Why we like working with startups & growth companies + large company takeaways on innovation.

We’re engaging with more startups & fast growing companies (fast co’s) than ever before. In part because of the growing startup scene in Columbus where we’re based and because we like it.

We get asked why we like working with startups and supporting the startup community (two of our folks lead the Startup Grind chapters in Columbus & Cleveland for example). The questions are often along the lines of:

  • Isn’t working with startups risky?
  • Startups are fluid and volatile so doesn’t that make engaging with them more challenging than other, larger more established companies?
  • Startups don’t have as much money or may run out of money, right?
  • Aren’t startups hard to engage with because they don’t know what they want to create and don’t have well defined scope and requirements?

While the above can be true and we’ve experienced all of these challenges engaging with startups, the positives outweigh the challenges for us. We like working closely with clients and helping them to drive real outcomes from our work together. We create digital products that run on the web and mobile devices.

Creating a product a client is going to build a company on and around is invigorating. It gets us close to the action and the impact. Isn’t that what most craftsmen want from their work? We do.

Startups and fast co’s are passionate about what they are doing and why they are doing it. The products we engage with them on have to work and work well. The products have to be difference makers. Sometimes the products are new and innovative to a market. Sometimes the products are better versions of stuff that is already out there and it has to be better, simpler, easier, faster, etc.. A great challenge for our team.

Often our engagements with startups are multi-faceted too. We initially engage to create a SaaS application and then they need a mobile app or we start with a mobile app and then they need a marketing site. The multi-faceted makeup of some startup engagements increases our depth of understanding of the business and our contribution.

There is no time for indecision and committee meetings with startups and fast co’s. Engagements and product development moves faster and more seamlessly as a result. Sure approaches, features, designs, and more get debated, but by in large startups and fast co’s work faster and more iteratively than larger companies do. Engagements for us with startups and fast co’s aren’t for a campaign two years from now. It’s about now, next week, and next month. Customers, markets, and investors don’t wait, they have demands and expectations that must be capitalized on.

In our experience startups and fast co’s are more willing and capable of engaging more iteratively than larger companies. We’re an agile firm and although many large companies would like to operate in a more agile manner, their processes and procedures frequently don’t allow them to. Startups and fast co’s don’t have these constraints.

The energy around building and growing a company is infectious. It creates an all in culture even for a partner like us. We want the company to succeed and we want engaging with us to be a big part of why they succeed. Building a company and creating killer products is hard. Real hard. It’s the people involved that make the hard worth it. You fight for and with each other. You pick each other up when you run into challenges with the product or the business. We probably have just as many conversations with startup and fact co clients around business issues as we do around the product we’re engaged on. It’s part of the deal and we love it. Software and digital products are nothing without business context and business outcomes attached to them.

Large Company Takeaways

Large companies and organizations could learn a few things from startups and fast co’s about innovating. Okay, probably more than a few. Here are some:

  • If you are truly going to innovate and act like a startup, be willing to carve out a dedicated team and allow them to work independently toward a specific goal or to solve a specific problem.
  • Select the team carefully. It’s all about the people. The right people will deliver. Investors invest in people. You should too.
  • Let the team fail and iterate. If you have the right team, they will fail, learn, adjust, and progress.
  • Get and keep the bureaucracy out of the way. You will be tempted to set them free and then begin to bring them back into the corporate fold of meetings and red tape. Don’t do it. The team should report on progress, but don’t inhibit them.
  • Identify a significant, high value opportunity or challenge that is new to the company. Upgrading your ERP, although important, doesn’t meet this threshold.

Although working with startups and fast co’s presents challenges, in our experience it is worth it. Creating a product inside the specter of creating a company is an exciting and rewarding process we enjoy the heck out of.

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