We’re All Start-ups Now (whether We Like It or Not…)


This is a post by Jeff Henderson. Jeff is a leading voice on how to create and grow momentum for organizations and leaders and is a member of my Speaking Team. Jeff is the founder of The For Company and author of the book, Know What You’re For

By Jeff  Henderson

We’re all start-ups now.

Talk about a level-set.

In a matter of days, organizations large and small were ushered back to the start-up days.

You know the ones…

  • Big dreams.
  • Little funds.
  • Cash-strapped.
  • Boot-strapped.

Kind of like a country song.

Sure, start-up days can be painful, but it’s also where some of my best memories live.Sure, start-up days can be painful, but it’s also where some of my best memories live.CLICK TO TWEET

For example, here is a photo from the early days of Gwinnett Church. My fellow team member Al Causey is using a crib from the nursery as a desk.

Whatever it takes. Ah, the mantra of the start-up days.

It’s easy to drift into counting what we’ve lost in these days but good leaders look to find the gain. And when they do, they’ll find hidden ideas, sharper focus, more innovation, new growth and a renewed purpose.

Yes, we’re all start-ups now. Things have changed. Knowing this, we have the opportunity to ask a great question, “What would we do if we were starting over?”

The reason is it’s a great question is because… you are.

Here are four principles from the start-up days that will help you win.


The tendency is to think more money and resources equal more creativity and innovation. Sure, money and resources can be a big help. But they often soften the edge of innovative thinking. With resources, we don’t have to think as hard. We just run the play.

It’s why this question is such a gift to organizations – both in good times and bad.

“What would we do if we had no money?”

Far too often, the answer to this question is the right answer.

One of my business heroes, David Salyers, is the co-architect of the Chick-fil-A “Eat More Chicken” campaign featuring cows. David’s often-repeated mantra was, “We aren’t going to outspend the competition. We are going to outsmart them.”

Instead of seeing a reduction in resources as a loss, see it as a gift. These constraints are disguised as creative and innovative opportunities.

An example of this is from Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar Store. If you aren’t familiar with this great company, check them out on Instagram, @milkbarstore. With her retail outlets closed, Christina decided to host a #bakingclub every day at 2 pm from her kitchen. You should check it out at @christinatosi. Other than the ingredients to make that day’s recipe, this idea is free but the impact is amazing. Check out the comments and the number of people watching each day. Christina is building her community through her daily baking clubs. She started it because she wanted to do something positive for Milk Bar fans during the crisis.

This might not have happened without quarantine. Proving once again, constraints lead to creativity.This question is such a gift to organizations – both in good times and bad. ‘What would we do if we had no money?’CLICK TO TWEET


This week, I got a call from a friend who is in the Summer Camp business. Imagine the challenge, uncertainty and fear he could have as each day creeps closer to summer and the possible cancellation of camps. After all, the Summer Olympics just got cancelled. That’s one large summer camp.

Instead of being paralyzed by fear, he decided to double-down on his commitment to serving families. I could hear it in his voice.

“I’m not in the summer camp business,” he said. “I serve families. My camps are a platform to do that. If that platform goes away, how can I continue to serve families this summer?”

He then proceeded to tell me an idea he and his team came up with this week. It’s innovative. It’s different. And it’s scrappy.

What he was also revealing to me was his fierce commitment to serve his customer – in this case families. This time of limitation met with that kind of fierce commitment and it led to a possible breakthrough.

That’s what happens with scrappy people and organizations. They figure it out.

One of my new favorite podcasts is “Thirteen Minutes to the Moon.” The first season was about the Apollo 11 mission. The second season is about Apollo 13. This was the ill-fated mission that almost resorted into losing the three astronauts onboard. Gene Kranz, the flight director, is as scrappy as they come. He was the one who delivered the famous line to his NASA colleagues, “Failure is not an option.”

That’s scrappy. So, what’s your version of summer camps? Your customer is not your product. Fiercely commit yourself to the people you serve and get scrappy.Fiercely commit yourself to the people you serve and get scrappy.CLICK TO TWEET


This season is an opportunity to revisit why your organization started in the first place.

To do that, let’s go back to the five steps you should go through to launch an idea or organization:

1. Understand the Problem.
2. Imagine a Solution.
3. Prototype a Solution.
4. Validate the Idea.
5. Launch the Idea.

One of my many problems as a leader is I often start with step 2 and spend less time with step 1. But let’s save that for my counselor.

The point here is to revisit and understand the problem your organization is trying to solve. Now, more than ever, we have to remember this new, fundamental truth:

“It’s no longer about being the best company in the world. It’s about being the best company FOR the world.”

A great question for your next virtual team meeting is, “What is the problem we have been gathered together to solve?”

After that discussion, ask, “What opportunity does this season provide to help us understand the problem in ways we didn’t before the crisis?”This season is an opportunity to revisit why your organization started in the first place.CLICK TO TWEET


I so wish I could have come up with a fourth word that started with a ‘p’. Profit? Maybe, but growth is a more accurate description. Oh well, let’s keep going.

In his book, Necessary Endings, author Henry Cloud talks about the painful, helpful pruning process. “Getting to the next level always requires something, leaving it behind and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on,” he writes.

This is certainly a pruning time for all of us. And yes, plants will tell you. Pruning is painful. And yet, it leads to new growth.

This is why it’s helpful to remember the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Pareto principle, it states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. A rule of thumb for businesses is that “80% of sales come from 20% of clients.” Or, stated another way, 80% of revenue comes from 20% of products.

The 80/20 principle is a pruning principle. What do we need to prune back in order to grow more?

Knowing this, here are three pruning questions to ask during this season:

1. Before the crisis, what would you say is essential?
2. During the crisis, what have you done without?
3. After the crisis, what do you need to leave behind?

Hard questions, no doubt.

Don’t forget though. You are a start-up now.

Start-ups are focused. They can’t afford not to be.

Neither can you.

This week, talk to your team about these four start-up principles. Not only will this lead to some great conversations, it will get you back to the fun, crazy, wild west of start-up days. Not only will it lead to some great ideas, more importantly, it will lead you to some of your best memories.

1. Constraints lead to creativity.
2. Fierce commitment + Limited Resources lead to a Scrappy Organization.
3. Pivot (back) to the Problem.
4. Proper Pruning Produces Growth.Start-ups are focused. They can’t afford not to be. Neither can you.CLICK TO TWEET


I get it. You’re scared. These are deeply uncertain times.

As hard as it is to admit, it’s just really hard to know how to lead in times like these.

While no one has all the answers, there is help and a strategy that can guide you, and I’d love to come alongside you.

To that end, I’ve got a brand new online, on-demand course, called How To Lead Through Crisisthat can help you lead your team, your church and yourself through the massive disruption.

The course is a gift from me and my team to you and leaders everywhere. In light of everything that’s going on, we decided to make it available 100% free.

Inside How To Lead Through Crisis, you’ll learn how to:

  • Cultivate a non-anxious presence that inspires confidence and trust.
  • Care for yourself so the crisis doesn’t break you.
  • Master the art of fast-paced, clear decision making.
  • Gather and interpret the most reliable data that will advance your mission
  • Advance digitally to scale past physical barriers and grow your outreach.
  • Lead your team and congregation remotely

While no one has all the answers in a crisis this big, in the course, I share the mindsets, habits, tools and strategies that I believe will help you lead through crisis to get you and the people you lead to a new (and better) future.

Join the 6000 leaders who have claimed their place in the course for free.

You can enroll and get instant access for you and your team here.


How is your organization acting like a startup?

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