top of page

What Startups Can Learn From Corporations

written for

At startups decisions are made promptly, projects are implemented fast; nothing is dragged down while waiting for the next approval. If something needs to be changed urgently, everything happens with ‘SCRUM agility’: Team defines the problem, finds a solution, and fixes it. If you need to talk to the CEO, you don’t have to make an appointment a week in advance. If the CEO is not in the next office, you can reach him or her via a Slack or text and get an immediate response.

However, besides a flexible and dynamic environment, there are drawbacks.

This post is about my recent experience working with two Miami-based startups after leaving a job with a large corporation with headquarters in Tokyo and Geneva to do an MBA program in Florida. Here are some “best practices” that I believe startups could learn from corporations.

The Organizational Element: Forget that You are a Startup

My “corporate” story began six years ago. On my first day, the HR manager brought in a pile of Policies and Procedures and the Code of Conduct and gave me two hours to review. Only later, I realized how all these elements were interconnected in the general organizational culture and why startups should appreciate “standards.”

The startups I worked for were at two different stages. An investment bank with a focus on sustainable development handled itself as nimble as a startup (Logos Capital) but still placed high importance to actively developing policies and procedures (clients/employees onboarding; social media policy) with rigor and precision.

My other company, a drone-related startup, was further down the “spontaneous” spectrum of “learn as you go”, and saw no need for “paper arrangements.” Practice proved them wrong. With customers and employees growing, agreements were broken, inventory started to break and disappear, and it became clear to everyone that a business relationship could not be built on friendly affection and similar worldview attitudes.

“From the very beginning, it’s imperative that entrepreneurs design scalable businesses with SOPs and KPIs. This way one can track the evolution of the business and accurately pinpoint failure points that need to be addressed. Without a system in place to do this, there is no feedback loop to improve operations. Black and white documentation could be analyzed by founders, advisors, and others and thus have many more opportunities to capitalize on human capital and best practices into the heart of your business,” comments Silvio F. Pupo, Logos Capital’s CEO.

Hubspot recently posted a survey among more than 290 startups. Not surprisingly, the majority of the new organizations are focused on maintaining a high level of sales (32.1%), promoting the brand (24.8%), and obtaining additional financial support (15%). Only about 8% care about organizational culture in general, while only 2% think about the culture of diversity and inclusion, in particular.Gender diversification alone may increase the company’s revenue up to 20%.

Do Not Abuse Your Flexibility

Startups are famous for their ability to quickly pivot the market/customer approach. However, my experience has shown that the startups in the early stages become too flexible with a risk of abuse. Deadlines are shifted easily, roles are quickly changed, and areas of responsibility in a team of five to seven people blur.

No one is really accountable for certain tasks. In the corporate world, goals are set for each employee and individual competencies and areas for development are discussed with a line manager. At the end of the year, assessments are made and bonuses ware distributed accordingly. For executives, this is an important management tool, and for an employee, it is an additional motivation to progress and achieves greater results. That is why areas of responsibility should be distributed, and Key-Performance Indicators should be set individually.

Slow Down (a bit)

There is another component of the corporate culture called work-life balance. In a startup, no one even thinks about it. As they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun”. It doesn’t matter if it’s early morning, weekend, or public holidays. Calls before bedtime are considered normal. Everyone is available 24/7. They will find such common corporate auto-reply as “Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office with no or limited access to email” odd, or even ridiculous.

In terms of implementation of projects, one month in a startup can be equal to the year of work in a large company.

However, with all the automation of processes and assistance of artificial intelligence, smart technologies are still controlled by humans who want to sleep, eat, go on vacation, or spend some time with family and friends. A chronic lack of balance, overwork and sleepless nights will inevitably take its toll, sooner or later. First internally, then externally. The Return on Investment is important, but what about Return on Relationships?


bottom of page