Innovate like a startup

Change is constant. Therefore, opportunity is constant. But how do you bring those opportunities to market?

Your field of business is competitive. You know that. Do you want to be the cost leader or lead through great products that shape industries? Innovation is not a department. Innovation is a culture, a coherent culture across departments and organisational silos. A way to foster such culture is to “Create less process and less structure and promote independent thinking and creativity".

Why would a company want to innovate like a startup? Well, simply put to be more innovative than it currently is or has been in the past. But of course, the rational for this is not solely the goal of being innovative, it’s to a large extend the increasing competition by the new market participants, especially by young technology startups.

The three major principles

The principles described below can be applied to any industry or company size. Whether an established company or a technology startup (which wants to grow past its initial innovative idea) companies can follow the same principles to find new sources of sustainable growth.

The major three principles:

  • Continuous innovation towards new breakthroughs
  • An independent internal startups unit acts like a unit of work
  • Make entrepreneurship a real function in the organisation

Creation of a modern enterprise

To succeed in the coming century, every company shall build a culture and build teams which are empowered to quickly experiment with new products and new business models.

1. Typical vs. modern companies

Many companies operate a system of accountability designed in a different time and context with the goal of producing high-quality products. This old system of “on-time production and “mass customization” encourages to meet a predetermined forecast. Careful planning and execution would reduce, failure which is of course not encouraged. However, a modern company must have both the ability to produce high quality and reliable products and the ability to discover new products.

An old-fashioned company is based on steady growth and has experts in specialized functional silos. It uses internal functions such as law, IT and finance to minimize risk by sticking to detailed procedures. An old-fashioned company prioritizes all projects based on return on investment, accounting and market share. The company tends to pursue planned-upon projects, everyone is constantly busy and "failure is not an option".

A modern company is based on sustainable impact through continuous innovation and fast experimentation. it tries to maximize the probability and scale of its future impact and uses innovation accounting. It uses the internal startup, where a small number of passionate believers are each dedicated to a project, and is organized around executives and the entrepreneurs who strengthen them. The company pursues a portfolio of rapid experiments where efficiency means finding the right thing for the customer.

2. The entrepreneurial function

Established companies typically lack the ability to respond to new ideas because they are burdened with heightened levels of bureaucracy. Uncertainty shall not exist and therefore hardly any manager is accustomed to it. Even high-growth start-ups can lead to large corporate structures. However though, a modern company should recognize entrepreneurship as a core discipline.

Atomic units

The best way to react to uncertainties are internal units specialized to tackle these. These internal units bring together elements from research and development, sales and marketing, and technology. An important aspect is that such startup units have no logical home in a traditional organizational chart. The responsibility of the entrepreneurial function lies in monitoring these internal start-ups.

A new management style

Traditional management tools focus on planning and forecasting but identifying product opportunities requires a new leadership style and culture. Naturally, people will rise up to fill these roles once the culture empowers them. In order to take advantage of the latent pool of entrepreneurial talent, the company must draw the entire workforce's attention to the opportunities of entrepreneurship.

This means facing challenges like:

  • Learn to make investments based on evidence, experimentation and vision, not just ROI forecasts.
  • Create milestones that can work without accurate forecasting.
  • Provide professional development and coaching to help people become better entrepreneurs.
  • Recognize that risky and insecure projects need a separate and rational way to attract talent.

3. Learnings from Silicon Valley

The importance of the team

The team is incredibly important but the market is it even more. However, investors in Silicon Valley look first at the people and then the idea. They figure that a great team can pivot into the right market. What counts is the team's ability to execute.


In addition, small teams are the most powerful, with members forming a strong bond and being able to communicate easily. And almost by definition, a small team means a lack of resources, which forces everyone to concentrate.

Start with the customer

This is certainly not a trait of Silicon Valley startups but they certainly and relentlessly focus on the customer. Customers don't care about market share, they just want something that makes their lives better. Silicon Valley knows that the key word here is "better. It's not enough to just offer customers a solution to their problem.

Enabling employees to participate

Here, Silicon Valley does have a clear advantage. An important part of the Silicon Valley ethos is that every employee participates in the company through a participation offer.

