March 17, 2021 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Growth hacking. MVPs. Beta-testing. Pivoting. These strategies are now practically clichés — start-up principles that drive almost every high-growth company hitting the market. I’ve experienced them all firsthand in my career, working everywhere from scrappy five-person operations to powerhouses at the cutting edge of AI. 

Here’s the thing: Sure, these principles can help businesses. But in key respects, these same tenets can also be used to supercharge your own career — especially at a time when the way we do is in flux. 

The fact is, for many of us, the world of work has been turned on its head during the global health crisis. People have had to switch roles, return to school to reskill or start totally fresh in new markets after a job loss. 

This has only accelerated existing trends. In the past, staying at a company for decades wasn’t uncommon; today the average person stays at a job for less than five years. Then there’s the gig economy boom in full swing, and the added impact of digitization and automation on workplace roles. The bottom line is that being able to evolve and adapt is key, during a global crisis and beyond.

With that in mind, here’s how to apply start-up principles to yourself — whether you’re climbing the ladder inside a growing company, looking for a new job or even thinking of blazing your own path as an entrepreneur. 

Related: How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, According to Reid Hoffman

Identify your unfair advantage

In a business sense, start-ups need to have that special something if they’re going to compete with the big, established players. This is something that can’t be bought or copied by competitors. Ali Ash, marketing director at Just Eat, wrote the book on The Unfair Advantage and has documented how the world’s most impressive start-ups have defined their own categories and offered something no one else was providing. 

If you look at your own career, the same question applies: what’s your unfair advantage? By leaning into your unique strengths, you’re positioning yourself to offer what no one else can — just as put its own unique spin on photo-sharing and pioneered high-performance electric cars. When you lean into your own personal value proposition, you’re eliminating the competition and setting yourself up to be a of one.

I was an accounting major in college, a qualification that’s a dime a dozen. But early on in my career, I possessed a willingness to explore new fields and untested companies. Instead of sticking to my lane, I developed a diverse sales background — jumping, for instance, from selling multimillion-dollar software contracts to $9-per-month SaaS subscriptions. Ultimately, that breadth of experience, lateral flexibility and pattern recognition became my unfair advantage.  

So how can you isolate and leverage your own unfair advantage? Think about the unique intersections of your passions, training and personal disposition. You may be trained as a lawyer but have a passion for languages and a knack for networking. That’s a combo not everyone can replicate. Once you’ve found your unfair advantage, think like a start-up and leverage it every chance you get. Look for roles and opportunities where you, uniquely, can shine, and don’t be shy about your unique skill set in interviews and networking opportunities.  

MVP your next role 

Another tenet of start-up philosophy is “”: the idea of testing an early version of a product in the market before investing tons in R&D. By measuring consumer response and iterating, you can either improve the offering or pivot to a new direction — all without spending a lot of time or money. 

In a career sense, this means being open to testing the waters for new opportunities, even ones you may not be entirely comfortable with yet. Instead of waiting to be fully “ready” for something (a new career, a new role), be willing to dive in and learn some elements on the go. You may need to scramble, adjust, even backtrack. But — just as in the start-up world — the opportunity cost of not going for it is too big to ignore. 

In the middle of my own career, for example, I left business software behind to join a company, just years after started. Though I could see the growth potential was huge, this was a brand-new industry for me. And there was always the chance social media might be just a passing fad. But I put myself out there, acquired skills on the job and grew into the role. (My unfair advantage — curiosity — definitely came in handy.)  

So how do you MVP yourself? Understand that no role will ever be perfect, nor will you ever be perfectly positioned to seize it. Exploring lateral roles within your own organization is a great way to test the waters and observe what “sticks” and what doesn’t. Above all, give yourself permission to set aside perfectionism. (I’d go so far as to say you should always feel a bit unqualified for a role.) And don’t be afraid to switch gears or pivot when you need to. Just as in the start-up world, career iteration never ends.   

Related: Resilience Is One of the Most Essential Entrepreneurial Traits. Practicing This Can Help You Build It

Disrupt yourself

The best businesses, even when they’re all grown up, still think like start-ups. describes its corporate culture as one that “avoids rules.” That means the company prioritizes innovation, autonomy and risk-taking in everything it does. Rather than resting on its laurels, Netflix is constantly exploring ideas and isn’t averse to disrupting the status quo of its own organization.  

That same philosophy can be applied to our own careers. Far too many people fall in love with their product. They put themselves in one category and are unable to evolve beyond that. They get too comfortable — with a role, a company, a city — and stop being curious and pushing themselves. In this process, career prospects are curtailed or short-circuited altogether.   

I continue to try to live by this self-disrupting philosophy. Case in point: I recently jumped from almost 20 years in the SaaS space to the world of AI and software-enabled robotics. A more traditional route would have been to stay in my vertical and stick to senior roles in industries I was familiar with. But I would have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity with a robotics company. And more importantly, I would have missed out on a chance to grow personally and professionally.  

How do you disrupt yourself? For starters, keep an ear to the rails for the next big thing — technologies or cultural shifts that promise to upend how we live and work. Right now, for instance, automation and AI are opening up brand-new horizons. Continue to push and stay curious, even as you grow more senior in your career. And I’d even go so far as to say you should be downright skeptical of your comfort zone. If you’re not moving forward, you’re bound to go stagnant. 

