Startup life vs Small business(SME). 5 things I learned about accelerating business growth…

By Gilbert Kumpukwe

It hasn’t been long since I started a new career, venturing into the ever changing digital marketing world. And since then, I’ve worked in two small businesses and one award winning innovative startup that has taken its learning locally and pivoted itself to international success.

During my brief time and experience, I learned more in a few months than my combined experiences with two small businesses.

1.Growth and Finance

The first thing I learned was the growth model of a startup which was rather new and more transparent than small business. A Startup needs to figure out how it can grow from ‘Zero to a Hundred’, in 6 months, 8 months, or less than 12 months through various methods.

One of the most common ones is going through successive rounds of funding from private investors or as its termed ‘seed funding’. The other method could be running some crowdfunding campaign, one I learnt about was KickStarter for example.

The graph looks something like this for a successful startup:

Source: Appster

This is when I had my ”Ah hah!” moment, when I quickly came to learn about the concept of ”Growth” or more appropriately termed; Growth Marketing, for those unfamiliar to the concept.

Truth be told, I became more enthusiastic about being called a Growth Marketer than I was about being called a Digital or Social media marketer…

Growth Marketer just sounded much more punchier, and more promising too! No offense to anyone’s title:)

I remembered reading an article written by Scott Anthony (Innosight Managing Partner) and finally understanding why he said that every company is in the process of dying.

Speaking about how innovations fall into two categories, Scott says:

“…those innovations that extend today’s business, either by enhancing existing offerings or by improving operations — and the other are innovations that generate future growth via reaching new customer segments or markets, often using new business models.”

Source: B&T

Now, unfortunately I never got the chance to be introduced to a growth plan of any sort for a small business but as far as I could tell, they’re very much focused on acquiring funding through some form of government funding or grant. But also very popular, tendering for contracts.

However, there was no real recognizable or at least clear path to longevity, especially from the perspective of sourcing out new growth segments through innovative product offerings.

There weren’t any promises as to how the investment received would fund any new growth models, it seemed however that achieving a steady-growth rate like a big business would suffice.

2. Teams, or better yet (Growth teams)

Startups are built around teams that have different skill sets useful for growing the company and there’s a strong emphasis on cross-functional engagement or cross-departmental integration to bring new ideas to the table.


Someone working on product development, also works with sales, marketing, research, and in today’s technically driven businesses or SaaS companies, software engineers are especially relevant. More and more are data analysts, software engineers and even technical SEO experts put into the mix, each with their own function but brought in to deliver collective ideas for powering growth.

The second industrial revolution’s successes with mass production might just be today’s future failures. Why?

Because “Mass production methods are based on two general principles: (1) the division and specialization of human labour and (2) the use of tools, machinery, and other equipment, usually automated, in the production of standard, interchangeable parts and products”

It is the nature of this division of labor and its hindrance in providing opportunities for colleagues possibly qualified to give value insight into the business that impedes collaboration around growth.

My experiences prior to working in a startup, though there was some cross-departmental brainstorming like working on a doc or a proposal together.

In a small business, there lacked that burning desire to brainstorm and converge around Growth ideas as intensely as it is in a Startup’s DNA.

A startup can grow 20 times within a year and some of them are still not satisfied with it. However, a corporation gets satisfied with just 5% growth per year.” Rafi Chowdhury


It became quite apparent what the goals were for each, and from what I learned:

A startup’s goal is to enter a market and disrupt! The same way Tesla aims to disrupt the automobile industry with electrically powered vehicles. The way Dropbox has disrupted file sharing, the way Air bnb has disrupted how you find your next vacation stay and how Uber has disrupted the taxi and transportation industry.

Knocking out the bigger players when they least expect it, standard!

In contrast…

A small business comes into the market to exist and use all its efforts(sometimes in vain) to stand out from its competitors, who are all offering very similar products with very little differentiation among them.

A startup looks at its current product, and thinks about how it can innovate and develop it further, what improvements it can make. If it’s an app for example, analyzing user data to learn about how its used so as to learn which features to improve or focus on.

A small business on the other hand, seems to work towards renting new space in a prime area to be seen by customers, buying more equipment or machinery, to new technology and having more employees, and maybe re-branding itself (generally logo or name) as part of expansion.

4.Internal/External communication

Now, startups are early adopters of some pretty cool tools and software that make for seamless collaboration or communication within the organization and to customers.

We probably all know about using Google’s cloud services like Google Docs, or sharing something using Dropbox. And of course the dreaded long email threads between colleagues.

But then, you get the new kids on the block…

Slack, Yammer (Instant internal messaging tool) – The Whatsapp for work

Trello, Asana (Task and workflow system)

Mailchimp, Mandrill (Email Marketing and tracking)

Insightly, Zoho ( Customer Relationship Management)

BigTeam (Internal Feedback)

These are just a few of course and they’re all focused on improving productivity and workflow in today’s businesses and organizations.

5.Agile and transparent

This is where I truly learned about transparency and the advantages of being nimble and agile for the same goals.

When something in the market changed, so did we, through research we quickly built and developed a new product that proved better product market fit.

Not only was I a marketer, but also became a researcher. I worked alongside sales to craft up some persuasive cold emails. At some point the graphic designer also became a web copywriter.

I worked with the web developer to improve SEO.

We were all very nimble, wearing different hats like a ‘Jack of all Trades’

All of this and at different stages required our input and feedback, with the company’s positioning, branding and messaging.

The question was always around, How could we improve?

And this was particularly apparent with the recent introduction of a new product, everyone was involved in a joint venture that is; Growth.

Or, as I like to term it- Agile Growth.

The level of interdependence, cohesion and having one vision was very vivid as opposed to working in small business. Everything about the business was also very transparent at the different stages.

In conclusion;

If you want to grow and stand out—-Have a great team with today’s in-demand skills and Innovate!

If you want to start a company—-Find a market that’s Under serviced, Over priced, and Disrupt!

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