Home Thinking Aloud Why You Should Run Your City Like A Startup

Why You Should Run Your City Like A Startup



By Scott Fadness, Mayor of Fishers, Indiana

90 percent of startups fail. With such a high failure rate, why would I, the leader of a municipality thousands of miles from Silicon Valley, model my leadership style after that of an entrepreneur?

As the mayor of an entrepreneurial city, I recognize the benefits that come from the startup approach to building a business. Startups and entrepreneurs in general, share a number of characteristics that can lead to rapid growth and economic gain.

City officials aren’t the only leaders that can benefit from an entrepreneurial approach. Below are three reasons we run our city like a startup, and how your business can be successful doing the same:

1. Startups are agile.

Today’s business environment demands that we move faster – make decisions faster, identify trends faster, and get products to market faster. The ability to quickly pivot also benefits cities looking to grow. However, the demand for speed isn’t enough to make a team more agile, it involves enhancing autonomy, by first putting the right people in place.

Earlier this year, I appointed the first deputy mayor of the city of Fishers. We’re in the midst of rolling out a 25-year comprehensive plan for the city and appointing someone who had experience to help facilitate that plan is important to keeping us on track.

As a leader, you can’t move quickly and easily if your employees depend on you for every decision that has to be made. Looking for employees who can not only get the job efficiently, but also share your vision and your values, can help lead to autonomy, ultimately making your business more agile.

2. Startups unlock creativity.

Because startups have limited resources, they have to look for new ways to use what’s provided to them. It’s part of what makes them risky, but it also helps make them creative. Successful entrepreneurs are continually innovating to solve problems swiftly and creatively.

In Fishers, we’re always looking to keep expenditures per capita low. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to upgrade our infrastructure. Instead, we’ve looked for entrepreneurial ways we can leverage assets we already have – federal and state grants – as a way to make those upgrades. By using our local money to bring in federal dollars, we expect that federal funding will pay for 80 percent of the roads and trails we’re building over the next five years.

There are countless articles about how leaders can make their businesses more creative, but one of my favorites is defining a powerful vision. By defining a strong vision, you as a leader can direct the process though a vision that team members can get excited about. 

Startups prioritize culture.

According to Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Ron Conway “culture is the greatest legacy a founder can leave.” That’s because for a startup, culture is the ultimate competitive advantage.

The same holds true for a city. When someone chooses your city, either as a place to grow their business or their family, they’re looking for more than just a physical building. They’re looking for infrastructure – roads, water supply, sewers, electrical grids. And looking for an ecosystem – things like schools, parks and co-working spaces – that will support their endeavors.

Oftentimes, when it comes to emulating startup culture, business leaders tend to put a great deal of focus on the physical office space and perks. However, just as city’s culture is made up of more than buildings, your company culture needs more than just foosball tables and beer taps. Possibly the best way to build culture is to set an example for the members of your team to follow. Frequent, honest and transparent communication will help provide an ideal standard to follow.

Regardless whether you’re running a city with a growing population or an established business, an entrepreneurial style can provide new perspective and possibly a better approach to achieving your objectives.


Scott Fadness

As the first Mayor of Fishers, Indiana, Scott Fadness is committed to seeing it become a smart, vibrant, entrepreneurial city. Fadness also taught as an adjunct professor for IUPUI’s Graduate School of Public and Environmental Affairs and co-founded Launch Fishers, a co-working space and launch pad for high potential enterprises that boasts approximately 400 members and more than $3 million in venture capital and investment raised in 2014 alone.