The common perception is that youth and enthusiasm are the two essentials required to start up a company. While startups by millennials are widely known, there are also many startups founded by those of us who are “more experienced” (sometimes a lot more “experienced”). Personally, I fall into that category.
Prior to founding Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), along with my equally “experienced” business partner, I spent a long career in the corporate world. There are things I learned there, particularly in my last gig that apply directly to the success of our company today. At my last gig before IPS, I helped it grow from a $100M “mid-sized” company to a $2 billion organization. Here are five lessons learned in the corporate world that we applied to IPS and that are valuable for other startups:
1. Find and hire brilliant people
In my “alma mater” we had a policy that “whether times are good or bad, if you come across an extraordinary talent, do whatever it takes to hire them.” As a practical matter, the talent must be truly Extraordinary with a capital “E.” Our company was built on innovation. Its assembly of great and diverse minds was the engine for creating new products that defined the categories and beat the heck out of competitors.
2. Create a mission, not a project
This is a technique we employed many times. When there is an important goal to be achieved, it is much easier to build motivation and initiative with one that was personally embraced by the team. Getting everyone onboard about the criticality and importance of the goal is one part of the equation. Having senior leaders above the project team meet with the team to reinforce the message is a way of building shared buy in. Having everyone “get onboard” with achieving the goals and committing is a key to a high performing team.
3. Meet your commitments
Yes. It is personal. Getting everyone who has accepted the mission implies everyone is willing to do whatever it takes for the mission to be successful. When the team or company is motivated, one doesn’t have to impose burdensome rules on the team to elicit extraordinary effort and complementary behavior. Having a sense of purpose means the team or company will go to extraordinary means to achieve the goal.
4. Listen to your customers and observe
Listen and observe – this is a crucial way of finding the niches for new and innovative products. This is all about having deep domain knowledge about your clients’ business so that you can find unmet needs. Oftentimes, the needs they openly express are not the source of the best ideas. As a keen listener and outside observer, one may notice things that are pain points for the client and these can become opportunities. Bringing such unplanned insights to clients is one way of becoming what we called “a trusted partner.” We anticipated demand and found ways around problems the client may not even have realized.
5. Find a way
There are always naysayers and people firmly committed to the concept of “it can’t be done” or “that’s not the way we do it.” Take on challenges as opportunities for exploring new ways of accomplishing goals. Don’t accept the word “can’t” at face value. To quote John Lennon, “there’s no problems, only solutions.”
These insights are as relevant to the success of a small company or startup as they are to a large corporation. Big companies have their inefficiencies, no doubt. However, one would be remiss to ignore that fact that some big companies have outstanding cultures and practices that lead to their success. These lessons, though simple, are not necessarily obvious. From first-hand experience, we have found that these practices are the keys to success of our firm and can be applied anywhere, from large organizations to startups. It is just good business.
Mitch is the president and cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a leading product design and development firm. He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of numerous United States and international patents. Mitch holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.