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Created on 08.10.2021

What established SMEs can learn from startups

If established companies want to survive in a fast-paced and dynamic market environment, they have to be prepared to accept change and make changes of their own at a high tempo. How can they achieve this? They may take agile and innovative startups as an example.

The fast pace of economic and technological change presents a challenge to many companies, and poses questions such as “What do we need to change so that we can serve younger target groups too?”, “How can we generate sales in future?” and “How do we implement new approaches efficiently?”. Change can be achieved by establishing skills which promote innovation − following the example of startups. Established companies can learn something from their younger competitors in the following three areas.

Business model

While established companies often have fixed organizational structures with rigid decision-making processes, startups are geared towards flexibility, agility and innovation; they act very quickly and are willing to take risks. Guided by an overarching vision and a marked drive for action, they cause a stir on the market. Their goal is to do things differently and better than their seasoned competitors − or to bring something totally new onto the market. At established companies, this same enthusiasm can wear down as the years pass. So it’s time to get it back. Because if you want to continue having success, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels. Visions and processes have to be constantly questioned and optimized and, most importantly, digital competencies have to be established.

Product development

Startups don’t spend an eternity tinkering with a new product. They form insights from customer feedback, make improvements accordingly and quickly bring their products to market. In this way, with varying numbers of development cycles, a minimum viable product (see link below) is produced first of all which forms the basis for the subsequent solutions that are optimally tailored to the needs of the customers. For established companies, it’s also worth involving customers in the development process. But even for optimizing existing products and services, customers often provide the best input. After all, they are the ones that use the product or service.

Company culture

Complicated procedures, fixed structures and steep hierarchies are an absolute no-go for startups − and above all for their dynamic employees. Young talents and innovative workers in particular base their search for an employer on its working style: Do they communicate on an equal footing here? Is there a culture of trust, instead of one of control? Is it possible to work part-time? Do employees have enough creative freedom? Companies that can answer “yes” to these questions stand a good chance of attracting committed employees who will help push innovation.

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