What Startups Can Learn From Big Company Challenges

Published on September 13, 2022

What advice would you give to your younger self? This is as true for startups as it is for humans. As Grit Daily’s Cory Maki reminds us, “Many first-time entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that their business will automatically thrive just because they have a great idea. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.”

I work with startups, I work with some of the largest companies in the world, and I am an entrepreneur myself, through and through. I witness the life cycle of organizations – and some of the tremendous challenges they face as they grow and operate at scale.

As if the startup journey were not challenging enough, it is now more tumultuous than ever with so many challenges threatening startups, as evidenced in just the recent shockwaves caused by the global pandemic and crisis in the Ukraine. It’s one thing to have the right vision, customers, market, and business model, but there’s another thing: an organization must do change well.

Change comes in many forms – growth; shifts in customers, products, business models, and business ecosystems; mergers and acquisitions; even enterprise-wide transformations – but change is always there and always will be.

So, what is my advice for startups? Build your organization with agility and resilience from the beginning, and build your muscle to do change well from strategy to execution.

Startups need great leaders, but they also need great structures for the organization grow and evolve and embody the right mindset. One of the critical, and often missing, structures is a business blueprint, which is a macro level view of what an organization does. This business blueprint is appropriately called a business architecture and is used to translate strategies and ideas into action, design and redesign an organization with intent, and make holistic decisions.

The concept of a business architecture is further described in this excerpt from the book Strategy to Reality: Making the Impossible Possible for Business Architects, Change Makers and Strategy Execution Leaders.

Picture this. You are building the home of your dreams. You can already see and feel yourself inside it, the years flashing through your mind filled with family gatherings, quiet moments, and just life. You send a one-line e-mail to your general contractor summarizing your vision. The following day, all the workers show up, ready to realize your magnificent concept into physical reality. What could go wrong?

Hold on. You would never build your dream home without creating a blueprint, and you would not just start knocking down walls to build an addition onto your home without consulting a blueprint or certified structural engineer, right? So why then do we embark upon major business transformations within our organizations without a cohesive understanding of where we are, where we are going, or how we will get there?

We all see entirely different and incomplete pictures in our minds about what we think our organization does, depending on our purview. Without a business architecture, no one sees or shares a common view of the organization in its entirety, yet we all expect to arrive in the same place and achieve our goals. (And yes, the one-line email is a real example, though it was created by an executive to articulate a two-million-dollar transformation effort to a technology team!)

The power of clear intent translated into organized effort not only builds dream homes, but gleaming cities, functional societies, effective organizations, robust business ecosystems, and every good and service we interact with in our daily lives. Blueprints are a vehicle to create understanding and activate change. A business architecture is a blueprint of an organization that creates common understanding and aligns strategy and execution.

Business architecture tells us how an organization is structured to deliver value to its customers and support its operations. There are no other views or techniques like it. In our world of complexity and detail, what makes business architecture so unique is that we can see an entire organization and the business ecosystem in which it operates from a bird’s eye view and through a refreshing new lens: the whole.

Startups should create their business architectures right from the start. As an organization scales, the business architecture will expand with it, providing an invaluable foundation for growth. This also embeds architectural thinking into the DNA of an organization to help facilitate modular and flexible design, fresh innovation ideas, consistent and integrated experiences for people, and rapid business change.

Whynde Kuehn is the Founder and Managing Director of S2E Transformation. She created S2E to help clients bridge the gap between strategy and execution, and achieve their greatest visions for business and digital transformation in a practical, business-focused way. She has extensive experience in enterprise transformation and planning, and was a key architect and leader in one of the largest business transformations in the world. She also led one of the largest business transformation and architecture consulting practices, growing it from two people to one hundred, prior to starting S2E.

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