The Better Work Project: Thinking like a start-up

08 October

Start-ups are all the rage with their fast-paced culture, endless optimism, free flow of ideas and the ability to be nimble and move quickly to chase success. So what can larger, more established companies learn from start-ups, and what do they need to do to make the shift? In this podcast, Tim McLoughlin, Partner at Cofounders Capital joins us to discuss start-up thinking.



  • From a start-up funding perspective, honestly and integrity is important as is an entrepreneurial mindset and a flurry of activity. Founders have to know their business by heart.
  • Some of these characteristics can be taught, but knowing what’s important and how to adapt is key.
  • People that have worked in large corporates don’t always translate well over to a start-up.
  • There are often barriers for large corporate players. What’s made them successful can be the antithesis to what makes them entrepreneurial. Policies, processes, and regulation can really get in the way.
  • Large organisations are structured in a hierarchical and siloed way. As a result, there’s less ownership because they only own part of it. We want people to feel accountable but also able and empowered.
  • What made an organisation successful in the past won’t always make them successful in the future. A founder might for instance get stuck in the weeds and get involved in everything but are less able to do so as the organisation grows.
  • A start-up mentality can apply to any company, irrespective of size, but the reality is that’s not often the case.
  • The bigger the business, often the more bureaucratic, the more complicated, the more risk adverse and the greater the hierarchy.
  • Start-ups are fast, intense, innovative, and they are clear on their purpose.
  • Start-ups embrace change in a way that large established organisations struggle with. They value a growth mindset and being experimental. They make room to think outside the box, make room to make mistakes, and make room for learning.
  • There’s a chasm better start-ups and big companies.
  • There’s often a danger point when a start-up founder leaves and the replacement has a more bureaucratic mindset.
  • Some companies and entrepreneurs have shiny-object syndrome, so they chose to pivot. It is important to understand if it is a true pivot and if so, recognise if they have the support to get to the next inflection point.
  • There’s a sunk cost fallacy challenge where big financial investments are made and we become so emotionally invested, so it becomes hard to let go.
  • Organisations are learning about design thinking and lean start-up which has helped shift the mindset away from think big and act slowly. A big shift in mindset is needed so it’s not all or nothing.
  • Status quo is an invisible killer. Businesses often get to the point that when they want to make a pivot so late that there are so many missing links and not enough to invest so the pivot becomes a death spiral.
  • Revenue and other metrics are lagging indicators, start-ups are good at using early stage metrics.
  • The overall focus for any company needs to be on building a great product that has a clear market fit. Most failures come down to product/market fit.
  • Failure typically result from a failure in launch, failure in operations or failure in premise. Most failures are the last one meaning the product/market fit isn’t right.
  • Finding out what people like and will spend money on is challenging. Sometimes great ideas don’t work, so we need to try a lot of different things.
  • Our planning needs to be more adaptive if we want to be more resilient, more customer-centric and more future-focussed.
  • Lean start-ups do a good job of get out of the building and talking with people to get customer feedback.
  • This is requires a real step change for many businesses.
  • Learn from people that don’t say yes. You’ll learn a lot from them. What can you learn from a customer that didn’t buy or a potential employee that said no.