MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES HAVE GIVEN ME A GROUND-LEVEL UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT START UP CULTURE REALLY IS AND WHY IT GETS BLOCKED IN BIG COMPANIES.
Growing up, I never thought I was remotely entrepreneurial. Like many others I bought into the myth that entrepreneurship and creativity was reserved for ‘special’ people and I wasn’t one of those.
But then a simple idea changed my entire life trajectory. On a trip to New York I came across new Starbucks-style coffee bars and fell in love with them as a customer. Back in London I wanted more of those skinny lattes but couldn’t find them. This unmet need was like an idea we all occasionally have – something we miss- but I had no intention of starting a business until my brother persuaded me starting the UK’s first coffee bar chain was a golden opportunity. We both embarked on the road of entrepreneurship, opening Coffee Republic and building it to 110 stores.
We chronicled the breakthroughs and breakdowns of going against the grain in a nation famous for tea drinking in our bestselling book ANYONE CAN DO IT, which has become a cult hit on entrepreneurship and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to take the leap like we did.
But there is more to my story than just inspiration for entrepreneurs. In the beginning, when we were building our company from the kitchen table, the culture was naturally entrepreneurial: agile, flexible, experimental, focused on the customer, and fun. But as it grew, the culture started to change. Not only because of the processes needed to run a larger company but also because the ‘big company‘ types the business started to attract brought with them a ‘big company’ mentality.
This chasm in culture between the scrappy startup I was used to and the big company Coffee Republic turned into drove me away from the business I founded. From the sidelines I saw it flounder and learned the essential message I share as a speaker and consultant to this day: entrepreneurial culture is NOT something you grow out of, but something every business should fight hard to maintain.
How do you keep the entrepreneurial spark alive? You don’t need a complicated theory or complex change initiative. You just need to connect the head with the heart in business. My experience has given me a practical toolkit of simple behavior shifts any employee can learn to do just that.