The start-up secrets for surefire success

November 25, 2018

At some time in their lives or careers, most business owners or leaders will have found themselves wishing for both more and less. More growth, profit, and customers, more conversions, more time, more efficiency, productivity… and less wasted time, money and resources, less staff issues, less meetings, less complexity.

If this resonates with you, you aren’t on your own. This ‘magic mix’ of more and less is hard to achieve, and takes a different mindset. If you truly want to maximise your results, have clients that love you, resources that are fully optimised and less downtime and waste, then you need to be prepared to do things differently.

It’s never too late to start learning new ways to do things, and one of those is how to adopt a ‘start-up’ mindset.

In this article, we take a look at what sets successful entrepreneurs apart from other business owners or leaders. Whether you are a large or small corporation, just starting out or in your first growth phase, there are some serious lessons in here.

Most business owners or leaders that I know, love the idea of being adaptable and ‘agile’. They hanker for low cost delivery of their product or service, the ability to execute and implement seamlessly, and the holy grail of ‘failing fast’, testing with real life potential customers, and wasting less resources in the process.

So why, if this is the dream, do so few manage to get their business in a position where these aspirations become a reality? For most of these businesses, it isn’t for want of throwing themselves into trying new things, or being smart enough, or having enough resources. Yet for some frustrating reason, nothing really changes. Despite their best efforts, they don’t get more agile, more efficient, better at implementing or more profitable. In many cases, the adoption of these new work practices actually adds cost and complexity – which is even more frustrating. Often this leads to disillusionment and stress, and generally the only answer is to go back to the ‘old ways’ that everyone feels more comfortable with. If you imagine this cycle, it’s easy to see how some businesses, despite best intentions and big investments, end up where they were at the start. This goes to my point that you can’t just say you want to be more ‘agile’. You can’t just bring in a new methodology and lay it over the top of the old. To make this work, you need to invest in fundamentally re-engineering a lot of the processes and accepted cultural and behavioural norms if you are to ever do this successfully.

In contrast, working with successful entrepreneurs is a real eye opener. You quickly realise that their approach to doing business is different – both from the big end of town (larger corporates that are tied down by layers of management, bureaucracy and legacy systems and processes), and from small to medium businesses (maybe similar in employee size or revenue, but on a totally different plane in terms of profitability, efficiency and innovation). But what is it that they are doing so differently?

This probably isn’t a comprehensive list, but this is what I have noticed and experienced as some of the key ingredients in the ‘secret sauce’:

1. There is zero wastage in time, money or talent: These guys don’t worry about the lack of a business card. They consider this as a ‘nice to have’ that won’t get them closer to achieving their goals, and will spend the money elsewhere.

2. There are no distractions: There is absolute  single focus on what the goal is, and how to get there. One very successful CEO and founder talks about this in terms of “T minus”. What he means is that whatever the goal, the ‘take-off’ is locked in. This is non-negotiable. By having this mindset, the conversations with the team become less about pushing out deadlines, and more about “what do we need to simplify to make sure we hit that date”.

3. They de-risk at every single step: Some think that entrepreneurs are risk takers by nature, and to an extent that is true. They trust their intuition and their smarts, but they also test and refine everything every single day; set out to ‘fail fast’; and utilise actual customer feedback to inform product development and subsequent iterations.

4. They employ a rigorous, three-step filter: Forget ‘passion projects’ – every idea or product is tested against three fundamental questions: 1. ‘Is there a market?’; 2. ‘Does this market want what we have?’; and 3. ‘How can we commercialise this?’. Anything that doesn’t pass this test doesn’t continue. And when they say ‘test with the market’, they mean actual potential customers – not a management team around a board room table with an internal focus.

5. Everything is a passion project: This may sound like a contradiction to the above. It isn’t. These guys believe strongly in what they are doing and they are all in. The difference? Refer above – they are not emotional or egotistical in continuing to pursue something that has no legs. They only pursue the best ideas and discard the rest.

6. They only employ the best, and then get out of their way: This is all about hiring talented people who are experts in their field, and letting them do their jobs (no micro-management here). They recognise that hiring the right cultural and talent fit could (and often does) take months, but that it will be worth it to get the right people. They believe strongly in the team culture and environment, constantly mentoring and developing the team so that they thrive and continue to improve. If someone isn’t performing then they won’t be there long – there is no ‘dead wood,’ no carrying people that don’t fit. That is a risk to the team and the environment and therefore needs to be addressed. This is an area where there is no compromise.

7. They create an environment  where accountability and clarity are everything and go hand in hand with empowerment: No one is in doubt about what they need to do , what their role is and when they need to deliver. The team is expected and trusted to do their job, with meetings used only to address blocks or challenges that can’t be solved alone – that’s it.

8. They invest money in the right things: In the examples already used – no investment in business cards, but big investment in staff – there is an important lesson to be learned. This isn’t about having a cost cutting mentality – this is about investing in the right things for maximum leverage. Talented staff members are the biggest asset, and they are treated as such.

9. They utilise the ‘T minus x-hours‘ approach: I mentioned this earlier, and it’s worth mentioning again. This is all about implementation and execution. The mentality here is all about a deadline that needs to be met and then doing whatever it takes to meet that deadline. This approach requires total commitment and a problem solving mindset. People will always tell you it can’t be done, and that they need more time, money or resources. The approach to this is to assess what alternative strategies or solutions you can employ to meet that immovable deadline (simplify, de-scope, resource-up, refocus, de-prioritise). Another point worth mentioning is that this is not about crushing your team with unachievable deadlines or workloads. It isn’t about ‘at any cost’, or closing your eyes and hoping. This is the combination of pragmatism, talent, problem solving ability and different thinking that gets the results. There is no ‘big bang’ approach here either. ‘Version one’ gets produced, and then the cycle of testing and learning with real customers informs V2, V3 and so on, which leads beautifully to the next point…

10. They test, test, and test again, with actual customers: The sheer brilliance of this is that there will never be a product that doesn’t sell. Your customers design it for you, and tell you quickly if you are on the wrong track. This type of feedback just cannot be replicated by internal teams, who lack perspective and have too much ego or emotional investment in the project they are working on to be objective.

11. There is no ego: I witnessed this in action with a client not long ago, when their marketing guru basically told them they had got the branding and tone of their product all wrong and they needed to start from scratch. I was curious as to the reaction of the founders and shareholders – would they be offended? Shut him down? No. They just said “That’s why you are here, you are the expert. How do we get it done?”

12. They don’t need all the answers: This mentality is all about collaboration and learning from others. As with the above, there is no ego and no need to be the smartest – in fact they are constantly seeking to bring in, and learn from, others who have different expertise and are specialists in their field.

Key takeaways

• You can’t just talk about words such as ‘agile’ or ‘design thinking’. To really create an environment for change you need to look at all the component parts of your business that could be constraining your progress.

• There is a lot in these steps, and the leader of the business needs to be really committed to making it work. A big part of this is setting up the environment to be successful, and having the right people around you.

Passion + single focus + being commercial + employing the best talent +de-risking every day? That’s the secret.

Need help? I’ve got your back!

If you:

• Fear that you have a small business mindset instead of a start-up mindset;

• Are working in a large business and need an injection of ‘start- up’ know-how; or

• Need help learning to ‘fail-fast’, de-risk or adopt a ‘T minus x-hours’ approach –

Click on the link below to book in a free 15 minute Discovery Call with me!

PS, if you have a burning question or a problem that needs a solution, contact us with the details and we will be in touch. Every fortnight we will answer a question for a reader as part of our case study series.  Leave a message on Facebook or contact

Commment code: