26 January, 2021

Lessons Learned 2: The Velocity of Working with Startups

Erik Wallin
CEO at Northfork

As Amer Mohammed, Chief Digital Officer at Coop Sweden often puts it “Nobody can plan success. If they could, everyone and everything would be successful. As such, it’s important to learn lessons from each and every project”.

This focus has led Northfork and Coop.se, its first client, to put their collective heads together and consider the learning points that have arisen from their work together over the past five years.

Specifically, what can we learn from working at start-up pace?

Why it’s important to fail fast

One of the key lessons to come out of the Northfork/Coop partnership is the value of failing fast. Indeed, failing fast in order to achieve success is an essential part of the business ethos of Coop’s Chief Digital Officer, Amer Mohammed, who asserts,

“The faster you fail, the easier it is to succeed.”

Coop and Northfork have worked on numerous projects and iterations of those projects during their five-year partnership, always with the enhancement of the Coop customer experience as their goal.

Amer first began working with Northfork while producing the Cooper chatbot — an all-in-one customer engagement tool that is helping Coop to build a personalised customer experience that is without rival in the Swedish grocery shopping space. Coop developed Cooper as a communication platform for the future, with Northfork powering the shoppable recipes within it.

By working at start-up speed, Coop was able to embrace the chance to innovate and to bring its product to market much faster.

Cutting out the committees

Another lesson to come out of the Cooper project is that you don’t need a committee in order to innovate. Large organisations have plenty of processes in place and hold lots of meetings in order to gain consensus before moving forward with projects. However, Coop’s Amer Mohammed points out the flipside of those meetings:

“The time spent in reaching consensus on the way forward for a project can end up costing more than trying and failing fast — and success is no more guaranteed just because a dozen meetings have been held. If a project isn’t quite right the first time around, that just means there are learning points to incorporate into the next version. It’s the reality of delivering the project and analysing its impact that helps drive further innovation, not sitting in endless committee meetings.”

Facing the fear of failure

One huge difference between the start-up world and larger, more established organisations is their approach to risk. Coop’s Amer points to the comfort that large-scale consensus meetings can provide when something goes wrong. In those circumstances, everyone can find the meeting minutes where everyone else agreed, thus investing additional time in side-stepping the blame.

Start-ups are prepared to take more risks when it comes to trialling innovative new ideas. And as Coop and Northfork agree, that can be hugely beneficial. After all, recipe shopping is not a life-critical activity. If you fail fast, you can already be discussing your project learning points based on real data and working out what to trial next; and you can do it while your competitors are still sitting in planning meetings.

“If you roll out a service and something isn’t quite right, you can fix it,” comments Northfork Co-founder Erik Wallin. “What’s more, you can use the data you’ve gathered in the process to find the best way forward. Working at start-up pace, you can roll out fixes incredibly fast, as well as upgrades and new features. It fosters a real culture of ongoing innovation, which is ultimately what benefits the end user.”

The benefits to the customer are the key point here. Would a customer rather trial a new service that saves them time, money and effort while tweaks are being made in the background, or wait another 18 months to trial the same service?

To the customer, experience is everything. They neither know nor care about the tech behind the app — what’s important is their experience of the brand and what it can offer them. What can they get from a brand that they can’t get anywhere else?

Coop’s new Scan & Pay app is an excellent example of this in action. Rolled out in just three months by working at start-up pace (the initial timescale posed was two years), the app has given customers the ability to shop without the need to wait in line at checkouts. Instead, they simply scan items as they shop and then pay through their phone, benefitting from the novel shopping experience even as Coop and Northfork take a data-driven approach to enhancing it behind the scenes.

Lessons for start-ups

Northfork’s Erik Wallin reflects on how refreshing it has been, from a start-up perspective, to work with Coop as the organisation embraced a new, faster approach to project delivery. There is often a temptation for start-ups to slow their velocity to fit around response times from the larger organisation, but this isn’t always ideal. After all, it is start-ups’ speed and nimble flexibility that allows them to shoot to success in the way that they do.

From Coop’s side, working at start-up pace continues to drive further innovation; a text message request is all it takes for the Northfork team to spring into action on a new feature. This allows Coop to innovate fast and to be an example to the competition.

Lessons learned

The four key lessons to come out of the Cooper project between Coop and Northfork are:

  • The faster you fail, the easier it is to succeed.
  • You don’t need a committee in order to innovate. Working at start-up velocity allows new ideas to be trialled and results to be analysed.
  • Don’t use obtaining consensus as a means of avoiding the fear of failure or blame.
  • Find your change-maker. Look at who is driving change and go on that journey with them.


Grocery Shopping on Autopilot: Lessons Learned Series from Experts. This six-part thought leadership series shares valuable insights from industry leaders from across the World who lead the way of the rapid evolution of the grocery industry.   

About the author

Erik Wallin
CEO at Northfork

Erik is co-founder of Northfork, he has a long experience of the grocery industry within marketing and sales. Before Northfork, Erik founded BagHitch a P2P transportation service.