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Lean Startups – The Real Winners When Capital Tightens

Over the last several months, funding rounds for startups have dropped about 50%. With a recession looming ahead and rising inflation, venture capitalists are much more conservative with their investments. Unlike a year ago when capital was easy to find, today’s startups must negotiate a much more challenging landscape. Instead of going about business as usual, a lean growth strategy must be adopted. Failure to consider such a shift could result in a company’s demise. But for those lean startups with strong value propositions, the future is likely to look quite bright.

Many companies engaged in a lean growth strategy have already made major changes in their approach. Some actually got ahead of the curve and acquired capital several months in advance. Others, however, are actively changing their spending habits and investing only in the bare essentials. Interestingly, these shifts among lean startups are affecting labor and talent markets. And they’re refocusing company priorities away from growth and toward efficiency. Fortunately, several excellent strategies can be considered in this regard. That’s especially for those companies looking to weather the anticipated capital drought to come.

“Bear markets call for prudent measures for running any startup. While these are challenging times, not only owing to a funding crunch but also inflation and a squeeze on the supply chain, it would help startups build lean operations to achieve better unit economics for products they’re building.” – Neha Khanna, Director, ValPro Management Consulting

Lean Growth Trends Already in Place

In terms of reduced capital funding opportunities, the writing has been on the wall for several months. Even seasoned veterans like Elon Musk appreciate the importance of cutting back. Likewise, most analysts expect inflationary trends and capital constraints to last at least 18 months. Unfortunately, roughly 30% of all startups today barely have enough cash to make it this long. And for new startups, access to investment funding is even more difficult. As VC firms become more cautious, they are choosing to fund companies that are better established. Likewise, businesses identified as lean startups are gaining more attention. As a result, many have already been forced to adopt lean growth strategies.

(Elon musk is all about pruning and growing–what do you think of his strategy? Check out this Bold story to learn more.)

Lean startups currently are those that are shifting their mindset away from expansion and growth. Instead, the focus is identifying core activities that are essential to their long-term success. Activities and products that add value and generate profits are taking priority over performance areas. And naturally, unnecessary expenditures are being eliminated, including hires that may not be essential. These changes represent key lean growth techniques that could make the difference between survival and collapse. And it’s also the ones that VC firms find the most attractive currently.

“We are big believers that downturns lead to great opportunities. The reason this is an exciting time is first there is a lot of human capital that’s been unlocked from companies. Second, when capital is not abundant, you build with far greater discipline.” – Hemant Taneja, Managing Partner, General Catalyst Digital Health

Lean Startups and Talent Markets

For more than a year, the demand for talent has far outpaced its supply in numerous industries. This is especially true for tech companies and those in need of business and data analysts. But as lean startups have emerged, something interesting is happening. As they cut staff down to the bare bones, opportunities for locating top talent are increasing. Prior to recent economic shifts, startups were invested heavily in talent recruitment. In fact, more than half of all startups used funding to primarily recruit talent needed to expand. But now, lean startups are reversing course. Based on recent surveys, over 60% have either significantly cut or ceased all hiring efforts. This is why talent supply and demand curves are shifting.

A dude looking at magical postits
Lean growth means thriving while others struggle to survive.

Lean startups today are attempting to reduce human resources needs as much as possible. Already, more than a fifth of those employed with startups have been laid off in recent months. Of course, startups must still invest in growth, even if it’s in quality, value and profitability. Therefore, the lean growth approach attempts to secure an “all-star team” that can achieve core goals. However, it has to be also recognized that these trends are making some of the best talent available for hire. Thus, depending on a startup’s situation, this might be an ideal time to find that missing piece of the puzzle. Naturally, this might not be feasible for early startups, which are much more concerned about significantly extending their runaway.

“I’m so excited for some of these companies who have been growing profitably to go thrive and survive. What I learned at a company, where it’s forged in the first dot-com crash, in a recession, is that you have to be scrappy and you have to be profitable.” – Wesley Chan, Managing Partner, FPV Ventures

Lean Strategies to Consider

The goal currently now for lean startups is to preserve cash, add value, and demonstrate sustainable profits. These will be qualities that will attract what little VC funding is available. In an effort to do this, lean growth strategies naturally involve eliminating waste and activities that add little value. That’s why most lean growth strategies are cutting back on marketing and non-essential talent. Similarly, most lean startups are embracing a back-to-basics model that reevaluates company processes and activities. Though difficult, these efforts will be valuable for any company in their pursuit of sustainability. And they invite the chance to introduce creative and innovative strategies that may not have otherwise been considered.

With that in mind, lean startups can benefit from a number of services outside their immediate company domain. For example, lean growth efforts may choose to outsource some key activities rather than hiring new personnel. Analytics and office support services may also be acquired at a much lower cost. These are the types of business services that could make perfect sense in today’s economic climate. Regardless, adopting a lean mentality for the coming months ahead will be critical for many startup companies. Navigating the road ahead will not just be necessary but will likely offer some valuable lessons for a brighter future.

