Five recipes for startup success

A company's first product is simultaneously its brand, reputation and marketing message.

New digital startup companies are giving large enterprises with a long history in their field a run for their money. Businesses such as Uber, Airbnb and Wolt operate more swiftly and innovatively, providing their customers with significantly better products.

We had the chance to interview founders of digital business startups in Finland. We identified five especially efficient business models, which help them successfully challenge large-scale actors. With these recipes, the startups are challenging the major corporations in their fields.

1. User experience

The essence and passion of a digital startup often lies in product design: the first product is synonymous with the company's brand, reputation and marketing message. The mission of a startup is often to provide customers with a product which revolutionises their daily lives with its ease of use.

It is no wonder they have the upper hand on larger companies.

When a product truly functions, it is easy for customers not only use it, but also to recommend it to others. If the service is not sufficiently user-friendly, the first eager users abandon it and will not become long-term customers. That is why startups put all their effort into the user experience. It is also a way to beat competitors.

2. Customer service

Successful startups have fine-tuned, user-friendly customer service which typically responds to customers very quickly and in a friendly way. It is important to hold on to every single customer because it is less costly than landing new ones. In addition to satisfied customers and an increasing turnover, customer service also helps to obtain profound customer insight.

3. Personnel is everything

Digital startups have effective ways to create motivating goals and engaging challenges for their employees. This makes employees assume responsibility and ownership in the company's products, work longer hours and go above and beyond the call of duty. Many employees feel they are part of something important and are excited about being included in such a remarkable group.

Businesses also invest in the recruitment of new employees: they seek exceptional and committed experts of an international level and often pay them a rather competitive salary.

4. Dissemination of information

Startups usually consider openness and transparency one of the cornerstones of successful business. Consequently, thriving startups have usually come up with efficient ways to manage and distribute information. The companies use a range of digital tools for document management and real-time chats between and within teams.

Employees rotate from one team to another in an agile manner, rapidly circulating accumulated experience. The aim is for employees to access all information available and thus be continuously able to make decisions within their sphere of responsibilities.

5. Speed

Successful startups learn quickly from their customers' signals and have a burning desire to achieve results without delay. They develop their digital products and services in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months.

New target markets are taken by storm and operations can be scaled up in a short period of time. The companies have no levels of hierarchy or rigid structures, but small, agile teams which provide a natural backdrop for merging expertise. In-house management forums and processes are maintained only when they genuinely generate added value and are no obstacle to speed or creativity.


These five modes of operation are the most significant competitive factors. In summary: when a startup has the best products and customer relationships in the field and a highly skilled, agile staff with a vision, it is no wonder they have the upper hand on larger companies.

Reputation, resources and economies of scale are no longer crucial for big companies. If they want to succeed, they have to adopt the ways of successful startup companies.

Further information:

Sami Saarenketo, professor,, +358 50 308 6181

Mika Ruokonen, director, Sanoma Digital Finland,

The article was originally published in the Talouselämä magazine issue 25/2016.