Many bigger organizations look from the outside suspiciously like startups these days. The open floor plan, flexible work options, and well-stocked refrigerator all give the appearance of a much smaller and more agile organization. But they are not really fooling anyone -- including you.
You know that as organizations grow, they naturally slow down. And by the time they realize what is happening and start talking about "innovation days" and going faster, it's likely too late.
This is often why big companies become vulnerable to smaller companies that are more hungry and nimble. They are in a better position to serve customers -- and you know they can eat big companies like yours for lunch when they find the right opening.
If you work at a bigger company, it's an ongoing threat. But is it inevitable?
The irony is that every big company was once a startup too. The problem for enterprises at scale is that they forget what their younger selves looked like and what they believed in.
Here are some startup secrets that are critical to remember as your company expands.
1. Get going
When you were a startup, you moved fast and acted with a sense of urgency. You were motivated partly by the sheer thrill of starting something new -- but also because your very survival depended on it. So resist the big-company inertia that threatens your ability to innovate and take risks. Systematically hunt down any roadblocks that are slowing down your momentum, and make a clear path for innovation once again.
2. Get responsive
Remember how you bent over backwards for customers and they loved you for it? Do not allow your sheer size to get in the way of treating customers with the undivided attention that they still deserve. Do not make them wait for you to respond to their needs. Instead, surprise them with your immediacy and make responsiveness a company-wide initiative that everyone understands and takes seriously.
3. Get simple
You may have a larger team now, but do not allow a more complex structure to destroy your culture. No matter how quickly you scale the company, you must continue to set clear goals and communicate them at every level. There should be no confusion about the work that needs to be accomplished. Every member of the team should understand how their work fits into the larger plan.
4. Get creative
In the early days, you had so many ideas that they flew around like sparks. Remember? You must be vigilant and be on the lookout for innovative, fresh ideas. Avoid the "we have never done that before" vortex that swallows up ideas before they even stand a chance. Strive for a fertile environment where ideas are welcome from anyone or anywhere.
5. Get uncomfortable
When you were a startup you were hungry -- perhaps literally, if you were bootstrapped to the point of discomfort. It was do-or-die time, and you were not afraid to take big risks. Big companies can get too comfortable in their success and lose the edge that made them successful in the first place.
That is why you must resist complacency and the status quo. A little bit of fear is healthy to have, as it keeps you on the lookout for competitors sneaking up behind you.
With an established business, you have many obvious advantages over startups. You no longer have to struggle to pay the rent or worry about how to make payroll. You can focus your attention on the future. But do not forget the secrets of your startup days even as you expand.
The motivations that brought you success as an early stage company will help you stay agile as you continue to grow, and grow, and grow.