How to retain your start-up spirit

By Sebastian Lewis

So you’ve made it! Congratulations! Most start-ups don’t. But there’s a downside. When businesses start to taste success in the midst of hiring talent and growing their commercial and reputational influence, they run the risk of becoming complacent and losing their spirit of innovation.

The bigger your business gets, the greater the risk of becoming tied down by your size, whether this is the result of unnecessary bureaucratic processes, by playing it safe, or even by becoming disconnected from the people who got you to where you are.

It’s essential that your start-up spirit is part of your business DNA. Concepts may change, but what defined you in your earliest days, what attracted your first investors, your first hires, and your first customers, is what you need to protect and preserve. From my own experience founding Mettrr Technologies – here’s how not to lose your start-up spirit.

Scale the power to innovate

One answer to retaining your entrepreneurial start-up spirit lies in scaling the power to innovate by allowing everyone to contribute ideas as you grow your team.  A good way to do this is to create an anonymous central inbox to which employees can submit ideas. These can impact the work that happens on a daily basis, because they come from executional as well as operational, staff and don’t rely solely on ideas from leadership. By encouraging your teams across all levels to contribute, you retain that flat structure that defines a start-up and eliminates the ‘intimidation factor’ that certain bigger businesses employ.   

Build a bond with your staff

Practically speaking, achieving a flat structure involves staying close to your employees, learning their names, and getting to know them. Listen to how your employees want to work and don’t become overly corporate. People join start-ups for the energy, agility and creativity. If your team works and bonds better with a ping-pong table in the office, get a ping-pong table in the office.

The essence of innovation is the creation of ideas, and ideas come from people. Therefore, you need to respect how, where and when employees work best. By investing in your people and understanding what is important to their general well-being, you can nurture the kind of talent that can help to transform your business. And don’t forget; some of the most successful start-ups were founded by people who once worked for businesses that were unable to innovate.

Use it or lose it

A big part of nurturing staff in this way is having a north star that can act as their guiding light. Constantly reminding your team of the company vision, helping them to understand how their work is shaping and changing the business, and improving its outcome is critical to this. Essentially, it helps employees understand what their market is doing, how your business is reshaping that market and what skills and attributes are needed to drive the company forwards. Scaling your business won’t be easy, but by hiring the right talent, setting the right expectations and cultivating a creative and close-knit culture no matter how big you get, you will retain the agility and innovation of the early days. But change is the only constant and as Alan Deutschman put it, what it really comes down to is ‘change or die’.

Sebastian Lewis, pictured above, is the CEO and founder of Mettrr Technologies, the company behind the artificial intelligence software that builds DIFM (Do It For Me) websites for small business owners.