A startup is not a corporation.

As eager as you are to play in the big leagues, your startup just isn't there yet. And you shouldn't try the tactics of the multi-billion-dollar, multinational, super corporations.

It's a common mistake. Wanting to go big, the little business tries to mimic what a huge corporation is doing. The tactic fails; the business fails; and another startup bites the dust.

What are some of these big dog tricks that you're not ready for yet?

1. Hold endless meetings for every imaginable topic.

Meetings are toxic black holes of time.

A startup doesn't have any time to waste. More is accomplished by doing than by talking about doing.

If you have to hold a meeting, follow these rules:

  • Have a clear purpose, and follow it.
  • Have a clear agenda, and keep it.
  • Limit the meeting to 30 minutes or less, no matter how important it is. You can get it done in 30 minutes if you have to.
  • Hold the meeting standing up.
  • End the meeting with action steps. "Have another meeting" is not another action step.

2. Create inviolable protocol for the most detailed minutiae.

Developing protocol is a really good idea. It can help to streamline operations, eliminate confusion, and enhance functionality. That's why corporations have bookshelves full of three-ring binders, in which all their protocol is inscripturated.

Startups don't have time for that.

A startup is a lean, mean, agile machine. The only good rule is a broken one. If the paint hasn't dried on their newly hung shingle, then who's to say that accounting has to approve this, and you must follow the 19-step process for this, and you can only send that on Tuesday morning at 9:10?

Protocol comes after decades of experience, not after days of opening.

3. Learn all you can about what you're doing before you start doing it.

"Research" is often a code word for delay. You can do all the research in the world, and if you don't take any action, you're wasting your time.

I'm a huge proponent of learning all you can. But I'm an equally huge proponent of doing everything you can. There's a time to stop learning and start doing. Startups need to be doers.

Richard Branson is famous for this quote:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes--then learn how to do it later!

I like it. Maybe startups can give it a try, too.

4. Delay all the important decisions.

When faced with a big decision, corporate executives tend to follow these steps:

  • Think about it.
  • Email about it.
  • Meet about it.
  • Email about it some more.
  • Meet about it some more.
  • Talk about it some more.

And then, eventually, someone make a decision.

In corporations, that's probably the best way to go. There's a lot at stake, and all the stakeholders need to have a say in the matter.

In startups, that's not the way to go. Startups make progress by executing plans swiftly. Delays can plunge the business into darkness. If you don't move fast, you're sunk.

5. Keep secrets.

Oh, how corporations love their secrets. There is just something electrifying about holding a sealed envelope with the "Top Secret" stamp on it.

There will be some things that your business will be legally prohibited from disclosing. You don't want to be a Home Depot, or a Target, or a JPMorgan Chase, or do stuff like that. For all their internal secret-keeping, these jumbo corporations aren't all that great at keeping the lid on the stuff that really matters.

But do you really have to classify everything? A corporation that keeps unnecessary secrets tends to foster unnecessary exclusivity, a stratified company culture, and a cutthroat internal competition.

Take a page from Buffer's playbook, and go for transparency. It can powerfully change a company's culture.

6. Lease a big, expensive, fancy office.

And then put furniture in it. Like Aeron chairs and Parnian desks, and Ron Arad's Stainless Steel Sofa.

Nice stuff is nice. But not for startups. If you can't buy it, don't act like you can.

I've watched startups buy up posh office space in expensive downtown suites, hoping that their location would cement their reputation. For most startups, that doesn't work. Instead, what you've done is saddled your cash-strapped startup with a cash-draining albatross.

You don't need it. So don't get it.

7. Try something expensive.

Try something. Try anything. Try random. Try growth hacking. Try it all.

But make sure that your trying isn't so expensive that it could crush the entire business.

Startups have to be really careful with how they spend their dollars, because they don't have very many of them. It's really appealing to spend money on silver bullets--pricey consultants, shiny new software, a class-A marketing firm, or some other luxury.

What if it flops? You've lost your cash reserve, and you can't function.

Some risks are worth taking. Others are plain dangerous.

8. Create a C-level label for every imaginable task.

Big corporations like to append every job title with a C. CEO, CMO, CIO, CFO, COO, CRO, CCO, CDO, CTO, CAO CAE, CBO CCO, CLO, CNO, CPO, CSO, CWO CVO...you get the idea.

Job titles are kind of a waste, anyway. When you try to turn everyone into an executive, a Chief" or a Czar, it tends to erode a team culture, creating islands of self-important superiority in a swamp of under performance.

Just be a team, and let the titles go.

Final thoughts.

The startup environment is completely antithetical to the corporate culture. This isn't a putdown of corporations. The differences are due to the nature of the two. Massive corporations and miniscule startups are two entirely different animals. It logically follows that you behave in entirely different ways.

A startup isn't a corporation.

Startups are in a class all their own. They shouldn't follow anyone's example, least of all established corporations.

Published on: Jan 15, 2015