EP 048: What can startups learn from a 200 year-old industry?

What can startups learn from a 200 year-old industry? It may sound like an unlikely correlation, but as it turns out, an exercise in turning around a railroad’s operations can teach us a lot about what it takes to manage a startup.

Today’s episode is focused on answering the question “What are the most important things that someone should be working on when building a startup.” In a separate Podcast I produced, I interviewed consultant Roy Johanson – his experience turning around the operations of a railroad give us some insight on how taking the time to observe a business, it’s dealings and how its customers respond to the way things are currently being run can guide us to make beneficial changes that go beyond the scope of traditional management.

Roy also gives us some essential questions that we should be asking ourselves while working in and on our businesses. His process appealed to us because it wasn’t just another story about an up and coming tech company’s 5 easy steps to startup glory and venture capital funding. Instead, it was based on enduring principles about business, innovation, and creating change that will be true for another two hundred years. His experience and previous work on the railroad exemplifies the idea that doing something worth doing will take time and more than a surface level understanding of the problems at hand.

Highlights:
1:51 – “What are the most important things that I should be working on in a startup?”
2:17  – Cliff Notes” / The four key points of this episode.
4:01 – “What does a railroad have to do with innovation?”
4:45 – “Fly on the wall observation” of the organization and it’s customers.
7:15 – Two sets of essential questions asked by Roy
8:11 Asking “Why” and how it can be  critical to finding what makes a problem challenging.
9:18 – Filtering out signal vs noise based on the organization you’re working in.
10:59 – Talking to people and testing pitches.
13:12 – “Don’t be afraid to change things”
16:51 –  Putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Mentioned in this Episode: