Home > All About ME, Building Business Relationships, higher education, innovation, Sales and Marketing in 2010, What's in my head now? > What Good is a Start Up Company if You Run it Like a Corporation?

What Good is a Start Up Company if You Run it Like a Corporation?

It’s not good. period. I should probably start by telling you what I think of as a corporation: 1) Sign offs 2) “strategic plans” that cannot be altered in a moment’s notice 3) High level executives who want to ‘stick with what they know’.

In my first start up, we went completely outside the box and did things that had never been done before. We didn’t listen to other people’s opinions, but like the book BLINK says, we went with our gut…and we got it right. We had belief in our product (leads), we were able to sell our product, and our CEO / COO that ran the marketing component of our business were not limited by norms. To be more precise, they went against the norms. We ended up with two things: 1) Profitability in under one year 2) A new business model for our industry. If we had been running our business trying to stick with what we knew, not changing or testing things on the ‘fly’, and not listening to the younger / less experienced folks in our organization, none of this would have occurred.

Taking “C” level executives from the corporate world and throwing them into a start up business is not a good thing unless there is balance. If you have 3 “C” level or “VP” level employees from ‘corporate’, they should be balanced by those of us who have succeeded in the ‘start up’ world. There is a reason the same people are successful in start ups again and again and again; they have great business instincts, have no fear, and are tenacious. When they try something that is “outside of the box”, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make it work. They’re out to prove their model. In many companies, they would likely be defined as “rebels” as they may be superstars, but many of their ideas are viewed as outrageous.

Start up people need freedom. They need freedom to make decisions and freedom to act on decisions within a short time frame. Not everything must be laid out in a “plan”. If something works, SCALE IT…and scale it immediately before your competitor does.

Where did this come from? Many companies I work with have solid products…not disruptive technology and neither are all business models different, but the products can certainly beat out that of their competitors. Most have high level executives who come from ‘corporate’ backgrounds; certainly brilliant and experienced in their respective areas, but ‘corporate’ nonetheless. At times, I’m hired to consult in one area that I’ve had immense success in; marketing for higher education. Under the marketing umbrella, many times I’m hired to execute on ONE aspect of that strategic marketing plan. I attempted to remain focused on that specific ‘goal’ and as I’m was executing, it becomes apparent that there are secondary strategies needed to supplement what I was doing. It’s low risk / low cost. I put it out there for the companies to evaluate. Response, “We’ll think about it”…and you could tell the companies weren’t ‘really’ going to think about it. Think about it? 1) Who thinks about anything in a start up? Think about it for 5-10 minutes maybe…and get back to me with an answer. It would be less than a $2K test. I wanted to say, “if it doesn’t work, take it off my paycheck…” but surprisingly keep my mouth shut. 2) DATA. Past data from the same exact type of campaign shows that my ‘gut’ instinct was correct. I guess I should have sat down and made a formal “business case” for what I wanted to do, but it’s a start up – who has the time?

Anyways, as a consultant – even if hired to focus on 1 area of the business…I consider it my “job” to advise on other parts as well. I don’t mind being told, “No”, if there’s a good reason…but for a cheap test, that’s 100% scalable, and historical data proves it works…I don’t want a “No” or an “I’ll think about it”. I want a “Go for it” – like a start up company with a “start up” executive team would do.

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  1. June 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm


    I love the culture of action that surrounds the start-up and, like you, I bemoan the red tape that tangles corporate executives and keeps them from executing an innovative vision. On the other hand, I think the juxtaposition is clearest when you’re looking at large corporations vs. small businesses (not just start ups).

    I don’t work for a start-up, but I do work for a nimble mid-sized business whose CEO is also the Founder/Owner. The company has been in business for more than 15 years, but we turn on a dime when opportunity strikes.

    Maybe this experience can shape the way that you begin interactions with new clients; before agreeing to take business, you might explain that you take a more holistic approach to your consulting practice and make sure they understands that that adds value to your services.

    • June 16, 2010 at 6:36 pm

      Love your advice; you’re 100% right. I like the “holistic approach to consulting” – great line. Thank you.

  2. June 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm


    Nice thoughts on startups vs mature corporations – I agree with pretty much everything you said. I don’t necessarily blame old school corporate executives who’ve been taught risk-aversion tactics, both in pursuing their MBA’s and in real world practices, most companies tend to make very conservative business decisions which hurts growth potential. That’s why it’s common to see companies growth slow down considerably (or crumble altogether) when a founder leaves due do a merger, acquisition, equity swap partnership, etc.. Anyway back to your situation, perhaps depending on the structure of your NDA you could apply the idea you had elsewhere, outside of your relationship with your client.

    • June 17, 2010 at 6:24 am

      Great point about the merger, hadn’t even thought about that. I know I can apply the idea elsewhere; that said, I only take on clients who I genuinely ‘believe’ in the business / product and want them to be successful. I supposed I’m frustrated here because I do see the potential AND believe in it; hence, a bit passionate.

      From another perspective, because I am consulting and not on the “C” level team – perhaps there is a much bigger picture here that I’m missing. That said, I still dont think it should matter ( ;

  3. sbrodows
    June 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Great post Jamie.

    Rule of thumb for startups: the more time spent in meetings, the less likely they will succeed. Actually, upon reflection I think that rule works for big companies as well!

    Key success driver for startups: hire the absolute best people, over communicate with each other, and trust your comrades to do their jobs. Hmmm, again the rule works for big companies too.

    I think I’m on to something here: smart business management works for all types of companies.

    • June 17, 2010 at 6:21 am

      Scott – I think you may be onto something too….hmmmm???? In all seriousness, yes – it would help if all companies were like this; that said, I think it’s more imperative that a start up is like this and ‘like this’ quickly as they don’t have the time to lose or the capital to fall back on if their sales go down.

  4. June 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Makes so much sense, Jamie, especially that last paragraph.

    Pretty sneaky putting comments at the top…Whoops! There goes my big mouth!

  5. June 22, 2010 at 5:00 am

    Your article made very interesting, I really liked it

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