Corporate vs. Startup

As a fellow entrepreneur, this really excites me. Times have certainly changed since I first began my entrepreneurial journey and I am so happy to see so many people identifying entrepreneurship as a respectable, rewarding career choice.

So, what can corporate businesses learn from startups? A question I’ve been asked hundreds of times and one I never tire of answering. I like to think that my businesses adapt characteristics of both as professional, dynamic and flexible organisations.

Firstly, the most important start-up characteristic to think about (and my favourite) is valuing the individual. Often, great people go missing in corporate industries, their particular expertise is not always recognised or taken advantage of and sometimes this can be demotivating as they do not feel valued in their role. I am passionate about people – they are the drivers of a business and attracting the right talent should always be a main objective. One of the best things about startup businesses is they often give their staff the freedom to develop and mould their roles which results in a shared passion for success because they are not limited or constrained by their job title. They’re also not afraid of putting in long hours because in a startup business, everyone has the opportunity to be a hero and upskill quickly because of the ‘everyone muck in’ mentality.

Startups possess the passion to keep moving forward rather than clock watching, there’s not one entrepreneur who made their fortune strictly working 8 hours a day, counting down the minutes until 5:30pm. Now I know there are lots of people working in corporate businesses who love their job but there is certainly something special about being part of a startup business. Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5 job, it’s an all day, every day kind of job. There’s not one person at Hamilton Bradshaw who actively seeks to leave dead on time because they’re here to make a difference and they know that they’re appreciated, they have been specifically selected and are here for a reason. By adopting this strategy, and setting your employees clear objectives for mutual success, you’re adding value to your business; it’s all about sharing passion for your industry with other like-minded individuals.

As well as this, startups have the ability to recognise the impact they can make on someone’s life. Typically, corporate businesses are fixated with how they’re going to bill their first million. This is fundamental in business but what they can often forget is how to go about making that happen, how understanding the importance of people and making an impact internally will be beneficial in the long run, both financially and culturally.

The Swiss Army knife approach is a metaphor I like to use when describing a startups approach to projects – their willingness to be everything at once means they are competent, motivated and happy to accept constructive criticism through mentorship. By offering this to your staff, you are simultaneously bettering your business and their skill set and automatically making yourself more admirable to potential new talent.

The common themes with each of these aspects are pride and humility and I think these are two concepts corporate businesses can often take for granted or leave behind. By incorporating these into your business you are considering the importance of people and will create a work culture that is attractive, effective and ultimately, remunerative.

Image: Startup via Shutterstock


James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.

About James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.