight-knit team at a startup is that everyone knows and is invested in how the business as a whole is doing. At large organizations, individual departments and teams often operate like separate companies with separate goals. But at a startup, everyone rides the rollercoaster together.
In order to maintain that feeling, companies must constantly communicate successes, failures, new policies, big decisions and so on to all employees. As a company grows, this will require the development of a team dedicated solely to that cause. Invest in people who want to be communicators and whose main focus is on intangibles like talent and culture.
While there will always be lines to draw in terms of what can be shared, this open, over-communicating mindset keeps everyone focused on the company’s overall success and fosters the same sense of community as when it was just founders and a few employees.
Agile development is also a hot thing in startups–development teams organize around small groups of typically less than ten people and work on rapid development efforts called “sprints” to create quick to-market versions of new and updated software.
But the agile ethos doesn’t just apply to technology development and shouldn’t just apply to startups. Agile methods tend to create rapid innovation, rapid fixes, and rapid adaptation to market needs and wants, while agile teams can exist in marketing, sales, executive team work efforts and more at companies small and large.
Next, startups generally focus on finding extreme talent–multi-faceted, driven employees who can adapt to hyper-changing work requirements, grow with the company and show extreme passion and ability–during the hiring process as opposed to worrying too much about filling a specific opening.
Of course, if a startup grows at a fast enough clip, it’s hard for hiring managers to be super picky since they are constantly in need of new people. Instead, it’s a balancing act–but the bottom line is that some extremely talented individuals are still a necessity.
To find, this “extreme talent,” go beyond the list of accomplishments on a resume. Top candidates will usually have worked in environments with similarly extremely talented individuals and demonstrate intangibles like curiosity, grit, and flexibility. For the cherry on top, they should be constantly trying new things personally and professionally–and those endeavors should demonstrate a trajectory of growth, maturity, and progress.
While maintaining a startup culture can be the key to continuing to grow, the arrow can also be reversed: Simply continuing to grow can also help companies continue to act more like their original startup selves.
In the startup phase, a company can much more easily grow revenues 100% or more in a year–from $100,000 to $200,000 or even $1,000,000 to $2,000,000–without fundamentally changing its business, processes and organizations. For companies in the $50 to $100 million range, that kind of growth is anything but easy. While larger companies need to be realistic, they should still set growth goals just beyond this “easy” range.
A growth focus forces everyone in the company to look for investment opportunities and areas to create efficiency, repeatability and scalability. Setting ambitious goals that can’t be achieved with minimal change will create a constructive tension and force a creative, startup approach. A general rule of thumb for setting such goals is to look at the market growth rate of your market and set growth enough ahead of the average that it’s uncomfortable if you’re complacent. This will also ensure that your market share will grow each year and over time will make you a market leader.
And once you’ve achieved market leadership, or even domination–how do you maintain the startup vibe then? Start over–find an adjacent or new market, and do it again!
—Sid Banerjee is the CEO and co-founder of Clarabridge, a high-growth customer experience and sentiment analytics software company. Sid was named a Washington Business Journal Most Admired CEO in 2014.