 

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Realizing Corporate Goals – Design Thinking to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion

When it comes to realizing corporate success, it’s essential to identify key corporate goals. But unlike bold personal goals, corporate goals are much more complex. Not only must these pursuits consider an array of variables like budgets, legalities, and resources. But they must somehow integrate these factors together in the midst of competing needs and demands of different areas. While this is true for any company objectives, it is certainly evident in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. Fortunately, businesses can overcome these challenges by employing a design thinking process.

(Want a must-read text on diversity, equity and inclusion? Bold has one to recommend to you!)

A design thinking process is one that is iterative and highly creative. It strives to understand stakeholders while challenging norms and embracing creative innovation. Interestingly, the use of such an approach is mutually enhanced by a commitment to DEI. Since diversity, equity and inclusion boost creativity and innovation, these two go hand-in-hand. Because of this, it is important that corporations understand how to best utilize a design thinking process. Not only can this strategy increase the capacity to attain DEI goals but other major company objectives as well.

“Design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking.” – Tim Brown, Co-CEO of IDEO

Exploring the Design Thinking Process

Understanding the complexity of corporate goals, many have embraced design thinking as a means to better achieve their objectives. As an iterative and interactive process, it requires companies to define key targets, empathize with users, and generate creative ideas. This is then followed by prototype development, testing and continued refinement until key goals are attained. But not every goal deserves such attention, and not every corporation will have similar targets. As a result, companies must explore the degree of inspiration, feasibility, and viability that each potential goal may have. A design thinking process can help greatly in making these assessments.

Overall, there are some general rules when trying to pursue a design thinking process. For one, such strategies invite failures early and often as a means to grow and innovate. They also encourage everyone’s ideas without prejudice and infuse confidence in the creative process. With these caveats in place, specific company goals can then be defined based on the level of passion they inspire as well as their feasibility and viability. The level of inspiration explores the degree of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that exist from a broader perspective. Feasibility then assesses whether the pursuit is worthwhile based on existing technology, talent, and other practical issues. Finally, viability examines long-term financial supports, benefits and risks, and other potential barriers. These are the areas that every company should examine of each corporate goal, including DEI goals, when applying design thinking.

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” -  Elon Musk

Pursuing Corporate DEI Goals

Before delving into DEI goals, it’s important to appreciate effective corporate goal-setting strategies. Like personal goals, corporate goals should be SMART ones – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. At the same time, companies can invoke best practices in goal achievement activities that complement a design thinking process. These practices include developing accountability measures, publicizing goals for stakeholders to see, and developing a detailed plan of action. With these in place, the success rate of attaining company goals will be significantly increased. A design thinking process further improves the chances by infusing inspiration, feasibility, and viability into these pursuits.

In regard to DEI goals, every corporation can benefit from these endeavors. These can be broken down into general DEI goals and more specific ones. General DEI objectives might assess company recruiting and promotion practices, employee satisfaction levels, and overall commitment levels to DEI. More specific DEI goals can then consider individual objectives involving diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, expanded diversity might explore diversity training, management diversity, and board-level diversity. Broader equity targets might include measuring bias, compensation equity, and equity policies and practices. Finally, greater inclusion efforts might adopt mentoring programs or increase CEO commitment levels. By creating these types of DEI goals that are also SMART goals, companies will enjoy greater success.

“No true measure of business accomplishment on a global scale is possible without diversity, and once inclusion enters into the equation, success will follow.” – Ed Kopko, CEO of Bold Business and Author of Project Bold Life

The Design Thinking Ideas Scoring Tool

As mentioned, a design thinking process involves assessing goals based on their levels of inspiration, feasibility and viability. But at the same time, different targets will have different priorities for a particular company. For example, one company may prioritize DEI goals related to diversity training while another is focused on diversity recruitment. Understanding this, companies must assign specific “weights” to their DEI goals before implementing a design thinking process. In doing so, corporations will be better able to align the most important DEI goals with success targets. This is how the design thinking process can help integrate the many complex aspects of corporations in defining key goals.

With this in mind, the following diagram visually depicts a Design Thinking Ideas Scoring Tool that can be used to aid corporations.

For DEI goals, different ones can be scored on a 1-10 scale based on their levels of inspiration, feasibility, and viability. Then, based on the priority weight assigned to each goal, these scores are then adjusted. An average of these adjusted scores is then calculated, providing a total point score for each of the DEI goals. Thus, a design thinking process would then be applied to those with the highest totals. This scoring tool is effective because it helps utilize key components of the design thinking process in evaluating priority goals. This instrument may not only be used for DEI goals but for a variety of corporate goals.

Leveraging DEI to Boost Buy-In

In pursuing all company goals, corporations must achieve buy-in from its stakeholders. This has been linked to success in goal attainment and naturally increases levels of motivation. Notably, companies that rank high in DEI are often able to achieve such buy-in more easily than others. Because diversity is celebrated, and because everyone feels included, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation levels tend to be higher. Such an environment is then strengthened even more when companies choose to engage in a design thinking process.

