Startups

4 Ways Large Companies Can Rediscover Their Inner Startup

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It’s not uncommon for established companies to lose touch with the do-or-die, innovate-or-else mentality of their early days. But this transition from startup mentality to corporate mindset, can sometimes be detrimental to a company's strategy.

Back in 1984 the telecom company Dialogic was somewhat of a pioneer -- a young, fledgling organization with big dreams and even bigger drive. I wasn’t around in those days, but I’ve heard the stories: epic all-nighters, think-on-your-feet presentations, being scrappy -- you know the drill. But as the years went on, Dialogic found itself in a predicament. After three decades, the company had established a reliable customer base, market-proven products and a large, productive workforce. The problem? We were struggling to maintain growth. 

We confronted this challenge head-on by channeling our inner startup. Paired with our experience, this approach helped us reinvigorate our market focus, our brand and our company culture.  

Related: Renew Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

If your brand feels a bit stale lately, it may be time to get back in touch with your startup roots.

Start by asking yourself these questions:       

1. Make it a goal to fail. Yes, you heard me right. Too often, established companies rely on the safe choice -- rewarding employees who stick to the status quo rather than those who challenge it. Be brave and consider taking risks. Inviting teams to experiment with new ideas and processes often leads to failure-- and that’s a good thing. The lessons learned from those failures illuminate new ideas and can ultimately drive your teams to create the next big thing.

And don’t just fail -- fail fast. While established companies often pour thousands of dollars and human capital into big projects that ultimately go nowhere, startups fail multiple times per day thanks to a greater sense of urgency, limited financial capital and meticulous measurement. Reinstating a fail-fast approach means taking risks and pivoting quickly when things don’t work out as planned.

2. Get "startup" people on board. When it comes to rebuilding a vibrant company culture, keep an eye out for candidates that possess an entrepreneurial spirit. Look for employees who demonstrate initiative over their projects, and approach them with enthusiasm, curiosity and the drive to improve. Building a team of energetic risk takers will help you recreate a culture that values innovation and creativity over simply getting the job done. 

Related: Inspirational Advice From 10 Successful Leaders

As you reconnect with your roots, also consider bringing on startup veterans who want the culture of an early-stage company with the reliability of an established brand. These folks can be trailblazers within your company, leading fellow employees through the transition and encouraging them to think outside the box.    

3. Fight for your customers. As an established company, you’re likely to have a reliable customer base, one you spent years building. Startups don’t have that. With no guaranteed revenue stream, startups fight fiercely for new customers and hold on tight to their existing ones. In other words: Watch out, the startups are coming.

But don’t worry. As you get back in touch with your inner startup, you can bring your customers along for the ride. Remind them how much you value their loyalty, and ask them how you can do better. When customers feel like you’re fighting for them, they’ll be much more likely to stick around and sing your praises.   

4. Circle back to your mission.  As an established company, you have a big advantage over the Tumblrs and Ubers of the world: history. By examining your evolution, you can reconnect with the big ideas, products and campaigns that lead to your success in the first place. This exercise is not about rejecting where you came from, and it’s not about repeating your history, either. It’s about gleaning insights from the past to rediscover who you can be in the future. 

Related: From Startup to Goliath: 3 Factors That Influenced Intel's Culture in the Early Days