09.06.2015

Entrepreneurial Leadership and Startups

Entrepreneurial Leadership is in demand in both Startups and established firms. ”Entrepreneurial leadership involves influencing and directing the group members toward achieving those organizational goals that involve recognizing and exploiting entrepreneurial opportunities.” (Ref: Understanding and Measuring Entrepreneurial Leadership Style by Maija Renko, Ayman El Tarabishy, Alan L. Carsrud, and Malin Brännback, Journal of Small Business Management, 2015).

Personally I recognize the need for entrepreneurial leadership in order to achieve success in any organization. My work experience is both from a Family Business, a big financial institution as well as working as Partner at a Service Design agency. More recently I have been working as advisor and investor in a good number of Finnish startups. The style of leadership may vary in different organizations, but a startup is no different from an established firm. The reasons for success of Apple are often listed to include the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its late CEO Steve Jobs. The same can be said about Tesla Motors and its CEO Elon Musk. Both of these CEO’s have been extremely innovative and demanding. Elon Musk has been quoted as saying: ”Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. This improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour weeks… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.” Obviously this kind of entrepreneurial leadership implies that the whole workforce must be inspired to put in their best effort and believe in the vision shared by its leader. No firm is a one-man band.

The same principles apply to startups, where the founders must be innovative in order to build the business from scratch, whilst managing to obtain funding from business angels or seed investors. In his book ’The Lean Startup’ first published in 2011 Eric Ries defines a newly started company as follows: “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Entrepreneurship is management. It is only a myth that a startup could blossom in total chaos, it never happens and most startups actually fail for many reasons, e.g. they cannot construct the right product or service in order to find enough customers to secure cashflow and profitability. A startup requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty. I am particularly fond of the Lean Startup method (Build – Measure – Learn) as it is a proper tool ”to build capital-efficient companies because it allows startups to recognize that it’s time to pivot sooner, creating less waste of time and money”.

The figure below illustrates what the term ’validated learning’ means in practice. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.“ (Ref: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, 2011).

build_measure_learn

I am currently actively involved in several Finnish startups in different fields of business. My investments focus mainly on Greentech, Corporate Responsibility, as well as ecological products and services based on sustainable business. In any startup the core team is the most important asset. A unique idea is a good start, but its implementation and timing are crucial to success. It is here that the Lean Startup method and validated learning can help the startup find success sooner rather than later. This method is applied in the business development of Plantui, a Design & Food Tech company. Certainly we have made a few mistakes in the case of Plantui since it was founded in 2012, however, we are trying to learn as fast as we can and hopefully it will bring us good results in the near future. Last week team Plantui gave a keynote held at Creative Business Camp. At the event we actually managed to engage the audience and received many useful ideas that we will evaluate. Co-creation of new products and services always involves working with current and potential customers. Co-design should be a working practice in every company.

 

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In the media industry, the subject of my previous research, we can see the same kind of entrepreneurial leadership in those firms that are successful in building new services in the digital ecosystem. Some media startups like The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have already grown to established publishers in their own right, alongside old and well respected media brands like The Economist and The New York Times. Even a startup like Snapchat (photo-messaging app) is now hiring journalists to cover the 2016 presidential race and other news events. New media startups are often faster in developing new services than established media firms. This may be a reason why established Nordic media firms like Alma Media, Bonnier and Sanoma have started their own accelerator and venture programs in order to help build new products and services. Some other Nordic media groups like Aller Media, Otava and Schibsted have acquired startup companies in order to build their digital business and social media marketing competence. More about this in a later blog post on my ’MEDIANOMICS’ blog.

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