Startup environment in a big company? It’s possible, believe us
By Nelson Pereira
Usually, great startup founders know that developing a positive and innovative company culture should be on the top of their priorities. Creating that in the startup phase is not that hard, but creating a culture that evolves along with its growth and keeps its roots is a huge challenge.
This article covers some questions such as: how do you create a startup culture in a big company? Or how to keep the original, innovative culture along the way as you grow? After answering this, I’ll illustrate our explanation with Xpand IT’s example, the company I currently work for where we think it’s a success case.
What does it mean in a startup environment?
First, what is a startup? What makes a company a startup, and when does it graduate? By Wikipedia definition, a startup is a company or a project initiated by an entrepreneur to seek, develop, and validate a business model.
By this setup, the startup’s work environment has a constant mindset to try new things every week. When you don’t know if the product that you’re building is right, when you don’t know where your customers are, when you don’t know the correct pricing or business model, you need to try fast, fail fast and move forward. But you need to learn along the way, it cannot be just failing for the sake of failing, you need to learn and improve your next experiment, never repeating the same mistake. That way, you will move forward.
This idea sets the scope for the company’s culture that needs to be highly innovative, always testing new things and moving forward very fast. Then, according to Forbes, when you find a business model and a product/service that is right for the market, the company stops being a startup and graduates to an enterprise.
How to build a startup culture in a big company?
As the company grows along the way, having a stable product/service, a business model that works, and important customers, the startup mode’s warp speed tends to slow down to cruise speed. The fear of failure kicks in, and you do not try new things the same way you did in the startup phase because now, doing something wrong may have a high negative impact, so usually, you try to play safe.
The problem is that the market and competition move incredibly fast (especially in tech), so, or either you keep the innovation speed or if you play safe you will end up not being relevant as a company.
There are some ideas and guidelines that help companies to keep their startup DNA and keep the fast innovation pace, Xpand IT is a good example of that implementation.
To build or keep a startup culture in a big company, we can use the summary list created by Sahar Hashemi:
- Be the customer
- Get out of the office and talk to customers
- Attack bureaucracy
- Don’t let expertise blind you
- Don’t suffocate curiosity
- Act on small everyday ideas
- Don’t let perfectionism slow you down
- Encourage failure
- Don’t think of ‘No’ as a stop sign
- Create a more human work culture
Xpand IT startup environment and base DNA
Xpand IT is now a company with more than 300 people and 15+ years in business with a very solid portfolio of products and services across multiple markets. How do we try to keep the startup environment and DNA that made Xpand IT so successful?
Well, we keep the focus on the customer, and we treat them as we like to be treated when we are the customer. We measure customer success in different ways, but we believe that nothing beats a good direct conversation with a customer for honest feedback to help us to keep improving.
We try to be as lean as possible. We keep working teams small, and we have a very shallow hierarchy as we promote a culture where any person can speak up or access any C-level executive very quickly to share their ideas and feedback. Any person in the company is a message away in our internal chat system. We empower teams to make their own decisions.
The company is composed by many experts, but we try to keep curiosity alive, keep the learning curve, always going to tech events, meetups, having coursers and sharing knowledge internally and externally. Like Steve Jobs said, we try to “stay hungry, stay foolish” being humble and understanding that we always have something to learn is very important in the company culture and allows us to keep learning and improving.
The customer is a priority for us, so we also have the fear to fail and harm the customer. However, we created internal mechanisms to keep innovating, trying new things, and failing without harming the customers. By the end of the day, it’s like Jeff Bezos (Amazon) said: “Innovation is simply finding a solution to a customer problem.” So Xpand IT keeps the innovation pace and the “try new things” culture’s alive not only in each and every team but also with a dedicated R&D group. Xpand IT is an innovative company with a startup DNA by design and not just by default.
Key differences between working in a startup or a big company with a startup DNA
I’m a serial entrepreneur. In the past, I created, failed startups, and I also worked for other startups helping them to build their business models and finding product/market fit. The startup world was my home for more than 5 years, and now I ended up in a big company like Xpand IT, why? Because as part of the R&D group, I get all the startup excitement without the startup pains. In the startup world, it is a rush against the time because building a company is “jumping off a cliff and assembling the airplane on the way down” (Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s co-founder). Here I can focus on building an excellent product for a customer’s need.
Coming from the startup world to work in a company like Xpand IT, it’s not just a big challenge but also a great responsibility. When we have the resources like us here, you need to deliver, no excuses.
Trying new technologies or building new products/services at Xpand IT brings the same pressure to try test and fail fast in the quest to succeed. It’s a daily challenge. But you have the resources you need, the expertise you need, and the experience you need to innovate. It’s easy to bring experts from different areas like business intelligence, big data, UI/UX, cloud platforms, mobile, and cutting-edge technology stacks together. This environment gives you a great head start for any new product or service. This is not possible in a startup, and this is what makes the startup environment at Xpand IT an excellent setup for innovation.
Do you have to choose between an energetic startup environment and well-established core values? Choose both! Welcome to Xpand IT.