When is an SME still a startup?

Sounds odd doesn't it. But I believe that we've always been a startup at Ooba.


Well, the two main accepted definitions of a startup are:

Eric Ries ("The Lean Startup"): "A human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. A startup is an 'experiment'.".

Or... a looser term... "A business that hasn't discovered its business model yet" which is bandied around startup meetups around the UK.

I prefer a combination of the two. I like the second because it's quick and easy for people to grasp. Someone has an idea. They have no idea how to actually make it, build it, produce it, sell it or charge for it... but it seems like a great idea.... Let's play.

But, Eric Ries' version has more power because, if you listen to his talks, it means that ANY business can be in startup mode.

And that is why it is so exciting to me. Because my business (and many of my clients), as far as I am concerned, has been in startup mode since 2009. When the recession finally hit us so hard that we were definitely 'under conditions of extreme uncertainty' and we needed to innovate massively.

We believe that a startup can do 4 things:

  1. It can simply accept that their idea is not going to fly.
  2. It can 'augment' their idea by emphasising existing value
  3. It can 'iterate' i.e. build on and develop new value... 
  4. It can 'pivot'... which is to change course with the same core principles - but in a different sector or in a different way.  It's the crazy journey that most start-ups go through to find the right customer, value proposition, and positioning

Well, back in May 2014 we announced we had pivoted. From a 'product offering' perspective. i.e. we changed our actual product/services from that of a Marketing & Design Agency - to that of a Training Company. We were taking 20years of marketing learning and turning that into Strategy, Coaching and Training services. We were also heavily involved with the co-working hub at GreenPark, Reading and that gave us access to potential clients to test our pivot.

And, I still considered ourselves in a state of "extreme uncertainty". Will this work? What is our pricing? Does this have value? Can we sustain our financing?

Now, over a year later, we are, pivoting again. Not from a product offering perspective but from a positioning perspective. One is a product development issue. One is a marketing communications issue.

So, what does this pivot look like. It means we are still doing Strategy, Coaching and Training but it is positioned as a consultancy service with additional 'products' of training workshops, books/manuals/products and projects. So, the core communications focus has moved away from delivering workshops and migrated to delivering consultancy.

Why? Because that's what customers have told us they want of course.