sTARTUp Mindset - what does it really mean?

When we talk about sTARTUp Day, we’re always saying that we’re bringing together people with the startup mindset – not necessarily the founders or entrepreneurs. But what does it really mean? What can be learned from startups? How to inspire people to think more like startups?

We asked parties of different organizations their opinion on startup mindset. Ivo Remmelg (EstBAN investor), Aleks Koha (founder of Promoty), Liisi Org (Startup Community Development Manager), Alvar Lumberg (Engineering Lead at TransferWise), Rein Lemberpuu (CEO of .Contriber) and Merje Klopets (Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Swedbank) are sharing their thoughts and stories about startup mindset and lessons learned from startups.

Please introduce yourself and your story.

Ivo: I am an EstBAN president, angel investor, Superherocapital.com Venture Partner, and romivo.com Partner. I have around 40 startup investments and about 6 exits in my portfolio. 

Aleks: I'm the founder & CEO of Promoty: a startup that’s building a tool that connects brands with influencers. I have a tech background from TalTech but I run the business side of Promoty.

Why do I do what I do? I grew up in Lasnamäe and went to a local school there. I found the physics lesson really interesting and decided I needed to become a really good scientist. Then I looked up how science works and it turns out you need a lot of money to do good science and take mankind to new horizons. So I googled "How to make a lot of money?" and found out that entrepreneurs make a lot of money. Therefore, I decided to become an entrepreneur. Promoty is just the first step for me, it's kinda like Zip2 was for Elon Musk.
Liisi: I’m a Startup Community Development Manager in Startup Estonia, which is a government initiative aimed to supercharge the Estonian startup ecosystem in order to be the birthplace of many more startup success stories. I’ve worked in startups in Estonia and the United States, having several roles. So I’ve seen inside of the startups and how they operate. I’ve organized one of the biggest startup festivals in Estonia – Startup Week Tallinn, as one of the head organizers 2 years in a row and I’ve mentored future founders. Being part of the organization which represents the startup sector, I can see that the Estonian startup ecosystem is in good shape and it’s only continuing to grow. 

Being part of the organization which represents the startup sector, I can see that the Estonian startup ecosystem is in good shape and it’s only continuing to grow. - Liisi Org 

Alvar: I’m an Engineering Lead at TransferWise, a global technology company that’s building the best way to move money around the world. Whether you’re sending money to another country, spending money abroad or making and receiving international business payments, TransferWise is on a mission to make your life easier and save you money.

Rein: I’m CEO of .Contriber. My current venture is to support leaders and founders through .Cocoon – a Founder Psychology Program. We take the founder’s business problem and help them to see how it relates to their personal challenges. We do that through mentoring and events that occur 3-4 times a year.
Merje: I work as a Corporate Social Responsibility Manager in the largest bank of Estonia – Swedbank. We have more than 900,000 private and 132,000 business customers.

What does the startup mindset mean for you?

Aleks: For me, it means to create something from nothing and never stop learning. It means to improve yourself continuously and apply that growth into your goals. Promoty was started with 0 € and a good co-founder.
Remember – death is the default state of things and there is no plan B. So your only option is to win. Retreat is easy when there are other options. If you don’t, you have to burn your ships and go all in like Captain Hernán Cortés in 1519 when he landed in Mexico to conquer the Aztec Empire. Outnumbered, outgunned, he gave no other option to his men and in the end, they prevailed. You have to go all-in and if there is a will there's a way.
Ivo: For me, the startup mindset means being open to new ideas, dedication, commitment, a desire for teamwork and to continually learn and be the best in the narrow field in the world. It is also important to acknowledge own mistakes, learn from others, and be able to always validate ideas with other people.

Startup mindset means being open to new ideas, dedication, commitment, a desire for teamwork and to continually learn and be the best in the narrow field in the world. - Ivo Remmelg

Liisi: Startup mindset is something we all need more in our lives. It tells you to be more bold, to think like a visionary, to embrace risks and listen. It seems easy, but we’re not doing that very often, because we’re not built like this. This is what working in startups teaches you – stand up for yourself, because your ideas can lead somewhere you never imagined. Everything is possible and no matter how cheesy it sounds, life proves us that every step of our way.
Alvar: Here in TransferWise, we believe that tech can solve everyday problems and make our lives easier. Once you’ve identified a problem and started working on a solution, it’s important to align your team behind your mission you’ve taken. Keeping your eyes on that goal helps to keep focus, set relevant objectives and achieve them faster. That said, the best way to go where no one has gone before, is by taking small steps and testing your ideas and hypotheses as you go.
Rein: It means that even if one doesn’t have a clear problem to solve or a clear understanding of how to solve it, nor does one have all the skills in his team and enough finances, he still has a belief that with decent work effort and passion his venture will succeed. I call it the “can do” attitude.

What can be learned from startups?

Aleks: As startups have usually very lean operations, larger companies can adopt methodologies from them to be more efficient and get an edge on the competitors.