 

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Welcome to the Age of Targeted Cancer Therapy

Medical breakthroughs related to vaccines have been nothing but revolutionary since the beginning of the pandemic. The road leading to the latest ones was both long and complex, but nonetheless astounding. And many of the lessons learned along the way are now contributing to other areas of medical research. Despite this, however, cancer continues to be one disease process that continues to challenge researchers. It is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease. And many cancers have limited prognosis once identified. But that might be changing soon as targeted cancer therapy appears to offer tremendous hope. Based on recent reports, these innovative cancer treatments might usher in a completely new era of cancer care.

Two studies recently published highlight just how quickly these changes might occur. Though they involve different types of cancers, both utilized targeted cancer therapy to achieve some impressive results. These two methods of innovative cancer treatments also approached precision medicine care slightly differently. One of them leveraged sparsely-made cancer proteins as a treatment target while the other attacked cancer cell defenses. But in both instances, dramatic improvements in treated patients occurred. Without question, these findings will set many additional research studies in motion in the near future. And if similar results are found in larger trials, the way we manage cancer could change forever.

“No patients have required chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery [and] there has been no disease recurrence observed during the follow-up period…This highlights the clinical impact of biomarker-driven therapy, in other words of moving precision medicine into early-stage disease.” – Andrea Cercek, MD, Oncology Professor and Specialist, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York

Targeted Cancer Therapy for Rectal Cancer

When it comes to specific cancer types, colorectal cancer is a common one. The most effective intervention to date involves early detection via endoscopy and a healthy lifestyle. However, these efforts often fall short and roughly 4% of men and women suffer from this cancer. It is in fact the third most common cancer around. And for those with bulky tumors, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation is often required. If confined to the colorectal area, prognosis now exceeds 90% at five years. But for those that have spread, the five-year survival rates drops quickly. This highlights the need for innovative cancer treatments.

Understanding this, researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York recently enrolled 14 patients with rectal cancer in a study. All had large rectal tumors that had remained localized, and none had received treatment yet. Likewise, all these patients’ rectal cancers lacked a protein that could repair cellular damage, labelled as +dMMR cancers. The lack of this protein is what makes these types of rectal cancers resistant to treatment. These patients were then given an IV targeted cancer therapy that contained a drug called dostarlimab (GlaxoSmithKline). Interestingly, dostarlimab is a monoclonal antibody and specific checkpoint inhibitor, which are classes of the latest innovative cancer treatments. In essence, dostarlimab removes a protective shield that these cancer cells have, allowing the body’s immune system to eliminate them. After six months of treatment, all 14 patients were found to be in complete remission based on extensive workups.

(Dig deeper into monoclonal antibodies with this Bold explainer!)

“This strategy is the real breakthrough. This is about more than just this drug or even breast cancer. Its real advantage is that [this approach] enables us to take potent therapies directly to cancer cells.” – Eric Winer, MD,  Director of the Yale Cancer Center

Targeted Cancer Therapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer

When it comes to breast cancer, some 13% of women will develop this condition in their lifetime. As the second most common cause of cancer, it carries significant morbidity and mortality. If detected early, through mammograms and other screening methods, treatment is often favorable and sometimes curative.  But that’s not the case for metastatic breast cancer, where innovative cancer treatments are desperately needed. The average survival rate is less than 17 months for those undergoing treatment. This is especially true if certain biomarkers are absent on the tumor. As a result, targeted cancer therapy is now being tried in this patient population, and the results look quite promising.

A hypodermic needle and stethoscope
Targeted cancer therapy is the latest life-saving innovation, and thus far, the results are almost miraculous.

In a recent study also at Memorial Sloan Kettering, researchers enrolled 557 patients with known metastatic breast cancer. These patients had low counts of a tumor biomarker protein called HER2. In breast cancer patients with high HER2 levels, existing targeted cancer therapy has been effective. But that’s not previously been the case for HER2 low patients. However, a new treatment, called trastuzumab deruxtecan, increased longevity by nearly 7 months and halted tumor growth for 5 months. The drug is a combination of a monoclonal antibody and chemotherapy. Once the monoclonal antibody attached to a surface HER2 protein, it allows the chemotherapy to enter the cancer cell. It then kills the cell and transfuses into adjacent cancer cells even without the HER2 protein. Though not curative, the extended longevity and quality of life for any cancer therapy is rare. This is why cancer specialists are excited about this leading to other innovative cancer treatments.

A Burgeoning Field of Investigation

While these innovative cancer treatments are intriguing and offer hope, there are some limitations. Rectal cancers that are +dMMR represent a minority of cases, usually around 5-10% of patients. Likewise, the targeted cancer therapy described for metastatic breast cancer only extends life rather than being curative. However, the positive results of these studies demonstrate the promise of targeted cancer therapy for the future. Other similar research programs are in the midst of testing similar innovative cancer treatments for pancreatic and prostate cancers. Many are also leveraging big data to develop innovative cancer treatments. Thus far, these are also showing promising results. Based on this, it is probable that the cancer treatment landscape is rapidly moving toward a precision medicine one.

 

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