3 Guiding Start-Up Principles to Foster Growth and Innovation

calendar iconJanuary 10, 2022

Smaller, start-up businesses are often newly established companies, typically in their early stages of development. The start-up world may seem light-years away from the world of large, entrenched organizations that have been in business for decades. After all, what could a large enterprise organization possibly want to learn from a start-up business that is barely out of the gates?

It turns out that leadership of even the most established companies can draw important lessons from start-ups to better navigate the increasingly changing and competitive business environment we live in today.

Here are three fundamental start-up principles that can help any organization advance their growth and innovation.

There is Clarity in Simplicity

It is a common misconception that the best way to showcase value is by putting everything on the table—adding more features, adding more buttons, adding more words to a customer presentation slide. Rather than creating value, this often backfires and creates confusion and frustration with customers and users.

Simplicity involves subtracting—not necessarily adding—to get to the essence of what matters. Essentially, the key to simplicity is being able to separate the signals from the noise for customers. An organization differentiating themselves in the marketplace and clearly identifying its value proposition in order for customers to easily understand, engage and refer to whatever message the organization is circulating.

Consider the Dollar Shave Club taking over significant shares from a corporate giant like Gillette. How did they do it? Dollar Shave Club simplified the customers’ buying experience journey. Rather than driving to the pharmacy, asking a store clerk to unlock a case of expensive razors, waiting in line, etc., they took it a step further using a subscription-based approach. Their customers are now able to conveniently get razors and/or any other shaving products automatically delivered to their doorstep on a monthly basis. They simplified their value proposition—from an overly-expensive purchase price to just $1 per month.

Simplicity is not just reserved for disruptive start-ups. Even the most successful tech giants today have built a core value proposition around a simple user experience:

  • Google continues to uphold their reputation by way of an apparent, singular call-to-action for users via their landing page, despite having an incredibly complex capability behind the scenes to execute the search.
  • Netflix continues to offer just one subscription service and suggests content users might like, while competitors such as NBCUniversal Media juggle their complex mix of streaming and cable offerings that are accessible in numerous package options with live television, commercials and add-ons.

Simplicity inspires innovation. In today’s multifaceted world and generations to come, more people are aiming to simplify their day-to-day lives. “Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple,” stated Edward de Bono, Creator of the Six Thinking Hats.

Iterate > Overplan

In many people’s daily personal and professional lives, many have the tendency to overplan (and overthink). Overplanning can be just as detrimental as under-planning. This tends to be more common within companies, in particular, that spend lots of time and money producing the perfect growth strategy, believing the job is mostly done once the strategy is formulated. But the essence of strategy is in performing the actual activities. Strategy is a way of thinking and is ultimately just words on a page. Where the work really begins is when the framework of the strategy shows tangibility in actual offerings (products and/or services) that are positioned in the marketplace in the mind of its customers. Then, when customers vote in the marketplace with their time and money, they can determine which products and/or services will endure success or not.

Start-ups understand very well that a minimum viable product (MVP) is simply a starting point. Launching an MVP gives a start-up the opportunity to start learning what customers actually want, allowing the start-up to rapidly iterate to land on a market-validated offering that has higher probability of gaining broader adoption.

Very few strategies go from boardroom slides to market validation in one linear flow. Iteration is a critical part of the process. For large businesses, overplanning in the strategy phase and under-investing in the launch/validate/iterate phase can cripple the success of their strategy, often because there is another competitor that is prioritizing speed-to-market and executing rapid market iteration to learn what customers want and configure an offering around it. Very often, the winning idea is not the original one, but “the idea from the idea.”

For instance, before Groupon became one of the fastest-growing companies of its time, it started out as a completely unrelated social media platform called The Point, which gained people to rally around a social or charitable cause. During the Great Recession in 2008 to 2009, Groupon’s founders were inspired by a related opportunity—to combine people’s money together to negotiate group discounts at local merchants who needed new customers. It turned out that this latter model was the winning formula with consumers and merchants. Instead of lingering over the original concept or wasting time modeling what a transition plan would look like, Groupon’s leadership instantly pivoted to this new “idea from the idea” concept and let the market vote with their wallets.

