How thinking like a start-up can drive business growth

When innovation is driving business growth on a scale like never before.

We look at how brands can bring some of this sparkle to their organisations. 

Innovation is more than just technology. It’s big ideas and creative thinking. And whether you’ve got 5 or 500 employees, it’s innovative thinking that drives business growth. So, what’s your business doing about it?

It’s true that when we think about current innovators, global tech giants Google and Facebook spring to mind as leading the technology landscape.

Just as Coca-Cola took over orange juice and water brands in the nineties, Facebook is a busy parent brand with multiple babies like Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat, all hungry for success and craving our constant attention.

Yet you don’t have to be a technology company to apply innovative thinking to drive business growth. What’s more, today’s innovators aren’t all wearing size nines and above. For SMEs and start-ups, innovation is at the heart of their offering and has become a necessity in order to thrive and grow.

The business success stories of tomorrow work with agility, using close-knit teams to collaborate and build upon achievements leading to greater productivity and profitability.

These innovators really know the difference that engaged employees make.

As a result, they’re challenging the giants of the corporate world, whose movements are slower and more laboured thanks to complex hierarchies and long-winded processes.

So, what can your organisation learn from these inspiring start-ups? And how can you bring greater innovation to the table?


Sure, start-up success in this decade has largely been driven by innovation. In their position as challenger brands, start-ups can take a pro-active approach to innovation, providing solutions to address consumer needs as identified through understanding consumer behaviour. Many of these use apps to broaden a brand’s opportunity with global audiences.

Tim Berners-Lee once said, “The web, as I envisaged it, we have not seen yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

Brands are realising the potential in disrupting existing business models, particularly those in traditionally conservative sectors like banking and other professional services.

Leading innovators in the start-up revolution focus on audience experiences, with an emphasis on variety and quality. We all know how challenger brands like Airbnb and Deliveroo have been leading the way in matching customers with a service experience. They’ve done it so well, that they’re positively mainstream.

Yet there are also a plethora of other brands like Sofar Sounds, Monzo and ClassPass who all challenge the way we interact with customer services like gyms, banks and entertainment, and this trend is set to continue.

But it’s not just start-ups that can learn from the link between innovation and business growth. PwC’s ‘Global Innovation Survey: Innovation, growth and business strategy’ states, “Innovation is moving up the boardroom agenda as companies recognise its vital importance in sustaining growth.”

If you’re not talking about innovation, you need to be. 


The big success story that we’re hearing about right now is WeWork. Launched in 2010 and created by two American entrepreneurs, WeWork is the hip shared office space provider. Now in 56 cities and 18 countries, it reached London in 2014 and is worth some $20bn, an increase from $10bn from August 2015 according to this news report. It’s a staggering success story, so what has WeWork got that other businesses don’t?

Co-founder Neumann says, “We don’t need to spend money on marketing. Because we’re part of a mission and a movement. And if you’re part of a mission and a movement, your members will sell you. If they’re doing something great that makes them feel good and they’re excited about it, they’ll post it. Everyone wants to be part of something.”

In addition, their genius is valued because they are viewed as a technology company, not an estate agent marketing co-working space. As Neumann explains, “We happen to need buildings like Uber happens to need cars, like Airbnb happens to need apartments,” says Neumann. WeWork isn’t classified as real estate. It’s a “platform for creators” and therefore sits under the technology bracket in terms of being an innovator.

Simply put, WeWork’s success is down to a combination of extreme employee engagement and innovation. We want what they’re having please.

The Ultimate Guide To Setting Up A Staff Incentive Programme


It’s fascinating to see how quickly companies like WeWork have grown in value in a limited time. Without doubt, employee engagement plays a massive part in their winning formula.

Start-ups like this encourage innovative thinking and it’s this innovation that touches every part of their business to build this success. It’s also why they’re masters of engagement at work, with employees who are engaged and willing to go the extra mile to bring growth and opportunity to the business.

If you’re not a start-up, keep listening. This has big implications for businesses everywhere – small and large.

The Sodexo ‘Move, Mould and Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ tells us that it’s people engagement that drives innovation across organisations. Lean in, this is the important bit: 59% of engaged employees said their jobs bring out their most creative ideas, as opposed to 3% of those less engaged.

When your employee is engaged, they are more open to sharing their best ideas – and as Mastercard would say, these ideas are priceless.

Gallup research also says, “workplace engagement is a powerful factor in catalysing “outside-the-box” thinking to improve management and business processes as well as customer service. 


It’s all very well wanting people to be more innovative, but you need to help them get there. Senior management have a big part to play in making this happen. 

Give innovation leaders freedom

By definition, innovative ideas are unknown in the marketplace yet, and won’t know what the product or market will look like in a year or so, never mind three years down the line. To encourage innovative thinking, staff need freedom to work outside their daily business-as-usual tasks and demands.


When allowed to try new things, a gem of an idea can grow and become something bigger. Large enterprises tend to be intolerant of risks, yet when innovating, risks and failure give companies a chance to learn and improve. Don’t be the employer that shuts down creativity from the outset. 


Many creative and innovative companies have break out areas and open spaces where employees can interact and facilitate group discussions and problem solving. Google Cafés are a great example of how employee interaction is given prominence to stimulate idea growth – a meeting of minds, if you will.

WeWork offer a free bar at six o’clock every Friday to get people together. Co-founder Neumann says, “We ran the numbers on it and it wasn’t that expensive. I felt that, as a business, having a beer together at six o’clock really brings people together.”

Simon Sinek, Author of ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’ says, “Everyone has the capacity to do remarkable things, it depends on their environment.” Take note.


It’s group discussion and collaboration that really helps to inspire and drive people engagement. No one should be shut down from sharing ideas, and managers need to encourage this behaviour change. A good manager will identify where employees need encouragement, modelling and even incentivising this behaviour.

Simon Sinek adds, “A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it by themselves, to get things done, and to build success beyond what they thought possible.”


A good incentive and recognition programme can help to add positivity to the workplace. From staff incentive programmes to staff rewards in the form of corporate gift cards or otherwise, an unexpected thank you can be a nice touch. Anything you can do to promote employee wellbeing will feed into greater engagement at work, improving performance and motivating behaviour change.


It’s not just customers that need to ‘get’ your brand. If your people have a clear idea of the company vision and a good understanding of it, they will work with purpose and have a clear view of the goals they are trying to attain. Sounds obvious to those in the know, but it’s worth thinking about, particularly as PwC’s Strategy & Survey revealed that companies with clear identities tend to enjoy stronger performance and drive greater success.

Brands with distinctive products can show they provide value and are unique and consistent over time. Employees can then run with this understanding and lead by example.


The bottom line is, to truly innovate and drive business growth, you need to focus on employee empowerment. It’s not just for start-ups, as we’ve seen; Google are doing it for themselves and there’s nothing small about those guys. You don’t need to be a technology company or offer a platform service either.

By creating a more positive workplace culture, you can think and act with agility, putting your employees at the heart of your offering.

Switch on to innovation and everyone else will switch on with you.

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