How do you keep a ‘start-up mentality’ even when your start-up has grown into an established business? And more importantly – why would you want to?
Simply Business was a start-up back in 2005. Since then, the company has seen rapid growth making it the UK’s largest on line insurance broker. Despite their success, they still see themselves as a start-up.
8 years on and the company follow the Lean start-up methodology keeping their company mantra of ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ at the core of all new product development. Why would an established business want to continue with a start-up mentality?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at some of the advantages of ‘staying startup’ over more corporate approaches.
Start-ups are often able to remain flexible, constantly changing and adapting their products with relative ease and little turnover time. Larger and more corporate companies tend to operate within tighter constraints which can often mean lengthy sign off times and a degree of ‘red tape’ – often limiting their ability to respond quickly to changing trends in the market. This is where a start-up mentality can allow more room for maneuver in experimenting with new products. You can move quickly with your market and adapt your product development/offering based on your fluctuating customer trends.
“SimplyBusiness is set-up to do continuous-deployment; this allows us to release ideas in minutes where other companies take days. We actually need to be careful to make sure improvements are not released at the same time. In line with our culture here, we have a cuddly toy beaver in the office – if a team wants to release the latest innovation the beaver has to be sitting with them whilst they release!” – James Routledge, Product Manager
One of the most exciting aspects of keeping that ‘startup culture’ is that everyone gets to play a fundamental part in the direction of new and existing product development. Decisions are made collaboratively and everyone has a voice and is encouraged to speak up and be heard. A game changing idea can come from literally any department. With more corporate organisations, it is often the case that departments are segregated with little or no exposure to other areas of the business. What’s more, decisions are often made at board level which then trickle down to the Business and Tech teams with little or no collaboration.
“For our renewals project we seconded several sales consultants from our Northampton office to be physically located with our project team here in our London Head Office. They participated in all of the same stand-ups and planning meetings as the rest of the team. As we rolled out the features to the application they were able to give us instant feedback. This meant that we could get on and build features at pace because we had shortened the feedback loop so drastically” – Martin Sadler, Head of Product.
In cahoots with your customer
Start-ups are founded by people who have found a solution to a problem. As they develop their product, they stay close to their customers to ensure they can respond to their changing or growing needs. Many corporate organisations often become distant from their users as they grow bigger in size. It is questionable whether they can afford to spare the time to stay as closely in tune with their customers as they would perhaps like.
“I am a developer at Simply Business and in addition to my development work; I am often speaking directly with both existing and prospective customers. The startup mentality here gives me the flexibility to pitch ideas; and then directly validate or invalidate them with customers before it then becomes part of our core technology. Unlike corporate organizations bound by rigid processes, this allows our company as a whole to iterate through new and innovative ideas exceptionally quickly” – Ed Woodcock, Developer
Changing the world
In line with a start-up mentality is that genuine belief that you can make a difference to the world. The drive and passion associated with that belief is contagious and creates a real ‘buzz’ which resonates throughout the company. Every new thing, no matter how small, is exciting. And what’s more – everyone is in it together. The passion described here is often missing from larger, more corporate companies who tend to measure success based on end of year figures as opposed to the day to day excitement of customer’s using and responding to their product.
“Using the Lean Startup principles of ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ takes a lot of discipline, but it means we know what our customers actually want and not what we think they want. It sounds counter-intuitive to being a passionate team out to change the world – but we’re actually making changes that are meaningful & relevant to our customers.” Arti Mathanda, QA Manager at Simply Business
And finally, companies with a startup mentality often understand that people are their most vital asset. As such, they will go to great lengths to ensure that their employees are happy at work. Simply Business provide incentives for their workforce such as free breakfast, flexible working hours, yoga classes, wine and cheese evenings and even have a dedicated team onsite labelled ‘the Culture Club’ responsible for thinking up fun events. More corporate companies tend to lose this personable relationship with their employees.
”Simply Business’ people engagement philosophy is simple. Give talented people a stage on which to perform, together with the right tools and direction they need; and then get out of their way. Allow them to get on and do what they’re good at. People are empowered to make a difference and realise their full potential. Teams are organised cross-functionally in an agile fashion, which makes for a highly collaborative and open culture, which is built upon further through regular company feedback sessions such as Retrospectives, Stand ups and Show and Tell sessions.” Sarah Bowerman, Head of People Engagement at SimplyBusiness
- Interview with Rahul Powar, Founder & CEO of Apsmart and the creator Shazam (thestartupmag.com)
- Insurance Requirements for Businesses (thestartupmag.com)
- 5 Tips on Getting Started in a Busy Marketplace (thestartupmag.com)