Contrast this with larger companies who have been paralyzed by overplanning. Motorola, Blackberry and Nokia all missed the smartphone market because they failed to envision how the iPhone might challenge their own products, upend strategic partnerships and compromise existing business models.

Meanwhile, Apple released the first iPhone into the consumer market and rapidly iterated to add features and functionality that enterprise users also wanted, leading them to have the dominant share of this market from incumbents like Blackberry.

Launching an MVP in-market generates customer data, this data generates learnings, and these learnings fuel the rapid iterations necessary to ultimately land on a version of the business offering that has the highest probability of being successful and viable.

Business Empathy by Putting Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes

A customer-centric business puts their customers at the center, ensuring client satisfaction remains prevalent throughout their experience, both before and after a transaction is made. Being customer-centric can enhance customer satisfaction, increase customer retention and conduct new sales and relationships.

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, is a prime example of a company that lives in its customers’ shoes. They listen to customer feedback, which meets customer demand and expectations. Not only is their website user-friendly, but their contact information is straightforward, is easy to obtain, allowing calls to take as long as they need to take, and refrain from using call scripts. In turn, this empowers the customer service team to drive customer satisfaction leading to more business by:

  • Talking with a customer on the phone for 10 hoursand 29 minutes
  • Sending get well soon flowers to a customer’s ill mother on the company’s dime
  • Refunding a customer for a defective product, and then sending a replacement for free
  • Sending military gift baskets and care packages to those that inquired to exchange his/her shoes

As a result, 75% of Zappos’ purchases come from returning customers and nearly half of new customers hear about the shoe brand via word of mouth. 1

Scale does not preclude customer intimacy and Costco is a living example of this. The valued retailer has a loyal following by leaning into its customers’ desire to secure a great deal. For example, Costco sacrifices margins to build cult-like followings with its:

  • $4.99 rotisserie chicken
  • $29.99 sheet cake (serves 48 people)
  • $1.50 hot dog and soda combo, which has remained $1.50 since the mid-1980s

The rotisserie chicken, alone, is estimated to cost Costco $40 million annually in losses, but also sells 100 million annual units and has a dedicated Facebook fan page. 2 But the relationships go deeper than discounts. Costco’s famous flexible return policy builds comfort and trust with customers who feel more secure and willing to experiment. Those customers also have no trouble finding a customer service number (front and center on the website) and speaking with an actual human agent. This may seem ordinary, but contrast this to other big-box giants with hidden numbers and layers of customer service bots who act as gatekeepers for their human equivalents. It is no surprise that Costco continues to top the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It has grown its membership base to over 100 million worldwide (and growing) with an exceptional renewal rate of 90%! 3


Established companies may feel that start-ups have little to teach them. But by focusing on these three principles—(1) simplicity, (2) iterative thinking, and (3) customer-centricity—business leaders can continue to drive growth and innovation amidst an environment where the rate of disruption is ever increasing.

Let T&Co by Cherry Bekaert Guide You Forward

Our T&Co by Cherry Bekaert Strategic Growth & Innovation consulting team is comprised of strategists and consultants that help organizations see market trends before the competition to anticipate the needs of customers and take advantage of new untapped growth opportunities. Our professionals develop unique strategies and innovation processes to create sustainable, industry-breaking profitable growth.

Leveraging our strategic process, we help digitally enable organizations, especially middle-market companies, do more with less. T&Co by Cherry Bekaert stays on top of the latest technology trends, but we know that technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We are here to guide you on what technology makes sense to adopt as it pertains to delivering the highest value to your organization.


1 Uncommon Service: The Zappos Case Study.

2 Foodbeast. Costco Is Losing $40 Million Every Year In Rotisserie Chicken Costs And They Don’t Even Care.

3 Costco Takes Top Spot In Online Customer Satisfaction Over Amazon. Feb. 27, 2019.

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