That being said, start-up principles can be taken too far — in business, and in life. “Move fast and break things” doesn’t really work in sensitive industries such as health care, security, even social media. Likewise, in life, adopting “lean start-up principles” shouldn’t be about being flighty or disloyal. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be building the necessary nimbleness to thrive in a shifting terrain, but providing stability and leadership for your team even when things are chaotic. 

Related: 5-Step Formula to Rewire Your Brain for Entrepreneurial Success

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October 11, 2020 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

“Greatness is for all of us” –

Back in 2012, the company Nike, an iconic world leader in athletic footwear and apparel, launched a campaign called “Find Your Greatness.” A powerful message meant to “inspire anyone who wants to achieve their own moment of greatness in sport.”

In a series of carefully crafted TV ads, you see footage of ordinary people and everyday athletes jogging, bicycling, skating with their peers, or running a marathon in a wheelchair. 

“Greatness is not in one special place,” a narrator says, “and it is not in one special person.” The underlying idea is that we are all capable of the extraordinary; no one has to be part of the elite to push beyond their limits. “Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it,” the narrator concludes.

Suddenly, you’re not thinking about buying yet another pair of running shoes, you’re thinking that if you buy from Nike, you’ll become great, too. 

Your entire model of thinking has been unknowingly disrupted.

That’s the power of innovative marketing.

What the most successful brands have in common

Nike has long been leading the way in creating meaningful stories to build a connection with their consumers. 

And their bold marketing has paid off. According to Forbes, the activewear giant was given a valuation of $32.4 billion in 2019.

Related: Manage the Status Quo or Lead the Disruption

The company’s huge success isn’t a surprise. Their campaigns evoke emotion, and more importantly, they strike a chord that changes how a person thinks about the retail experience. 

That’s what the most successful brands have in common; they disrupt the status quo. As Mark Bonchek illustrates for Harvard Business Review, “Innovators change the lens through which we see the world.” He writes:

“Companies that successfully market and sell innovation are able to shift how people think not only about their product, but about themselves, the market, and the world.”

Challenging the way consumers think

“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. – , founder

In a 1992 interview, Nike CEO Phil Knight spoke about what distinguishes them from their competitors “We’ve always believed that to succeed with the consumer, you have to wake him up. He’s not going to walk in and buy the same stuff he always has or listen to the same thing he’s always heard.”

Indeed. A company that doesn’t evolve will eventually kill its product. Why?

Because they’ve stopped nurturing a culture of innovation.

Since the early days of building my startup, I knew I wanted to do more than just sell easy-to-use online forms. I wanted to spread the spirit of creativity throughout my team, and create meaningful relationships with our customers.

Establishing an innovative company involves challenging old mental models, and giving consumers a new lens through which to view your business. Below are a few strategies I’ve implemented over the years to create this mind shift:

1. Drop the jargon and focus on your core message

Here’s an incredibly common phenomena in the tech world you’ll see: an eager entrepreneur trying to explain their product to a potential customer by using jargon-filled language. You’ll then see the person scratch their head trying to figure out why they should care?

Related: Why Amazon and Jeff Bezos Are So Successful at Disruption

As a self-proclaimed nerd, I get this tendency. I’ve been known to get overly excited about technological advances of a new feature. But I also make it a point to always remember my core message: We make people’s lives easier. 

We make your life easier.

Shifting someone’s mindset about what you offer comes down to identifying what makes your product unique, and then asking yourself what don’t people get about it? What problem are you solving to help them? What gets someone excited about what you’re doing? The answers are what you ultimately want to convey.

2. Don’t just disrupt: walk your talk

A big part of what’s made Nike the powerhouse they are today, is that they don’t stop innovating. They don’t come up with one singular campaign to connect with consumers. They constantly reinvent the wheel. 

But they don’t stop there.

Aside from using powerful stories to cultivate meaningful relationships, they also listen closely to ever-changing cultural and social contexts to have a greater understanding of their customers’ needs and their role in effecting real change. 

According to Fast Company, “During the 2016 Olympics, Nike put female athletes in the spotlight in its popular “Unlimited” ad campaign — and it promoted diversity in its own business.” 

The bottom line: they walk their talk. “In 2016, the majority of the company’s employees were minorities, and women made up 48 percent of its global workforce.”

Disrupting means very little if you aren’t modeling the values you promote.

3. Breakthroughs involve relentless experimenting

Invention comes from looking to create more value. The better we get at explaining our why to customers, the more we push our company to do its best thinking — all of this comes from a place of authentic interest.

“Shifts in thinking don’t happen overnight,” explains Bonchek, “any more than going to a weekend yoga workshop makes you flexible.” At Jotform, we constantly question our and how we can better connect our to our customers. We never stop experimenting.

Related: 4 Undeniable Signs That Your Industry Is Ripe for Disruption

In her revelatory book Imagine It Forward, author and former vice chair of General Electric, Beth Comstock writes the following “People who effect radical change have to exhibit an uncompromising faith in experimentation, a bias for novelty and action, and a sense that disruption is something you cause, not observe.” 

How do we disrupt how consumers think? 

By remembering these wise words by Comstock:

“Change is a messy, collaborative, inspiring, difficult, and ongoing process — like everything meaningful that leads to human progress.”

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