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Can you fake being a start-up?

Thursday, 31 January 2013 | By Jason Rose

I was reading recently that Telstra is setting up a specialist arm that will focus exclusively on developing new mobile apps.

 

The thing that was interesting is that the telco giant is very deliberately building the business as a stand-alone division.

 

It will be housed in its own premises and will be free from the typical bureaucratic strictures that are the hallmark of not only Telstra but most other companies its size.

 

In the article I read, a Telstra spokesperson said that they are modelling the business on the successful start-up companies that come out of Silicon Valley. They are all maverick organisations that are nimble and free-spirited.

 

I’m sure that the business will be reasonably successful.

 

It will inevitably hire super-bright people. The company will be provided with significant resources and have the kinds of access and credibility that comes with being part of Telstra.

 

The bigger question for me is whether you can artificially create a Silicon-Valley-style start-up company. I don’t think you can.

 

Having a super-funky office in a hip part of town isn’t the point. Having a relaxed dress code that permits Havaianas isn’t the point. Not having to fill out a requisition form to buy a box of paper clips isn’t the point.

 

What defines a start-up, in my view, is the sheer uncertainty – you could even say the sheer terror – of being one-out against the world. That is what a real start-up is. It’s about an entrepreneur taking on the world metaphorically naked.

 

It’s only when you feel that fear that you generate the necessary drive and creativity to find the innovative solutions that generate success.

 

Imagine two people jumping into the freezing ocean. Picture an island 1,000 metres away.

 

One of the people has a heavily insulated survival suit on. The other person has nothing but a skimpy pair of Speedos. I bet I know which person is going to swim faster – the one who is absolutely freezing to death.

 

They are going to do whatever it takes to make it to the island because they know that time is running out. The person in the survival suit will be happy to swim towards the island but will do so far slower, half waiting for the rescue ships and helicopters to arrive.

 

That’s the difference between a start-up and a faux start-up. That feeling of desperation is the fuel which drives true start-up companies to greatness.

 

You can’t fake that.