I’m joining a session in a few week’s time looking at the lessons that large firms can learn from Startups.
It reminds me of a talk I did in 2013 to technology professionals in Higher Education. The focus of the talk was what HE professionals could learn from the way retailers think about using technology to drive value. I was pleased to be asked and excited to help, so I spent long hours distilling the wisdom of retail into a few observations. The day of the talk came around, and with great enthusiasm, I shared my observations. At the end of the talk, the assembled audience stared up at me with a collective look of bemusement. A few polite questions later, and we all departed with a distinct feeling of disappointment.
I have to say I did some soul-searching as to why it hadn’t gone down better. I offer up unreservedly that maybe it wasn’t a very good talk. But actually, I think the problem was a different one. The answers I shared only made sense if you knew the questions. Which means that the way retailers focus on technology has everything to do with the challenges that retailers face. Which are not the challenges that HE institutions face. Does that mean that we can’t learn from other industry sectors? Not at all, but we have to work a little harder to understand what the big issues are in the sector, to make sense of the learnings.
Lessons from Startups
So that brings me back to the learnings that large firms can take from Startups. To be honest, I don’t think there are that many. The challenges facing Startups are almost the opposite of those facing large firms. Startups have limited track record, no established brand and most importantly spend more money than they earn in revenue. Their greatest challenge is reaching escape velocity, commonly known as cash break-even before they run out of investors’ money.
But there is one thing that great Startups have that most large businesses crave. Speed. And in a previous post, I made the observation that fast is the new big. The reason that Startups move quickly? Because if they don’t, they die. Unfortunately, that same imperative is not true for large companies, which is, I suspect, a big driver of their lack of pace. But there is good news. Although they may lack the same imperative that Startups have, large companies could choose to change the way they behave. The three big Startup learnings that would help to achieve this: dispense with the unnecessary, shorten communication chains and all row in the same direction. It’s actually quite simple. But as those people who have worked in large organisations know, simple is not the same as easy.
Lessons from Retail revisited
Now you might be dying to know what my distilled insights from Retail were? Solve customer problems, offer efficient choices and drive out waste. Sadly those weren’t relevant in HE in 2013. Maybe times have changed?