Can big businesses learn from nimble tech startups?

Brid-Aine Parnell

Friday 26 February 2016

These top six European startups have valuable lessons for traditional companies on how to apply technology.

Many cities in Europe fancy themselves as the hub of new tech-related startups and disruptive businesses, but the reality is that successful startups are popping up all across the continent at the moment. It may seem like these nimble little upstarts are destined to destroy the traditional companies they’re disrupting, but there’s a lot that existing businesses can learn from the newcomers. Here we pick out six top startups in Europe and what top executives can learn from their success so far…

YPlan

There are plenty of event lists for cities scattered around the internet, from newspapers’ What’s On? pages to local noticeboards. What London-based startup YPlan does differently is that it curates those lists for its users, currently in London, New York or San Francisco. From film to sport,YPlan aims to give folks access to the hottest tickets by getting real people to comb through the events and decide what’s going to be good. The startup was named the UK’s fastest growing tech firm by The Next Web last year and its last funding round in November 2014 netted the company $24 million (€22 million).

YPlan is a prime example of the secret to big data – context. While all firms have access to reams of data, without intelligent analysis, digging into it is more likely to bog you down than big you up. However, analyse data with goals in mind and you could come up with a new product or service for your customers.

TransferWise

Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann faced an annoying problem working between their home country and the UK – the amount of money they were losing on international transfers. So they came up with a plan to privately swap pounds and euros between themselves and Transferwise was born. Based in the UK and taking the number eight spot on CNBC’s 2015 Disruptor 50 list last year, the firm is backed by top investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and raised $58 million (€53.5 million) last year.

While many tech startups have been inspired by deeply talented developers and coders coming up with something completely new, many others are like Transferwise, using technology to solve simple problems. Traditional firms need to take note; technology is not just about new methods like big data and the cloud, or indeed the latest software and hardware, it’s also about applying these technologies to old problems.

Save.co

In a similar vein, Paris-based startup Save.co has made its mark by connecting users with local services to repair smartphones and tablets. The firm currently operates in France, Germany and the UK, and recently raised €15 million in funding.

This firm is tapping into a startup stalwart – connecting people to local services. At its heart, technology is all about communication, and providing the link between people and the services they need has led to success for many different kinds of startups. Traditional companies can do the same by ensuring they’re communicating well with their customers.

Delivery Hero

The food industry has provided some rich pickings for startups, from takeaway and delivery services to fresh fruit and veg subscriptions. Delivery Hero started out in Berlin and now works with more than 200,000 restaurants in 34 countries. A pre-IPO funding round last year valued it at over $3 billion (€2.8 billion). How has it gained these lofty heights? At least in part by remembering that, despite the fact that it’s a lean, mean startup machine, the old rules of business still apply.

When Delivery Hero was set up in 2011, its founders intended to turn it into a global online food ordering platform. With that goal in mind, the firm has expanded into new countries by the age-old practice of buying up competitors. The firm has acquired Lieferheld and pizza.de in Germany and hungryhouse.co.uk in the UK; invested in TastyKhana in India and PedidosYa in South America; and bought up South Korean service Baedaltong. It’s now the largest online food ordering network in the world.

Drivy

Drivy is another Paris-based startup, operating in France, Germany and Spain, that enables people to rent their cars to each other. The firm recently raised €8.6 million after getting a similar figure back in 2014.

Once again, this startup is harnessing technology as communication in order to get customers connected in the way they want. Using a customer-base as a crowd in this way has been the premise for many lucrative businesses, and can be applied to an existing firm too. Giving your customers a forum to discuss your products can aid with marketing, generate ideas, help with feedback and cut the cost of support.

Enovo

Some executives may still consider the Internet of Things a fad, but startups are already making web-connected sensors work for them. With the clever application of sensors inside bins, Finnish-based startup Enovo optimises rubbish collections in Finland, UK, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany. The firm recently raised $15.8 million (€14.6 million) in funding from a group including Foxconn.

If there’s one aspect of business that IoT and big data technology is tailor-made for, it’s logistics. Using technology to know exactly how much of certain things are where is a cost-saving measure any business can take: whether that’s counting products in warehouses; analysing delivery truck movements; keeping stock of spare parts; or even counting paperclips in your office.

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