Why a Startup is Not a Big Company

Once you’ve heard the insight–that startups are different from big companies–it seems so obvious. Yet too often entrepreneurs, and those that teach them, approach the building of new companies with the same goals, staff structures and assumptions that motivate the management of large companies. Startup founders build teams to focus on engineering, and on the process of creating a product and bringing it to market. However, it is important to understand that startups really begin in search mode, not execution mode. The distinction is crucial, and it can vitally inform the activities of startups and their teams.

The process, in the beginning, is one of customer discovery and a search for the right business model. The startup team is analyzing product-market fit. Do customers actually want the product or service you have in mind? Do they want it with the features and functionality you have in mind, or do they want something different? This process of customer discovery requires a different mindset on the part of the team, and a view of their roles that stress flexibility, an ability to shift gears, and a contribution to learning. As this process unfolds, it is important for founders to consider whether they’d like to grow with their startup (that is, grow their skills that position them to guide the build and execution phase) and how they can assemble the right team to join them.