Working with startups has made me started wondering: how is it different from providing consulting work to large corporations on large-scale projects?
So I am trying to list out what I have found out so far (yes, this is definitely a work in progress – or as consultants love to say, a living document).
1. Founders are more sensitive to their startups
Obviously senior management in large corporations are also sensitive about their respective area of business, but they are usually worried about job security, office politics, etc. I am not saying management in large companies don’t ‘care’/’love’ about what they do, but at least in comparisons with startups, they are not as sensitive, or perhaps not as ‘personal’.
Therefore, it’s important to not to point out problems too early (those ‘low hanging fruits’ that we love). The startup is like the founder’s ‘baby’. No one likes to take criticism on their children – even if they also see the same thing. It takes different skills to communicate to founders. This then leads to the second point.
2. It’s not about credential (as much)
In large consulting shops, it’s about the brand, the consultants’ CVs and credentials (similar projects that they have done before). But in the startup world, it is different. First, every startup is different (at least most founders believe their startups are truly unique). Second, there are not that many consulting work that has been done on early stage startups. This is why most startups rely on ‘mentors’, people who have done similar projects before and have become successful (although the role of mentors and consultants/advisors should be very different).
In any case, it’s important to gain trust of the founders first.
3. Keep advice to the minimal
Sometimes consultants fall into the trap of giving too many advice – particularly in the public sector, the thickness of the consultant’s report could be perceived to be related to the fees charged. However, for startups, the founders usually can only handle a very handful of advice. Sometimes may even be just one.
To keep things simple and actionable is key.