Think Like a Startup

January 7, 2021

I’ve always found disruptive innovation very interesting. What is even more interesting, is how some of the most innovative breakthroughs come from companies and startups with very little money, resources or experience. Yet, the likes of Air BnB, Netflix, Uber and Amazon for example, all managed to massively disrupt their respective industries and become household names.

So what can we learn from this? What is the secret sauce that leads a startup towards success and what pushes them to make their products and services a success?

There are certain characteristics of startups that lend themselves to rapid growth, agility and the ability to squeeze the most out of every opportunity and situation. It doesn’t matter if you are a startup founder, a builder or a creator of any kind. Thinking like a startup has merits in learning how to grow and become an efficient operator across different verticals.

What does it come down to?


Most entrepreneurs and startups are curious by nature. Curiosity is a form of knowledge gathering that helps to spark innovation and the creation of outstanding products and services. Startups and entrepreneurs consistently try to challenge conventional wisdom. They carry a certain disregard for the status quo and understand that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it always should be. This curiosity pushes them to gain new insights and bring new ideas to the world.

Curiosity creates an opportunity to improve. Staying curious about your competition, and your industry will help you see around corners and avoid pitfalls. This is clearly a sentiment that many larger companies fail to foster as they grow and mature, evidenced by the success of the startups we mentioned earlier.


Don’t our passions get us into some ridiculous situations sometimes? It’s hard to be wholeheartedly committed to something if you don’t love what you do. Carrying a passion for the problem one is trying to solve is what helps entrepreneurs keep executing through the pain points of the ups and downs they experience along the way.

“Entrepreneurial passion is a motivational construct characterized by positive emotional arousal, internal drive and engagement with personally meaningful work that is salient to the self-identify of the entrepreneur.”

Passion is palpable and you can always feel when someone is communicating a vision that is aligned with that which they are passionate about. Passion can help entrepreneurs facilitate persuasive arguments, but it also needs to be backed up by execution on ideas.


This appears to be another trademark of early stage founders and entrepreneurs. It is probably one of the best traits to wield when one lacks experience and funding. Being resource-constrained forces startups to be more disciplined and build more intelligently. Some of the most amazing PR stunts have been the result of a lack of resources.

Air BnB has a great story about how they paid off some early credit card debt. It was 2008 and it was presidential election year in the US. The Air BnB founders decided to design and sell limited edition cereal boxes and call them Obama O’s & Captain McCain. They had 1,000 custom boxes printed up and bought a ton of Cheerios and Captain Crunch. Finally, they put the boxes together with a hot glue gun in their apartment and put a $40 price tag on each box.

They managed to get featured on national television and in 24-hours they sold 1,000 cereal pocketing $30,000 in profit. In 2011, Air BnB spun up another PR stunt and rented out the entire principality of Lichtenstein for $70,000 per night.

An ode to what being resourceful can do. Founders and entrepreneurs are forced to think outside the box when it comes to making moves and taking chances about how they can grow and evolve their business. Resourceful startups see problems as opportunities and strive to be creative in the face of unfruitful situations. They know there is an answer and a solution, and while it may take them some time to get to the answer, their resiliency keeps them moving to the next possible solution.

Have Future Driven Vision

Being future focused is another strength of great leaders and visionary entrepreneurs. Allow yourself to explore the possibilities and opportunities that lie for you and your business when you think 5-10 years into the future.

Future orientation is one of the most important parts of entrepreneurial thinking. Understanding that the future remains unwritten and using entrepreneurial vision to reverse engineer the actions you can take today to move you towards where you want to be is an amazing skill to hone. This allows one to set targets for future goals and ask the question of “what actions do I need to take now to make that happen”?

While many entrepreneurs know they are always creating their future, many young people do not. It has to be learned. I think this is why it is so important to get young people to think like entrepreneurs and startups. It serves to orient their thinking and actions towards the future.

Speed & Agility

Small businesses have a better opportunity than ever before to disrupt large incumbents. The ubiquity of technology has levelled the playing field. The speed and agility with which small teams can build new products and launch them to large audiences is rapid now.

  • Whatsapp sold to facebook for $19 Billion with only 55 employees.
  • Instagram only had 30 employees for 30 million users at the time they sold to facebook.

This serves as a huge advantage for small teams and businesses. Failing fast and giving yourself the freedom to pivot is a luxury that small teams and entrepreneurs have over large organizations. Startups sprint towards their goals while larger companies spend time debating over policies and red tape.

Particularly in the technology space, speed is seen as a huge asset in product development. The quicker you can release a working product and begin gathering feedback from users the better.

Simply put, startups have to put an emphasis on taking action against decisions right away. They execute plans immediately.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”

Once they decide on a course of action they take it. They don’t wait, rethink or hesitate. Startup speed it about survival, and they know it. The companies that execute the fastest then to last the longest. The companies that move slowly, quickly disappear.

Think like a Startup

So no matter what position you are in, I think there is a lot that can be learned from the way in which startups function and operate. Thinking like a startup forces us to look at situations through a different lens. You don’t need to hesitate. Start taking action today and unleash your creativity on the world.

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