Measured refinancing by investors

In Silicon Valley, the money the startup team collects comes with minimal supervision. But without progress, there won't be another round of financing. To know that a board of directors or a group of investors will eventually need a progress report. This report gives the team responsibility and at the same time gives them the freedom to pursue their goal.


One of Silicon Valley's most widespread beliefs is that good ideas can come from anywhere and that people should be provided with resources based on their talents rather than their family tree.

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A small team, working on a meritocratic basis and supported by paid resources, can conduct experiments to try things out. This way it does not cause the financial ruin of the larger organization. A culture that tolerates failure allows the company to pursue a variety of ideas. Some will be truly groundbreaking, most will be terrible.

Driven by the mission

Silicon Valley has a lot of visionary founders. It is the vision that gives the team its mission and purpose and a deep sense of motivation and energy. It is crucial that it also enables the team to change strategy without changing the overall vision.

4. Lean startup tools and processes

What are the basics of the Lean Startup Method?

Leap of faith assumptions

Identify the beliefs about what needs to be true for the start-up to succeed. In a traditional company, these assumptions are the company's guess as to how its strategy will implement its vision. In a startup, these assumptions must be made explicit, but keep it simple; just list the leaps of faith that have the greatest impact on the success or failure of the business plan.

Each startup has two specific jumps in beliefs that need to be tested: the value hypothesis (whether a product or service really excites customers when they start it;) and the growth hypothesis (if the product has some customers, it can get more).

Minimally viable product

Create an experiment to test the leap of faith as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. This Minimum Viable Product or MVP must be a real product that offers the maximum chance of being surprised by customer behavior and allows the team to collect validated learning. The goal is to quickly turn an idea into something real, even if it is imperfect to learn. It is not a first step towards scaling. It is very important to develop multiple MVPs for a specific project.

Design sprint 101, design and innovation workshops

Validated learning

Think like a scientist. Treat each experiment as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn't.

It should be feasible: Evidence of a clear cause and effect related to changes in the product itself. It should be accessible: Everyone involved in the project should have access to and understand the report. It should be audible, i.e. the data should be credible.

Build - Measure - Learn

Now take what is learned from each experiment and restart the loop. Creating an MVP is not a one-time event. Upon completion of the work, the data show where the idea has traction and where not. With this information in hand, you build the next MVP and continue learning. In this way, instead of striving for perfection, the focus is on the willingness to experiment and adapt the original idea, which will eventually lead to a better product.

Turning or preserving

Testing assumptions and learning MVPs form the basis for the crucial step in the launch process. At regular intervals, make a decision about whether to make a strategy change - turn around - or stay on course - perseveringly. The decision to rotate the product may mean targeting a different market for the product or developing a different feature of the product, but does not change the overall vision for the product. Each round creates a new set of assumptions that need to be tested and renews the process.

5. Innovation Accounting

Entrepreneurial management does not replace traditional management, but is a leadership framework that addresses the uncertainty of the 21st century. Although innovation is decentralized and unpredictable, it can still be managed. This simply requires different tools and frameworks than in a traditional environment.

People, Process, Culture

The systems, rewards and incentives that drive employees are the company's responsibility; in other words, what is rewarded, rewarded and celebrated for employees? An entrepreneurial mindset must be recognized and rewarded. Process means the tools and practices that employees use on a daily basis to do their jobs. These habits and ways of working become the culture of the company.

Results of transformations

When these tools are deployed across the enterprise, a number of changes will occur. The existence of small startup teams creates more leadership opportunities, and innovative employees are more likely to stay in the organization. Less time and energy is wasted as management anticipates the best things to build without spending significant resources on dead-end projects that can be completed more quickly. Once failure is honorably seen as a capability, such "failed" projects can be seen as the basis for future success.

When the ability to experiment, learn and pivot is embedded in the corporate culture, problems can also be solved faster and more efficiently. Ultimately, all this will lead to more profit for the company.

How exactly can the paradigm of the traditional company can be transferred into the entrepreneurial approach of the modern company? Contact us today.

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