Start Up Forever: How to Build a Start Up Culture in a Big Company, by Sahar Hashemi
What is it?
This short book written by Coffee Republic founder Sahar Hashemi aims to support large organisations to behave like a startup: becoming more agile and responsive, and ultimately to retain their market position in the face of disruption. The book centres around 10 ‘shifts’ that Hashemi says are sufficient to develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Is it Good?
Each chapter outlines a shift that an organisation should aim to bring about in order to encourage innovation and follows with concrete actions that can be taken to drive this change. Shifts include getting out and talking to customers, not being obsessed with perfection before fleshing out new ideas, encouraging staff to ask naïve questions and creating a ‘more human’ work culture. The structure means that rather than focussing on the theory, readers have practical things they can immediately implement and test.
Hashemi illustrates all of her points with quotes from business leaders and key texts, including examples from recognisable brands who have driven processes for innovation. This brings the actions to life and gives reassurance that they have been tried and tested.
Sections on attacking bureaucracy and creating a human work culture explain how this has been achieved at L’Oreal by organising their 4,000 employees into 29 small companies centred around one product area, embedding flexible working and not punishing failure. Lots of examples come from her work at Coffee Republic, where staff were assigned a ‘pet’ Coffee Republic store which they would visit regularly and experience from the perspective of a customer, allowing them to identify issues with queuing systems or coffee preparation, and providing opportunities for new ideas to develop.
There’s a lot of well-trodden ground here. ‘Celebrate failure’ will not be new advice to most readers interested in innovation processes, and ‘empathise with your customers’ or ‘constraints drive innovation’ are not revelations, but the examples and the practical suggestions mean that this is a useful set of guidelines for people looking to develop entrepreneurship within a big business. Given that many of the actions require top-down change (e.g. ‘ban eye-rolling’, ‘establish flexible working practices’, ‘attack bureaucracy’) this book is best suited to upper management and board level but could also be appropriate for middle-management operating relatively independently.
Hashemi’s emphasis on understanding customer needs and pain by taking on the role of the customer yourself and by engaging with customers directly are things that are core to the White Space approach:
A recent project for DS Smith had us playing the role of customers to identify frustrations and challenges with a service, a project for British Gas involved us setting up workshops so proposition development teams could interact with prospects directly and almost all projects involve some element of talking to customers and prospects over the phone to better understand their buying processes and the needs the product or service would meet.
This is a quick read, and one that provides a useful set of practical recommendations to anyone working at a big business who wants to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly as an early step along that journey.
We enjoy working with people who are leading spin-outs, or working on innovation within a corporate setting, to help them get closer to their customers. If you’re looking for customer insight or perspectives, particularly in a B2B context, get in touch and see how we could work together.
Project Team Leader