Think about the last time you researched a major purchase. Chances are, you showed a preference for established brands that have been around for a while. Let’s say the name brand of the product was the same price as a less well-known brand – you’d probably go for the name brand, right? Or think about the last few job descriptions you’ve read. Experience is a major factor in what employers ask for: “Must have three to five years experience.” Longevity and experience top the list of what we look for, whether we’re making a purchase or a hiring decision.
Now let’s apply that same thinking to making decisions for your organization. After all, one day you may reach a point when you can’t accomplish everything in-house. So you start compiling data on potential companies or vendors, and you think your list is set. But here’s the thing: while experience and longevity are often highly regarded, if you’ve crossed all the startups off your list, you could be missing out on your best opportunities.
That’s because working with a startup has a few key advantages over an established company or brand. Let’s look at a few compelling reasons that choosing a startup could be the best decision your company makes and a few tips for how to know when a startup is the right partner for your organization.
What’s So Great About Startups?
Large companies have had time to iron out bugs and establish their expertise, sure. They’ve got long lists of people who’ve worked with them and had good (or bad) experiences. A startup could trigger some nerves because there just isn’t that much data to go on. So what do startups have on larger companies?
Startups are well known for their creative spark–after all, they’re out there trying to prove themselves in a sea of established companies. We aren’t saying large companies aren’t creative, but startups are considered hotbeds for the latest and greatest in the world of ideas. Those ideas are what’s gotten them started in the first place, so you’ll benefit from that early fire.
A startup usually fills a niche no one has thought of yet; that’s why they’re called startups in the first place. Established companies have sometimes either missed a market need, or they’ve been attempting to meet it in a way that doesn’t entirely fill the gap. In the meantime, a creative, fast-paced startup may have already identified that gap and developed an effective solution to fill it. And if they haven’t? They’re nimble enough to listen, collaborate, and take real action based on customer ideas. Which leads nicely into the next advantage…
That big company has structures in place. It may have over 100 employees. Not everyone speaks every day, and when they do, there’s a formula to follow. There has to be, or it’s chaos.
Not so with a startup. They’re still small enough that everyone meets in the same room together and can probably sit at the same table. That means when you need something done a slightly different way, they’re lean enough to pivot. If a rule isn’t working, they can rewrite it. If a system has a weak point, the CEO is right next door to the legal counsel, and their Chief Architect is on the other side. That often gets you faster, more efficient service.
Have an idea that needs to be built out before execution? Run up against an issue that needs a solution? That startup you’re working with can skip the long, drawn-out chain of command and get you in front of the right people right now.
We surprised you with that one, didn’t we? Yes, there can be some changeover in the early years of a startup as teams form and solidify. But here’s the thing. Startups do one thing, and they do it well. There’s no diversification (yet), and the organization is built around that one central idea – their hedgehog concept.
The hedgehog concept comes from an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The idea is that the fox tries many tactics to make a snack of the hedgehog – it sneaks, it pounces, it even plays dead. But the hedgehog always does the same thing in response: curls into a ball, quills facing out.
In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he shares why organizations are more likely to succeed when they’ve identified their hedgehog concept by understanding what they’re passionate about and what they do better than anyone else. Now think of the hedgehog concept in terms of business. A large company is more likely to fall in line with the description of the fox – pursing many goals and interests. Nothing wrong with that!
A start-up, on the other hand, is going to be laser-focused, with a single, overarching vision. No more creating programs that don’t perform well and tabling them (after you’ve gone through adoption and training). No more building rockets to get across a river when a bridge will do, as they say. The stability is in the core idea of the startup because without that one service or product, the whole organization fails. You need that kind of dedication.
How Do I Choose A Startup?
Not every startup has the mettle to make it, but there are a few tell-tale signs a startup is here to stay.
Team members have long track records elsewhere: Oh, their CEO also founded two other multimillion-dollar companies over the course of a 20-year career? Yes, that will do. Check the backgrounds of the team, and if it reveals huge levels of targeted experience, they’ll bring the same knowledge to this new company.
There’s differentiation: If the startup solves a problem you have that no one else can (or no one can efficiently), it could be a good idea to pursue them. On the other hand, if they offer nothing different than the large company or just another way to solve your problem inefficiently, they may not stand the test of time. Check for the factor that makes this startup different.
Quality investors drive funding: Startups don’t always have their key metrics publicly available, so it’s better to look for signifiers of good metrics. Quality products or services, along with a quality team, will attract quality investment. Look on AngelList or CrunchBase to see who’s behind your prospective startup.
Working With Startups
Choosing a startup based on this criteria gives you a level of service you may not find with larger companies. Startups are lean and ready to solve your issues. Next time you’re trying to find the best in a new product or service, keep an open mind, and leave room for some surprises. You may find that partnering with a startup is exactly what you need.