Last week at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit, I listened to Gabe Vehovsky, SVP of Digital Strategy from Discovery Communications. He talked about innovation and a company’s ability to combine Entrepreneurs, who are good in exploring and leading in a visionary manner, together with Experienced Hands in an established company, who have built successful brands. He mentioned there’s a real challenge of meshing together a start-up mentality with big company operational know-how. Even at the group level, it requires (my word) a real Intrapreneurial spirit.
Build or Buy or Neither
Increasingly, companies are feeling more comfortable with buying vs. building their technology. As Vehovsky points out there is “an immense amount of gray” between those two choices and there always two other options to consider (which few talk about):
- A minority investment in a company
- Create an incubator bringing start-ups into your culture so they have access to their resources
Vehovsky stated that assembling a successful entrepreneurial team is like building puzzle that requires you to have all the right pieces in place. Similar to kids’ puzzles, however, this might not be an option because rarely do you find all the pieces you want. As I know from my playing with my kids, you usually only have a few of the pieces you need on hand.
Getting the Right Virtual Legos in Place
Innovation is an iterative process, however, and it takes time to acquire all the right ‘virtual pieces’ so you should start collecting them now and save them for when you really need them. Unfortunately, companies that are defined by their P&L might not be willing to let a team work on something that isn’t going to hit the market at a specific time.
Other challenges for building an intrepreneurial culture is that companies often don’t encourage their employees to share with others in the company. Nor do not they nurture a sharing environment (Something that kids need to think about too : ). Unfortunately, I know of many companies that prefer to have two teams slug it out to see who can get their product to market first.
Building a team with different personalities and different strengths is a key. It requires at least some of the following personality types:
- The Creative Mind: The idea guy.. the Visionary – Unfortunately, I need to be cliche and say ‘think of Steve Jobs
- The Organizer: This is the person who can project manage, drive people to a deadline, etc. See this movie:
- The Deal Guy: This is the guy who goes out establishes key partnerships and business deals, but sometimes can be a bit over the top, like Gordon Gekko
- The Hustler: Reminds of the movie “The Hustler” when Newman tells Gleason he dreams about the game ever night and that he owns ‘the table”.. and gets what he fights or plays for.
- The Builder (I added this one): Someone has to program the offering — whether it is an app or something sitting in the cloud. Or maybe it’s the guy who built a Rolls Royce engine out of Lego bricks.
Increasingly, companies are being challenged to find these types of individuals, so you need to keep your finger on the job market” pulse. You need to go where your prospects are which is similar to the recent social media motto “fish where the fish are.” You need to understand their tribes and watering holes.
Building a High Performing Team
Other key characteristics for a successful entrepreneurial team in a big company include:
- Having a continuous improvement mindset
- Gain access to the best technology
- Receptiveness to the closet entrepreneur
- Executive support
- Setting proper expectations
- Getting line of sight and alignment for these expectations (getting everyone to agree on goals)
- Willingness to place bets – even risky bets
- Intellectual curiosity (This is something I can really relate to. I work best when individuals have this)
- Resources (Even if you are boot-strapping things, you need money and time)
What am I missing? It’s Sunday night and I had a long day teaching my kids about sharing and building Legos, so if you have any suggestions, send them my way.