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Think like a startup

Moving with the times means innovate or fall behind

by Joe Ayoub

There was a time when the bigger and more established a company was, the more assured it felt in terms of staying power in the market. These days what matters more to a company’s relevance and future is to what extent they embrace innovation. What this means for businesses is that, no matter how big they are, if they want to survive they need to think like a startup.

A startup by nature is constantly on its toes, harboring a hunger to wake up each day and perform better than the day before. There’s a flexibility to their way of thinking that means every aspect of the organization’s strategy is open to question and can be easily superseded if a better idea is brought to the table.  

Established businesses may still ask themselves why they would need to change things, but the answer is very clear: today’s business landscape is a far cry from that of 50 years ago. Back then, the average age of a company on the Fortune 500 was somewhere around 75 years; today the lifespan is closer to a mere decade before a company goes out of business or gets bought out. What has changed is the pace of consumerism: we are living in an age where consumers are always hungry for more — everything from content to apps to games — and are looking to consume them simultaneously. Technology, the driver of this rampant consumerism, has also brought with it the ability for any innovation, whether patented or not, to be replicated within a short space of time, even months. Ultimately this is what is pushing companies to be innovators — they cannot stop in a world that does not stand still.

But there’s an additional impetus that businesses should be feeling in this call to think like a startup. In the wake of the financial crisis, the world entered an era of zero growth. Companies have to face the reality of this era, of pressures on margins, and of pressure from consumers demanding constant new ideas in the market. Their only way to survive is to stay relevant, and innovation is the engine that will not only do that but keep them ahead of the curve and in front of their competition.

Step back to leap ahead
Once the need to think like a startup has been acknowledged, a business also needs to know how to implement it. This is not about appointing one person in charge of innovation, but rather instilling a holistic culture throughout the organization. This requires commitment from top management who should be heavily engaged and act to unite all employees in this push for creativity. To get there, businesses need to take a comprehensive look at the business, the brand value proposition and the employees — and formulate a clear vision and central strategy. Questions that need to be answered include which products/services to retain and which to divest, and which processes to review to meet objectives quickly.

We are all aware that Lebanon is going through yet another crisis period. But at times like this the situation can be viewed as either a problem or an opportunity. At Brandcell we are advising our clients to look at it as an opportunity to take a small step back and redefine their business for growth. It’s not enough to think that as sales are down the solution is promotions and discounts; these will only send one signal to consumers — that you are in panic mode. Instead, now is the time to benefit from the lull to rethink every element of your business proposition and to discover how many new ideas you can create, and how many new resources you can make available to jumpstart your business when this crisis is over. Having the ability to continuously unlearn and learn again is the thus trademark of successful companies.

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Joe Ayoub


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