Tuning your mind to that famous Silicon Valley mindset will help you innovate like a startup
In this interview, Jan Kennedy, CEO & Founder of The Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship offers us a glimpse into the real meaning of “Silicon Valley”. He explains to us how startup methods can help corporates to stay ahead, without spending years to develop such an innovative culture.
Jan, your approach to fuelling innovation is to apply Silicon Valley techniques in a big corporate. Isn’t that by nature difficult, given the context of a big organisation?
Nothing worth doing was ever easy, so yes, it’s difficult but not impossible! But let’s take a step back first. We should be careful to separate Silicon Valley from Big Corporates. “Silicon Valley” is too often typified as “startups”. Silicon Valley is a place, but it should mostly be seen as mindset. It has its own culture, its way of behavior and shared integral values like “pay it forward” or “fail fast”.
Silicon Valley is a place, but it should mostly be seen as mindset.
It is this culture, this attitude and visionary way of life that has allowed startups like Intel, HP, Dell, Microsoft and all those others to grow incredibly quick and become big corporates. Hence, it is important to realize that big corporates can and do embody “silicon valley” – they created it and many top innovators have copied or adapted it for themselves.
The main question presented at the conference should then be whether or not it is possible to grasp the essence of this culture. If we are able to filter out which mechanisms foster an innovative climate, we are able to implement this culture within other organizations. This is not easy, but possible over time.
Who wins? Understanding that only the customer decides is half the battle. If an end-user is being better served by a startup than by an incumbent, then that becomes the cause of a disruption (assuming its happening on a large enough scale). But if the incumbent is doing a good job in serving its customers, then a startup won’t get a look in.
Understanding that only the customer decides is half the battle.
I don’t believe that today’s consumers care if their problem is being solved by a 30 year old company or by a 1 year old startup – they will chose the best solution provided to them, based on how well it solves their problem.
Example: We didn’t all wait around for our trusted mobile phone provider to offer us free SMS messaging via the internet… we instantly jumped on Whatsapp as soon as it was launched. So as a consumer I would argue we just want one thing – solutions to our problems.
Consider this: a startup only has something to gain, whereas an established company has everything to lose, which I think is somewhat ironic because you would think that in itself would make the corporate want to innovate like crazy.
Consider this: a startup only has something to gain, whereas an established company has everything to lose
At the blink of an eye, loosing track of what a customer wants can result in them losing the battle. It is their imperative to innovate faster. It doesn’t mean the entire company now suddenly needs to be a startup – that can’t happen. But setting up a range of startup-like functions that can search out and develop innovations will most probably help you to stay ahead!
You are right. Innovation is not just a “finding the needle in the haystack” kind of game. The “Home Run”-principle doesn’t really apply. At the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship, we believe in a five-step process for getting new ventures off the ground:
- Ideation: Finding ideas that are worth pursuing (align with innovation goals) and could be executed on using available corporate resources
- Discovery: Giving that idea a chance to evolve by conducting experiments around the customer, the problem and the solution, to produce validated learning based on data.
- Incubation: Now you are testing how to deliver the solution to the market in a way it will be accepted by the customer and is economically viable for the corporate. You are searching for Product-Market fit before investing in building the final solution
- Launch & Growth: Allow more customers to access the solution and test all areas of your business model such as key partners or your chosen channels
- Scale: Transferring the project to an execution skill set and optimizing operations for efficiency.
We found that many corporates skip the Discovery step and jump into building products and incubating, before they really validated if they were solving the right problem for the right customer in the right way. That’s the stage where you can apply a lot of Design Thinking, Customer Development and Lean Startup techniques that can keep you on track with a good idea.
Customer data needs to fuel those decisions, and not management’s gut feeling or secondary market research – those are for determining the parameters of the idea stage. Of course, we can come up with 101 reasons why things don’t work this way yet, but most of them come down to just one: culture.
We’ve been learning and testing approaches from hundreds of thought leaders and practitioners across the startup and corporate world, and learning more every day. My partners and I have been building a huge global network of Corporate Entrepreneurship facilitators and mentors who help corporate startup teams, which is where the real value comes across.
Our methods are deeply rooted in the application of Intuit’s programs which have created tens of millions in new revenue, hundreds of Intrapreneurs, speeded up product growth, increased employee engagement and increased customer happiness.
Also the Founder Institute where I am a Director has been a big influence with its approach in dramatically increasing the survival rate of early stage ventures, currently at 87.5% based on 1,300 ventures over the past 6 years.
Companies who are serious about innovating, are enjoying our Lean Enterprise Accelerator Programs (LEAP) to launch products faster, save costs, collaborate with partners, start new ventures or entirely change their existing business model. You’ll hear stories from Intuit and Schibsted Media at the conference as well. The AfCE aims to engage employees, accelerate innovation and transform culture to help the corporate innovate continuously.
We have a proven blueprint but there is still a lot of room for customization at the individual corporate level. The typical LEAP program starts with a 3-day kickoff event for pre-screened ideas and teams to receive a baptism by fire.
They are introduced to Design Thinking, Customer Development and Lean Startup and will carry out real customer experiments, leveraging guidance from mentors. Teams then enter a 3-months period of part-time developing the idea into a new venture fit for launch or incubation (depending on its complexities) and experiencing the entrepreneurial journey.
At the same time, innovation managers and sponsors receive higher level mentoring on how to mentor startup teams themselves and how to start creating the internal systems that will lead to cultural impact.
The generic things to consider are:
- Who should be involved as a team member and who should be skilled up as a mentor
- What are your strategic innovation areas and ideas
- How fast do you want to move through the process of validating new ideas?
This can be done on a small departmental level or to create hundreds of intrapreneurs worldwide – it is a replicable process.