ad:tech opinion: How can big brands act more like startups?

The team were lucky enough to join many of the insightful and debate-ridden talks at the event. One in particular caught my eye, “How can big Brands act more like start-ups?”. On the panel we had a mix of big and small brands:

  • Philippa Snare – CMO at Microsoft
  • Emily Forbes – CEO and founder of Seenit
  • Nicola Broom – Founder and CEO of Up My Sport
  • Rowly Bourne – Founder of Rezonence
  • James Haycock – Managing director at Adaptive Lab

Here’s what they had to say…
In start-ups you can ruthlessly prioritise to get things done, but are they really agile?
The panel had a strong opinion on this one – Yes, the ability of a start-up to make quick decisions and ruthlessly prioritise does make them agile. By contrast, big brands can struggle to be as agile because decision making can be very slow. This tends to be driven by risk management, since the wrong decision may have a huge (and negative). To really be effective and bring back that sense of freedom to make these decisions you have to take employees out of the risk zone and give them the freedom to make choices that they otherwise wouldn’t make. This means an acceptance of failure in the company, and an acceptance without the fear of being fired or missing out on their bonus. “It’s so key but it’s so hard, you can’t be agile because you can’t take the risks maybe a startup can, every decision needs to be thought out” empathised Emily
As a result of the difficulties with making decisions big brands are often reluctant to drop projects even if they feel like they aren’t worthwhile, meaning people may put a lot of work into a project for it to never be used giving them the sense of disappointment and not being good enough, James said that “once you get a programme running in a corporate, people are terrified of stopping it… no one really wants the responsibility of being the ‘parent’ of the idea then it’s written off at the last minute”. By contrast the tighter resources in a start-up mean the ties are cut much earlier on a lame project.
Start-ups tend to be a lot easier to communicate with than big brands. Why is this?
The panel had very clear views on this also. Bigger brands can seem a lot harder to communicate with than start-ups because they are de-personalised. The fact is that your email may have to go through lots of people before it even reaches the relevant person, and may be seen as irrelevant or unimportant at any stage and just be ignored instead of the sender actually receiving a ‘no’. A good example of a big brand being more agile in this field is Amazon as they make it fairly easy to communicate with people within their company. Start-ups have to be polite and responsive to all their customers and they are good at making quick decisions and responding to emails, big brands can learn from this and try to be more personal.
How do you re-create start-up team dynamics?
It is clear that teams in big brands work differently than those of a start-ups, Start-ups allow everyone to be involved in decisions, you feel like you’re more involved and have a say in the outcome of things and the company is more transparent and honest about things going on within it. The employees can then feel more involved and see the importance their role actually has. Start-ups allow their team to be closer to what they are trying to do because they rely on the equity and so do the team, everyone works together in order to try and get the best out of it, making bringing everyone together a more important factor.
Larger companies are increasingly aspiring to this team dynamic, as they deliver real results at pace. It starts by creating distinct team  units that makes decisions together. The more company’s share information and be consistently open and transparent with employees, the more connected employees will feel, building an  understanding of how they fit into the wider company and the effect of their actions.  “Nothing beats the milestones in the early stages” said Rowly of Resonance and the panel were agreed that they had never got the “jump up and down celebratory buzz of success” when they were working in a corporate. Whereas the whole team is intrinsically linked to getting success in their startups – so it feels so real – and it teaches you to appreciate more and smaller achievements too.

This article was brought to you by Chloe Winyard, marketing executive in the team.