5 Lessons to learn from the world's best startups

BY Rebecca Oatley

18th Oct 2023 Lifestyle

4 min read

5 Lessons to learn from the world's best startups
Having worked with high-growth startups for over two decades, Rebecca Oatley shares five lessons you can learn from some of the best
Have you ever looked at the founders of multi-million dollar companies and think how did they get there?
After 25 years of working with high-growth startups, I have had the privilege of consulting incredibly successful entrepreneurs on their marketing and communications, and watching their organisations grow from ambitious to global leading, and from unknown to being on everyone’s lips.
This year, we’re launching a programme to help new entrepreneurs on their journey to success, applying decades of experience with the world’s most ambitious founders. For one brilliant young company, Cherish PR's Communications Accelerator programme will support them throughout 2024, and applications are open until the end of this month. 
So, what lessons can we learn from renowned startups? 

You’re probably not the first 

Let’s begin with the thought that if you have a great idea, then you're probably not the first to have it, and believe it or not, that’s okay. There is plenty of room for a few competitors and the more positive awareness that is generated in the market, the easier it is for your product or service to take hold.
"If you have a great idea, then you're probably not the first to have it, and that’s okay"
Great founders are open and share, collaborate and create, build alliances with similar or complementary businesses. They know that they can get to their destination faster if they grow the market together, but they invest in their own brand and build awareness for their own products so that they can realise the opportunity. 

Keep changing and evolving

Life rarely stays the same, just look at the last few years of trading conditions with a pandemic, Brexit, rocketing interest rates and now the presence of war.
Like life, changing business conditions are simply “business as usual”. Life is not always upwards. Downturns are valuable because they focus you on what matters, what’s strong, and hardship drives reinvention. If you are struggling at the moment, double down on what you’re best at and what’s most profitable and do it well and make it known. Perhaps evolve it? Think of ways to reintroduce it to the market, maybe future fit it ready for the upturn.  
Rebecca Oatley, founder of Cherish PR
Personally, looking back over the past 20 years, my agency has been through two or three strategic evolutionary phases, driven by downturns and upturns, markets shrinking and new ones appearing. That’s the nature of business. Never be afraid to change and evolve.

Businesses are for customers not for Founders

We love a charismatic founder. They have the vision, and their eternal energy drives the business forward. They can be fabulously stimulating and furiously frustrating.
"The smartest founders ask for advice help and guidance from experts"
However, we have also witnessed founders who have taken their passion a step too far. They override their customer in importance. They steamroller an initiative without listening to the advice of experts, feedback from customers and exert pressure on those around them simply because they’re the boss. The business quickly becomes poisonous, the best people leave and the opportunity to succeed diminishes.
The smartest founders ask for advice help and guidance from experts and they listen to it. They consider their decision making in the context of this advice and they are happy to back down and give others a chance. Fortunately, there are many founders like this too!

Your network is your net worth

It seems strange to say that this is a lesson that I have learned from my clients. In running a small business, I have neglected a few things, and they tend to be the bits that I am least comfortable with. For some people that may be the HR, others finance. For me, that was networking. The thought of spending early mornings and evenings with coffee or wine in hand walking up to strangers and making conversation, well that was terrifying and stomach churning in equal measure. 
Man and woman talking over coffee
However, learning from the world’s leading founders and I realised that your network is your net worth. New connections are the lifeblood of business opportunity and time spent in growing your network is incredibly valuable. I now try to arrange at least 3-4 meetings per week both face-to-face and in person. Strangely for me, it’s now one of the elements of my job that I enjoy the most!

Ignore the numbers at your peril

I experienced the dot com boom and bust. I remember scratching my head as I watched those early investments in digital technologies shrink because at that time, customers weren’t even online. There was no way these businesses could sell when most homes didn’t even have a router. Despite companies being valued in their billions, they weren’t even profitable? How could that be?
"Whether it’s thousands or billions, investment needs a return"
Whether it’s thousands or billions, investment needs a return, and the smartest founders are acutely aware that they need to demonstrate not just how they spend the investment but showcase their pathway to a positive EBITDA
Understanding and setting expected returns and then keeping a focus on business development, sales and revenue with having a rein on spending is crucial. This doesn’t mean you cannot and should not invest but be clear on how this will pay the business back.
Finally, let’s face it, how many Uber, Tesla, Amazon exist? Many founders exit well before they add multiple zeros to their company value, and they look back on the journey they took as much as their eventual exit. One thing I have seen from every founder I have worked with is that they are enjoying the journey and when they don’t, they stop, they change, or they pivot.
So, do try to experience something new every day and remember the good times alongside the challenges.
To enter the Cherish Communications Accelerator programme, simply visit: Cherish Celebrates 20 Years | Cherish PR
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