Startups can also learn from other startups by keeping an eye on their processes, successes and maybe even more importantly, failures. There are a lot of lessons to learn and sometimes, it's good when someone else is learning it for you so you don't have to go through every blunder.

 

Liisi: In order to succeed, you need to fail several times. Then you pick yourself up and keep going. It is easier to fail if your mindset is telling you that failure is normal. People do that every day and it shouldn’t define you as a person. Consistency is the key.

Rein: Startups tend to have the ability not to give up when things do not evolve as anticipated but rather accept the reality and find another way forward. Another thing that can be learned from the startups is that you can do great things with minimal resources and that if logic fails, then 100 iterations can bring results most did not believe are possible.
Merje: To become a successful startup, one should perceive the trends of the future and be a little ahead of its time. The advantage of a startup is agility, the ability to change course quickly. In large companies, the rules of processes might take the pace off, but also help to decrease the probability of making wrong decisions.

 

How to inspire people to think more like startups?

Ivo: We have to tell more successful startup stories. Good stories inspire.
Aleks: Two things. First, stories have always had great power over the history of mankind. Great stories inspire people. How many people have Steve Jobs or Elon Musk inspired to adopt the startup mindset? Probably a lot, me for sure. Tell the stories.
Secondly, building a startup is a series of experiments and the reality is that most experiments fail. If that happens, some people don’t want to take the risk of doing experiments. Why risk making a fool out of myself? We have to help people get over the fear of failure. Don't beat them down over their failures, make sure they learn from them instead. A failed experiment is in a way a successful experiment as now you know something that doesn't work. And the more you know, the better decisions you can make.

As I mentioned before, people love stories. Stories of failure help people get over their fear of failure. I can assure you all the successful people you know have had some blunders. Yet there they still are, growing and learning.

Great stories inspire people. How many people have Steve Jobs or Elon Musk inspired to adopt the startup mindset? Probably a lot, me for sure. Tell the stories. – Aleks Koha

Liisi: Encourage them. Tell them to think about the things they really want to do. Help them find mentors in everyday life and professional topics. Tell them that everything is possible. Encourage them to try and never be afraid to fail.

Alvar: Not only the goal of what? is important, but also the how? in reaching that goal. Be bold and understand that you're the best person to make changes happen in the field of your work, and changes start from actions. Take small steps, and prefer asking for forgiveness over permission. When people and teams are autonomous, results are achieved faster thanks to skipping long command-chains. Working this way also means the teams who are closest to the product and their expertise can build a sustainable base for the whole company scale from.
One should also be ready to switch roles and tasks if doing so helps them do more towards their or company's mission. All of these points apply outside of startups as well. 

Rein: I’m not sure if people have to think more like startups. Everyone has their own path to walk and a unique contribution to make. For inspiration, storytelling is always a good way to approach and startups tend to have amazing stories of both success and failure.

 

Merje: I believe that spreading the startup mindset should begin in the school system already. It is important to encourage kids to explore new ideas and come up with something different. The courage to sometimes fail and learn from it are also essential skills to develop.


Can you give us some examples of how you have applied the startup mindset in your organization?

Aleks: At Promoty, we have everyone is on the same page, we make it clear from day one what they are getting into. Failure is not a taboo and experiments are encouraged. In our development, we use lean methods and growth hacking cycles to move faster.
As I mentioned before, learning is also important – we even have a Promoty library with a lot of useful, practical books that everyone in the team can read and benefit from. The more each of our team members grows personally reflects on how much we grow as a startup.
Liisi: In Startup Estonia, we see ourselves as a little startup. If something needs to be done, it will be done fast. We test, measure, sometimes fail, sometimes succeed and this is how we are used to work. We communicate a lot with each other and startup community partners to understand what the “clients” want and then we test it, measure it, and get the results. We encourage each other a lot, give advice and listen. That is really important in our work.
Merje: I would say that a startup and a large enterprise with a long history do not have to be something really contrary. It is a matter of mindset. We’re also making a change in fin-tech by being among the first in the region to offer cutting-edge payment solutions such as a smartwatch or Apple Pay payments. As mainly an in-house development we’ve also launched an Open Banking platform and new mobile app. Through Prototron we are supporting fulfilling new entrepreneurship ideas.
I would say that a startup and a large enterprise with a long history do not have to be something really contrary. It is a matter of mindset. - Merje Klopets
Rein: Never stop asking questions and when a task is agreed, get things done!  

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In conclusion, the startup mindset means being open to new ideas, dedication, desire, commitment, and continuous learning. It means to create something from nothing, improving yourself continuously, to think like visionary, set goals, focus and achieve. To go from zero to hero.

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This article was put together by Triin Värv and Kairi Kirotosk.


sTARTUp Day is organized by the University of Tartu, Tartu city, .Contriber, Tartu Science Park, Tartu Centre of Creative Industries, Tartu Biotechnology Park, Tartu Business Advisory Services, Ole Rohkem, and Swedbank.

sTARTUp Day is sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund, Enterprise Estonia (EAS), Visit Estonia and Startup Estonia.




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