What Big Companies Can Learn from Agile Startups

One of my key roles is to help others–teams inside large companies, students, or entrepreneurs–unlock and realize their full potential by recognizing what’s on the end of their noses, whether that be strengths, patterns, gaps, or opportunities.

We’re fortunate to collaborate intimately with companies of all stages and sizes, so every day is an opportunity to learn and share. I’ve always believed that what we learn from working with multi-billion dollar Fortune 100s (good and bad) is valuable inspiration and highly relevant to share with entrepreneurs who are battling daily to scale their business. And it’s also highly relevant to share the stories and successes of passionate, purpose-driven startups that are courageously inventing new models and systems.

While I have many stories to share, I think there is much to be learned from Doorsteps.com founder and CEO Michele Serro. Some of the insights about this passionate startup and its relationship with its multi-billion dollar partner would be helpful to both large and small companies alike.

For me the big take-away is that your size really does matter, and whether it’s from a business development or an innovation perspective, established multi-billion dollar corporations can learn a lot by looking to early-stage partnerships for inspiration and incremental change inside of their own businesses.

In startups, urgency drives speed.
“Startups have an innate sense of urgency, which is an almost visceral pressure for all team members,” explains Serro. “There’s a financial pressure, there’s a business imperative, and there’s an almost overwhelming psychological and emotional strain to get there as fast as you can.”

It’s not about David versus Goliath; it’s David and Goliath.
“Partnering with a big bank was about three things: learning, credibility, and distribution when the time was right,” said Serro. “But if we could, we would put the learning piece in bold and underline it five times. We started with a bold and unapologetic mission, and sometimes there is an advantage to simply ignoring the status quo, the rules, and even the past. But in our case, we knew that this was a complex industry that we needed to truly understand, from the inside out. And it quickly became clear that even big companies are filled with change makers––people who wanted to change the system but couldn’t, for whatever reason. We wanted to really understand the system but also find those pockets of passion within it and learn from them. We don’t see these relationships as David versus Goliath. It’s David and Goliath, with both participants bringing something meaningful and useful to the table.”

Create big goals and break them down into parts.
“You have to have a bold vision that people can get excited about and get behind, full stop,” Serro advises. “But, in order to execute that vision, you have to be able to break it down into little pieces and try things every day that are in service of it. So, set a huge, inspirational goal–but make that goal executable.”

Optimism, humility and a touch of arrogance are equally important.
“Partnering with a large company in our field gave us the humility to admit that in spite of wanting to be change agents within that industry, there was plenty still we needed to learn. Understanding that balance has been the key to our early traction,” shares Serro.

Determine what partnerships are really about.
“The key is to continually reevaluate the nature and quality of the partnership over time,” Serro explains. “What seemed like a great idea at the start can dramatically change if you suddenly get a flood of users and it seems you may not need them anymore. Make sure you have established reasons to collaborate beyond distribution.”

Give back as much as possible.
“Share your learning and insights as much as you can as you go along,” recommends Serro. “Bigger companies are eager to learn from startups as well, and keeping a partnership healthy is about intellectual generosity on the startup’s part, too. Make this sharing formal and make it very regular.

I’ve always believed that what we learn from working with multi-billion dollar Fortune 100s (good and bad) is valuable inspiration and highly relevant to share with entrepreneurs who are battling daily to scale their business.

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Adi Gaskell




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