Speedboats and Supertankers: Startups and Big Business

Big business is all about the setting the right course and maintaining it. Startups are all about getting somewhere fast, even if it’s not the right somewhere.

They say turning an existing big business around is like turning a supertanker. It takes a lot of time and distance. There is inertia in the existing business, a reluctance to change.

If that is true of bigger businesses then startups are like speedboats. And who wouldn’t want to be described as a speed boat? Moving fast, quick to change direction.

Startups are quick, quick to get to an MVP, quick to roll out a feature, quick to make the changes that often take big businesses years to make.

In my time working with many startups is that the very thing that makes startups like speedboats is often the same thing that causes them real problems.

Going somewhere fast supposes you know the right direction to take, that your speedboat is going the right way. Often startups are hurtling at speed in the wrong direction.

In the startup world even just a few weeks at full velocity in not quite the right direction can put you way of course. And that’s what I’m finding myself doing more and more with my startup clients, making sure that all their energy, enthusiasm and limited resources are all focused in the right direction.

The biggest reason startups fail is a non viable business model.

I’m seeing startups launch straight into an iOS app. Web apps sell more and dedicated app usage is down 38%. Speeding into an iOS app means you hire the wrong people, and struggle to activate and retain users. Build the web app first. Web apps are easier to attract new users, easier to encourage users back to and they fit better into search and social ecosystems. In short web apps are generally a better business model.

This is just one example, there are many other examples I’ve seen of an incorrect product direction based on a poor business model. Hurtling towards an ill defined market, with little user research and not much in the way of a robust business model.

Course changes can be quick but if they aren’t the right course changes then the startup goes speeding in a different, perhaps incorrect direction. There are only so many times a startup can pivot.

Speed is no good to you if you are going the wrong way and course correction is no good if you can’t confidently choose a new direction. If you’ve got a niggling feeling you might be going the wrong way, get in touch and I’ll be honest and frank with you. I can of course help you figure out the right direction as well.

Big business is all about the setting the right course and maintaining it. Startups are all about getting somewhere fast, even if it’s not the right somewhere. Let’s stop that.


Also published on Medium.

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