How top startups in London approach Innovation and Culture

Last week we attended a dinner hosted by Forward Partners for their portfolio companies and mentors. We facilitated the conversation on scaling people and operations, and captured as much of the ensuing conversation as we could here.

On maintaining innovation as your company grows...

  • Be conscious as to whether your team is innovating, or just iterating

  • Protect your MVP approach, even as the company becomes bigger

  • Clearly define KPIs for innovations (e.g., conversion)

  • Design incentives that encourage innovation - both reward and recognition

  • Build space and flexibility for innovation, e.g. create Hackathon days/weeks for employees from different functions to pitch and build innovations to improve the business

  • Assign funding for innovations based on employee votes

  • Encourage ruthless delegation of execution tasks to more junior levels of the organisation to free up experts' times in developing innovation

  • Spark interesting ideas by constantly asking your team "What would we build if we are a new company, without any constraints?"

  • Invite customers to come in regularly and ask "What pain points do you have in your business today?" (rather than "What new product features do you want?")

On building a solid culture...

  • Define your culture early and then iterate on it

  • Easiest to define it around values (though not the only way)

  • Important to make sure everyone has a say to get buy in

  • Values need to be translated into expected behaviours, so that everyone has tangible examples of what living a value means

  • Having values is meaningless if they don’t convert into visible actions

On the limits of transparency within companies…

  • You can push transparency much further than you might think… but it’s not always a good idea!

  • Sharing salaries, records of board meetings, and financial plans are all ok

  • However, individuals’ performance issues should not be shared as this can become very emotional

  • Transparency is easiest when it’s established very early on and then maintained

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