Honor and Recognition in Event of Success

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Attributed to Ernest Shackleton

In 1912 Ernest Shackleton placed this ad to recruit a crew for the ship Endurance and his expedition to the South Pole. This would be one of the most heroic journeys of exploration ever undertaken. In it Shackleton defined courage and leadership.

Over the last year I’ve been lucky enough to watch the corporate equivalent at a major U.S. corporation – starting a new technology division bringing disruptive technology to market at General Electric.

One of GE’s new divisions – GE’s Energy Storage – has been given the charter to bring an entirely new battery technology to market. This battery works equally well whether it’s below freezing or broiling hot. It’s high density, long life, environmentally friendly and can go places other batteries can’t.

This is a new division of a large, old company where one would think innovation had long been beaten out of them. You couldn’t be more wrong. The Energy Storage division is acting like a startup, and Prescott Logan its General Manager, has lived up to the charter. He’s as good as any startup CEO in Silicon Valley. Working with him, I’ve been impressed to watch his small team embrace Customer Development (and Business Model Generation) and search the world for the right product/market fit. They’ve tested their hypotheses with literally hundreds of customer interviews on every continent in the world. They’ve gained as good of an insight into customer needs and product feature set than any startup I’ve seen. And they’ve continuously iterated and gone through a few pivots of their business model. (Their current initial markets for their batteries include telecom, utilities, transportation and Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) markets.) And they’ve being doing this while driving product cost down and performance up.

GE’s performance in implementing Customer Development gives lie to the tale that only web startups can be agile. Corporate elephants can dance.

So why this post?

GE’s Energy Storage division is looking to hire two insanely great people who can act like senior execs in a startup:

  • A leader of Customer Development — think of it as a Product Manger running a product line who knows how to get out of the building and not write MRD’s but listen to customers.
  • A Sales Closer – a salesman who can make up the sales process on the fly and bring in deals without a datasheet, price list or roadmap. They will build the sales team that follows.

If you’ve been intrigued by the notion of customer development in an early stage startup —getting out of the building to talk to customers and working with an engineering team that’s capable of being agile and responsive – yet backed by a $150 billion corporation, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. (The good news/bad news is that you’ll spend ½ your time on airplanes listening to customers.)

If you have 10 years of product management or sales experience, and think that you have extraordinary talent to match the opportunity, submit your resume by: 1) Clicking on Customer Development or Sales Closer, and 2) Emailing your resume to Prescott Logan at prescott.logan@ge.com Tell him you want to sign up for the adventure.

Honor and recognition in event of success.
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4 Responses

  1. Hi Steve,

    Changing behavior in a large company is difficult and I applaud Prescott for making Customer Development a reality at GE.

    In the past year, I have been doing customer development within a start-up division of a $13B educational company. Much of the experience has been positive, but it took considerable effort to convince the executive sponsors (read, not VCs) that the process for launching a new product and the metrics that measure its success are completely different from what they’re used to.

    The idea of hypothesis testing to find a scalable, repeatable business model is foreign to executives who live quarter to quarter with a semi-predictable revenue stream and expense line. In this world, personal success is achieved by avoiding failure and limiting risk while experimentation is only done through separate “innovation funds” – projects that take months to procure.

    I’m still a believer that customer development is the right approach to take when launching a new product regardless of the size of the organization – but the culture has to be the right fit as well for it to succeed.

    Matt Kaplan

  2. I appreciate the reference to Ernest Shackleton’s story. I remember drawing a similar parallel when reading Shackleton’s Way a few years back.

    Concerning battery technology – I recall there was some talk about Warren Buffett investing in a breakthrough battery technology in China. I wonder if the GE initiative is of similar scope or at least leveraging on this work?

  3. I have heard that one reason why Shackleton had a very successful failure (cf. the Endurance) was that, as a child, he had to deal with eight sisters!

  4. Ha, the sales closer description. I love it. Didn’t know that there was any other way to sell! Kudos to GE & Presscott. Make it happen.

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