OPINION2 March 2017

Maintaining the start-up spirit

Opinion Trends

As start-ups grow, they risk losing their identity. Lewis Reeves of data collection start-up Viga offers six tips for maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit through periods of change and growth.

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That 90% of new start-ups fail is a large and looming statistic and one that’s never far from an entrepreneur’s mind. But what if the small business that you’ve poured your heart, soul and time into not only takes off, but starts to thrive? Accounts grow, head count increases and the future looks exciting. Fantastic. But try to resist the pull of change.

In amongst the work flow there are new-found HR challenges, increased process, more internal meetings and more reviews. These are all necessary but can be at odds with entrepreneurial behaviour. The last thing you want to do is lose the essence of the start-up that made you so successful in the first place.

Here are six ways to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive as your company grows:

1. Just as everyone needs to muck in at the start, the senior team need to continue to roll their sleeves up as the business grows. One of the things that’s worked well for us is that everyone is not just able but willing to jump in and help out on a project. We can all do the job as well as overseeing it – I can load a survey, lead a company meeting and do the tea run. It might sound trivial but these are the kind of things that cement a team and foster the entrepreneurial spirit and ensure it’s in your DNA.

2. Financial transparency is paramount. When you’re working around a single table you’re all instantly aware of the big and small wins (or losses). But as a business grows and becomes more complex it’s all too easy to create distance between the more junior and senior members of the team, and only involve the most experienced in financial discussions. Yet the more aware everyone is of performance even down to the granular detail, the more invested they are. The mentality that it’s our business and our story is what makes businesses so strong.

3. Foster and allow for mini start-ups within the company. Resist becoming a sprawling, disconnected organisation; the most powerful approach is to support small start-ups. Each team can become a mini-business with an ‘owner’. This ensures commerciality is at the core and also empowers people to allow them to grow and flourish within the brand.

4. Likewise, rewards should be based on shared success. Using the ‘skin in the game’ mentality, everyone should earn and be rewarded as the company grows and succeeds. It sounds obvious but a lot of companies link their rewards model to personal rather than shared goals. I’m a believer in the fact that enjoying shared success motivates everyone, helping them to feel an integral part of the company and contribute accordingly.

5. Don’t underestimate the value of your company’s culture. As a start-up grows there’s often pressure to act more ‘professionally’. There’s a place for formality, but not at the expense of your brilliant spirit. In Viga, for example, if someone lays down the ping pong challenge you have to accept it that day, whether you're the MD or a graduate trainee. We might not all still fit around one table in the pub but we can, and do, all still get together inside and outside of work. The work hard/play hard culture of the noughties may sound like a cliché, but there’s still strength in that approach today.

6. Keep the spirit rich through the right recruitment. It’s tempting to start accumulating separate pots of do-ers and thinkers. But the power of start-ups generally lies in working with people who can do both. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring too many project managers. Our business thrives on constant sparks of energy and these only come from entrepreneurial thinkers. It’s not limited to client-facing roles. Some of our most dynamic people sit in internal positions.

Keep hold of the start up mentality and write it into your company DNA – it’s certainly been our catalyst for continued growth. An entrepreneurial leader is not just a good business creator but a great business sustainer.

Lewis Reeves is managing director at Viga


7 years ago | 1 like

Great post - certainly rings true for us at Hasson Associates and also for many of our clients who fall into this start up mode. The other thing I would add is to encourage your team to contribute & input. Our best ideas come from the days where we stop everything and just chat about whats happening.

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7 years ago

A very good post - true and the one which works in real world, not just on papers. Motivated and encouraged employee can do wonders for an organisation, on the other hand if entrepreneurship is encouraged then it is icing on cake.

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