Think Like a Start-Up in These Challenging Times

Back to the Garage
Back to the Garage

I have been consuming Guy Kawasaki’s new book Reality Check at breakneck speed. Love the framework of the book. Short chapters, numbered paragraphs, each chapter leads with a provocative quote. It’s also full of his wonderful sense of humor. As a venture capitalist, Guy has had lots of experience reviewing business plans and watching start-ups blossom as well as fail. He has compiled his learnings and packaged them neatly into his book. I knew it was primarily for start-ups when I read the jacket notes and even though I don’t work for a start-up (far from it), I was compelled to purchase it anyway. Today I discovered why.

I work in a very large financial services firm and like everyone we are figuring out how to weather this economic “perfect storm.” We are trying to do more with less, be smarter about how we prioritize projects and watch expenses. But we don’t want to shut things down unless we absolutely have to. We are convinced that some things are about to take off. Neglecting them now would surely kill them. Then it hit me. Think like a start up.

I have worked in a small companies in the past (15 people) and even though we weren’t a start-up we acted like one. So here’s my quick guide that big companies can employ to act more like a start-up

  • Be more selective when choosing vendors. Look for smaller firms that are more interested in accomplishing things quickly vs. gold plating everything.
  • Go for the software that gives you what you need, not what they’re selling.
  • Take on more yourself by re-organizing your staff and resources to match your immediate needs vs. the way it’s always been structured. You’d be surprised how much untapped bandwidth is available if you ask the right questions.
  • Stop doing some things now! Announce to everyone you are stopping it, why you made that decision, make it very public and stick to it. Remember you’re pulling back and growing more slowly, so you don’t need to do all those things you did last year.
  • Practice insight adoption strategies by not tying to boil the ocean. Make one pass at data and research, or better yet use research you already have and make your decision.
  • Holler “80/20” more often. Most additional analytics cuts are unnecessary and not actionable.
  • Make the rounds to your business partner peers. Be sure you know where they are cutting back and get a meeting of the minds.
  • If you’re got an internal Creative Services team, give them more of the work.
  • Focus, focus focus.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
  • Get senior manager buy in.
  • Work harder.

Not an exhaustive list by any means, and not all will align with your situation. The point is to put yourself in a clean room and hit control, alt, delete.

Artist Rendering: Garage Apartment Plans


  1. Hi Steve! Another thoughtful post. I’ll look for that book. I’d like to add how much easier it is to “Stop doing some things now” when we realize that canceled projects/features don’t need to be failures. When I look at the features I scrubbed after investing time, money and energy in them, I realize how much I learned in the process of developing them. I learned more about customer needs, and found some nifty technology tools that can be used elsewhere. I have been able to transfer that learning and use it in new, more promising ways.

  2. Steve, Great to hear from you! Your name still comes up and in good ways. Great point about learning along the way. Sometimes that’s the only way to find out. Experience teaches a lot and tough times make us more creative. Hope you are well.

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