What you can learn from startups that innovate faster than you

In one of our blogposts, we wrote about how Digital-first players aim for market share, not short-term profits. One of the major advantages of these players, which are usually startups, is the speed at which they can innovate. How do they get so fast? And is there anything you can learn from that and apply to your business today?

“Size matters not”

The first reason most people will probably give you is size. Startups are small by default, but is that really a good reason? Or is it just an excuse? A lot of tech companies employ thousands of people and have multiple layers of management. They still execute at a rapid pace, because they organized themselves to be able to do so.

Netflix work cultureThey have clear expectations about things like your work attitude and meetings (is there a point to you being here?). On the other hand, they are very lenient when it comes to things like work-life balance and rewards, as they measure your performance, not the amount of hours you clock. Managers in traditional companies are often afraid that this will make everyone lazy, but in reality only a small percentage of the people tries to abuse this freedom and those who do ultimately get kicked out. The vast majority will simply have a bigger motivation to work hard for the company.

Do everything in your power to create an environment that people want to work hard in. Offer your employees value for value, think beyond the paycheck and show them that you care. If you do, they will too, and top talent will be interested in joining your company. It’s an upward spiral.

Need some inspiration from a company with a very pragmatic culture? Check out Netflix’ culture presentation.

Buy vs. build

As a traditional company, you often run on cry-worthy legacy systems. The money required to develop them and keep them up and running is often only justified by the fact that replacing these systems would cost even more.

Of course you have these systems today and reworking them or replacing them will indeed take years, there is not much you can do about that. What you can do however, is no longer building everything yourself when it comes to new offerings.

Corporates have the habit of making everything compliant. They often use whatever certified technology some sales rep talked them into and then customize it for their company. The logic of a startup on the other hand, is the exact same as that of you and me.

Most of us don’t hunt or grow our own food, we don’t make our own clothes, don’t build our own computer… we let others do these things for us and unburden us of those skills to survive.

In the same way, digital-first players don’t have infinite time to do everything themselves, they want to scale fast after all, and thus they use the most lightweight, agile and scalable solutions available in the market to build their products and services.


Next time your company wants to create and launch something new, think twice about whether it really needs to run on your custom-made legacy systems. Perhaps a “Good is good enough” solution that can be set up in 15 minutes can do the job for you and allow you to scale rapidly. If your offering becomes a huge success one day, you can always decide to build your own version of the technology to customize it further.


Startups are often heavily funded, even though they start out with just a small team, a barely working product or service and wild dreams of changing the way people do things. Venture Capitalists are willing to bet big on these dreams. If they can become a reality, it can often lead to huge profits.

Most companies don’t want to or can’t afford to bet on dreams. Budgets are usually hard to come by, even when there are great ideas and trust me, every company has a lot of those. Ideas are easy, execution is the real differentiator.

Every single company we have done our Digital Transformation workshops at had a lot of great ideas. Some of them were already being talked about for years and yet never got any financial support. This changes when there is a clear vision for the future. When the right stakeholders see how an idea helps them work towards making their future a reality, they will be more than willing to make big investments in great ideas, because they see the strategic need to, rather than the idea being another nice thing to have.

The Decision Tree

Get together with your company and create a vision for the next 5 to 10 years. What is your role in this future? How and by who are you being challenged? What can you do to still be relevant tomorrow? What domains will you have to defend at any cost and which new positions can you take as a company?

Only then the ideas come in, and you will find many of your existing ones irrelevant or less important, while some turn out to be fundamental for your future.

If you need help in creating this vision and mission for the future of your company, we specialize in this. We have done Digital Transformation exercises for dozens of small to large companies, using our pragmatic, thoroughly tested methodology. Contact us to start building your own future!

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