As the founder and CEO of Vestd, the UK’s leading digital equity platform for startups and SMEs, I’m fascinated by our customer’s stories of success.
Recently, I started to wonder whether certain clusters of traits could determine whether companies could rise or fall. Is there a magic formula to take your business from startup to unicorn?
Vestd’s marketing team launched an ambitious research program to find out.
Over the course of three months, the team spoke to hundreds of founders to look for commonalities. What they discovered mirrored numerous heavyweight studies like this one and demonstrated that having a ‘culture of innovation’ is the greatest determiner of prosperity.
But what are the top five attributes that sit behind cultures of innovation? Read on to find out…
Receptivity to new ideas
Innovation doesn’t have to mean sitting around waiting for an Elon Musk sized idea to strike. Some of the most interesting founders Vestd spoke to were inspired by the mundane but they now command growing empires.
Oxwash, for example, is the laundry equivalent of Uber Eats. Based in southern England, the company will pick up dirty clothes, wash and return them, all backed by a simple online booking system. Company founder, Kyle C Grant recalled his moment of inspiration:
“I was fed up trying to wash our rugby team kit in woefully inadequate laundry facilities and found out all my friends at other accommodation blocks had the same problem. I got a deliveroo backpack, spray painted it sky blue and Oxwash was born!”
If it’s boring and frustrating for you, it will be boring and frustrating for others. Dream up a solution and you might just strike gold.
They get knocked down, they get back up again
“I believe you never make a mistake as an entrepreneur. Every single aspect of building a business is all part of the learning process especially when it's your first business.” These words from Rebecca Donaldson, founder of Muse Activewear, were echoed throughout the research.
Sikander Hauser of communication app Droplet told us that his team had to start from scratch twice before launching, to ensure that the app performed as they needed it to. Crucially, all of these stories were swiftly followed by a variation on “but we learned a lot”.
Be open to being wrong. It’s better to develop resilience and tenacity than to launch with something that isn’t quite right. Being adaptable is a key characteristic of a first-rate startup.
There’s only so much a founder can do by him or herself. Any budding startup needs a team that shares a vision and actively pulls in the same direction.
Chris McDonnell of Black Label Creations regularly reminds his team of the vision, and of what their goals and mission are. He told us that, “when the team believes in the same values, it's easier for them to make decisions and steer in the right direction.”
Many companies do this by having a clear ambition and brand personality to point to. But we also repeatedly heard that share schemes can help founders leapfrog their way towards achieving highly motivated and joined-up teams.
As Ruari Fairbairns of One Year No Beer (OYNB) told us, his share scheme “has bonded us all together with a common goal. They [the team] are invested in the business and they are excited to see the growth.”
Trust and openness
As you build your team, you’ll be selecting the best candidates for the roles so why wouldn’t you trust them? Micromanaging or second-guessing is the easiest way to kill team rapport and to kill individual job enthusiasm.
Ensure that your team knows that not only do you trust them to get on with their to-do list, but that you also encourage them to share their opinions:
Ben Scott-Robinson from The Small Robot Company had some great ideas to cultivate team openness.
“We have a rolling anonymous survey across the company, to allow people to express areas of dissatisfaction and show where we can get better, and we are obliged to follow them.”
“We have also discussed encouraging forming a union to guarantee people’s voices can be heard.”
Learn from others, join forces with others
Lack of research is one of the leading reasons for business failure. Do your homework and look to what other similar businesses have done before you, to see what they did right and wrong.
Equally, reach out to others working in your field. You need to create networks and potentially buddy up with other businesses in order to accelerate your own success.
Jahirul Amin, founder of CAVE Academy told us that his special effects design studio regularly joins forces with a wide range of “game-changing” companies such as Clear Angle Studios, ILM, DNEG, Framestore and Rebellion. By delivering training with established partners such as these means that CAVE can continue being “at the forefront of what is happening in visual storytelling.”
Getting the fundamentals in place
What the research tangibly tells us is that success is the result of many factors. It isn’t simply the result of one excellent idea or a deep well of money.
Aside from our ‘Top 5’ listed above, our research also uncovered that using the right tools and adhering to routines that work ‘for the individual’ are also incredibly important, particularly in the current Covid-disrupted circumstances. But all roads continually lead back to culture.
Your business culture will make or break your fortunes so invest time at the earliest into providing a creative and welcoming environment, and you’ll reap the rewards over time.