4 Things Everyone Can Learn From Start-Ups

November 8, 2016 James Black

startup lessons: ping pong paddle and ping pong ball

We’ve all heard about the virtues of “failing fast.” But there’s a lot more that big company execs can learn from the start-up world.

Here are 4 of the most powerful tips:

Start-up lessons for big companies

1. Start your day by asking “What can drive sales?”

One of the most powerful pieces of advice I received came from a London based entrepreneur. He told me to ask myself every day, “What can I do today to drive sales today?”

It’s a simple but provocative question. The sort of clarity that reframes not just how you think, but how you behave. If you start the day at 9 AM, for example, what can you accomplish in your first hour that will legitimately improve sales that day?

Some things might be obvious. If you get daily reports from Google on the progress of search and ads, what should you alter to optimize based on new learnings? What quick hits can help drive conversion on a website? Is there a promising A/B test that’s worth fielding now vs. when you get around to it? In a physical environment, are there new merchandising or display ideas to put up to try to drive sales?

Tip: This sense of urgency should not be lost in larger business settings. Go beyond the normal “urgent fire drills” to identify the one or two things that could quickly generate sales if you attended to them today. You might have a longer lead time before you see results, but you’ll also have the advantage of scale on your side.

2. Manage your day around your own needs.

At some level, entrepreneurs have the advantage of defining for themselves how to manage their own day. (That doesn’t mean that they necessarily always do better; they just start with a blank slate.) But they also use a number of tricks that can translate very effectively to traditional business settings. For example:

  1. Get key emails out first thing in the morning to maximize the time for others to respond. Then, get out of email to focus on key work to be done.
  2. Ensure that you carve out time each week for non-work interests — whether that’s reading, going to the gym, or having a family dinner — so that work doesn’t become all consuming.
  3. Take breaks during the course of the day. A 3 PM break at a café is a great way to recharge for the remainder of the day.

Tip: In both entrepreneurial and traditional business environments, business pressures can become all consuming. All of these examples are things you can reasonably implement on your own (aka, without manager approval). Think of other things that help you achieve balance and boost your productivity.

3. Stay in touch with consumers.

While most traditional marketers have the benefit of reams of market research, a steady calendar of focus groups and studies, and daily sales reports, often times a lot of that data is filed away for “when it’s needed.” It isn’t often directly applied to ongoing work.

Entrepreneurs typically lack such information and have to smartly substitute whatever learnings they glean from one-off interactions with consumers, whether in a store or on their website traffic. In essence, entrepreneurs do a lot of ad hoc primary research without realizing it, because they are constantly in learning mode. The difference between “learning” mode and “running the business” are not separate activities for entrepreneurs.

There’s an important line here –- you don’t want to conflate anecdotal feedback with proper research (either qualitative or quantitative). But it’s still good to look for ways to interact with consumers, then stepping back and assessing what you’ve learned.

Tip: In traditional business settings, find more ways to stay in touch with the consumer. Conduct more primary research (e.g., through in-home visits or shop-a-longs), then be sure to integrate the customer’s voice into your work and use it as a new source for insights.

4. Manage the short- and the long-term.

It’s easy to let short-term considerations crowd out long term ones. Conversely, if you focus too much on big, bold long term strategies, you risk having the short term results come up short.

One piece of advice I found helpful was to block off two 90 minute “meetings” a day, either with myself or with others: one to tackle a short-term issue and another to address a long-term concern.

Short-term issues might be mini-projects, like reviewing the effectiveness of PR strategies or a new product offering. Long-term ones might be examining alternative distribution channels or outlining merchandising plans for the next year. Getting into this rhythm can help ensure a balance between short and long term projects, as well as a discipline to actually doing them.

Tip: This sense of balance is true for both individuals and the business. In a more traditional environment, block off regular “meetings with yourself” (inviting key people, as needed) to ensure that you allocate time to the key issues you need to address on your business, not just the ones that are top-of-mind today.

This post originally appeared on AlleyWatch.

Winning in New Markets ebook on an iPad screen

Moving to a New Market?

Read consultant Richard Kaung's advice on how to find, assess, and execute on the most valuable opportunities.


About the Author

James Black

James Black is a marketing and consumer insights specialist who's worked at McKinsey, L'Oreal, and P&G. He's helped BTG clients analyze market trends and translate customer insights into actionable strategies.

More Content by James Black
Previous Article
Top 3 Business Problems – November
Top 3 Business Problems – November

At Business Talent Group, we help clients address business problems across different industries and functio...

Next Article
The Gig Economy: A Win for Companies and Consultants
The Gig Economy: A Win for Companies and Consultants

Last week, Business Talent Group and independent consultant Thomas Collet co-hosted a panel discussion at t...

Get our free guide to working with on-demand talent.

Read Now