Start-up Culture @ Corporate

“We need fresh blood in the team”, I overheard a senior manager say to another. May be they weren’t moving in the right direction or may  be they were not moving at all! But that was some years ago. Now I hear them say “We need start-up culture”. A lot has been written and said about how to start a successful start-up business. But how about starting a start-up in a well ‘organised’ corporate company? And then again why should they?

Well start-ups today are synonymous with agile, revolutionary and trend-setter, besides being creative, imaginative and innovative. They are everything the corporate companies want to be, specially the ones who face stiff competition and need to constantly evolve. But companies either don’t know what to do (lack of ideas, solutions) or they know it but can’t get their teams do it (lack of ownership, risk taking). Start-ups beat both the problems. They are very clear about what they want to do and are very passionate about their work. It comes naturally for the companies to wish that they had passionate, creative and committed teams like start-ups.  So what is a start-up culture and why is it so promising?

Start-up, beyond a culture, is about mind-set and aspirations of people, the reward and experience they get out of it. So before we get into the problem of ‘how’ we create start-up culture we need to first understand ‘what’ is start-up culture and what else is at play. If we understand start-up characteristics and how they are related, it should help identify the areas that need working to get the desired outcome.

1. Mind-set

Purpose – Start-up team is united for a purpose. They want to create and introduce something new to the people and change their lives for better. They are fully aware of the impact they are creating on market and society.

Conviction – It starts with an idea, a belief. It is driven by the conviction that there is a need that needs fulfilling, a problem that needs solution and that they can lead this change. The motivation comes from the potential impact their ideas and actions can have, the disruption that they can cause, all for good.


2. Team

Structure – People with shared vision and passion make great teams. They leverage each other’s strength and compensate for the weaknesses. It’s a humble reminder that one rarely has everything they need. It could be certain material, skills, contacts, money. One needs to form partnerships to make it work.

These teams are small and there is no hierarchy. This helps with communication, decision making and creativity. All the energy, all the rules (if any) are geared towards realisation of their shared dream.

Angel – Been there, done that. Companies have mentor, start-ups have Angel. Angels don’t just bring money. They bring maturity and experience that is much needed by young, raw talent of entrepreneurs. Angels help the start-ups refine their ideas, create profitable business proposition. They are also resourceful and bring the necessary support for the team. Angels have stake in the company so they take active interest in making the business succeed. Angels also step in when the smart team has conflicts among members. They don’t call them Angel for nothing.


3. Culture

Ownership – When it’s your idea, with compelling reasons to succeed, ownership comes naturally. This idea is the only thing they have, there are no distractions. This sense of ownership, the desire to make their idea succeed keeps them going when they stumble upon problems or when success is still at a distance.

Risk Taking – When conviction and motivation are strong, they want to go for it. When their desire for success becomes bigger than their fears of failure they are ready take the leap of faith.

Creativity & Innovation – This is partly nature, partly choice. Some people are not imaginative so can’t think differently. Some people can think differently, creatively but their practicality leads them to safer, do as directed jobs. But those who can think differently and are curious enough to give their idea a try, either reject a campus job offer or eventually resign from their job.


4. Reward

Learning – Start-up teams are about being self-sufficient. They are the marketing, finance, design and packaging guy. They are the doer, they are the deal maker. They are receptionist and delivery boy too! There is immense learning opportunity from this role playing. For most of them this experience in itself is a reward. One can think of start-up as some workshop or course for professionals. Those who can’t make it big in start-up, go on to become very valuable and successful employees in other professional jobs.

Experience –  Excitement would be an understatement; they get a ‘kick’ out of their work. When they first go to local club to show-off what they have created, register their company (and struggle to finalise on the name), when all their savings are put at stake as investment, they get a kick. When they hire a stall at an industry event, newspapers/websites reviews rave about their product, when unknown customers from far corners email them to tell how much they love their product, they get a kick. When a celebrity is spotted using their product in public, when TV channels contact them for interview and ask them ‘What’s your story?’, when they become the idol for a generation, they get a kick.

Money – Smart entrepreneurs don’t like to be seen as fools who gave away great ideas to someone who used and made fortunes of it. Start-up members have sizable equity share in the company and when the venture succeeds they all benefit from it, in a big way. Besides freedom for creativity and opportunity to create one’s own path, money is a big motivation for people.


We can see above that although it is the start-up culture that is desired by companies, when it is a question of actions it is the Mind-set, Team and Rewards where things will need to be changed in companies. What companies can do to encourage start-up culture at their work place makes for another interesting topic to write about.

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