Think like a Startup

I’m often surprised that the most innovative breakthroughs come from startups with almost no money, experience, or resources.  In contrast, organizational giants with more cash than small countries get beaten to the punch with startling regularity.

While big companies are busy protecting the golden goose with fear-based, micro improvements, startups are busy with the hard work of changing the world.  Craig’s List and eBay forever disrupted the newspaper classified industry.  ZipCar changed the car rental game leaving Hertz and Avis to play catch-up.  The energy-drink category was created by the startup RedBull, putting the sleeping giants on the ropes.

How can broke startups break the entrenched leaders?   Why do visionary, 20-something college dropouts scare the color out of fancy-pants bureaucrats loaded with credentials, money, and “experience?”

Simple answer: They have the Startup Mindset.  They look at the world in ways that allow them to unleash their true creative potential.  And if you start thinking like a startup, you too can conquer giants, slay dragons, and change the world just like those Silicon Valley wunderkinds.

Having built four startups over the last 20 years, and now running a venture capital firm, I have a pretty good view into that startup mindset.  Here are five core philosophies that entrepreneurs use to break the mold and in the words of Steve Jobs, “think different”:

1) Curiosity – People at startups are inherently curious.  They constantly challenge conventional wisdom, asking “why?”, “what if?”, and “why not?”  They have a deep craving to understand the world, gain new insight, and discover a better way.

2) Focus on Possibilities – Entrepreneurs spend most of their time imagining what could be, rather than focusing on what is.  They let their mind’s eye travel to a future state and explore fresh possibilities rather than clamming up and protecting the past.

3) Disregard for Status Quo – Since they have nothing to lose, startups are driven to stick-it-to-the-man.  They yearn to put a thumb in the eye of the complacent incumbents.

4) Conquer Fear – We all face fear, but entrepreneurs figure out how to forge ahead in spite of their demons.  They have the will to act instead of cower.  They live by author Nido Qubein’s famous quote, “The price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret.”

5)  Speed – The big no longer beats the small.  Today, the fast beats the slow.  Startups use speed to their advantage and are overflowing with urgency.  They sprint toward their goals while big companies are busy writing policy manuals and planning next summer’s company picnic.

No matter who you are, thinking like a startup will help you win in today’s ultra-competitive environment.  The entrepreneurial mindset can help everyone from bureaucrats to babysitters; from authors to accountants.  Seize the startup mindset, and watch your creativity and imagination light up like a roman candle.  You don’t have to be a pimply-faced 22-year old listening to house music in order to unleash your own creativity and change the world.

This is YOUR moment.  Think like a startup.