Corporate Acquisitions of Startups: Why Do They Fail?

For decades large companies have gone shopping in Silicon Valley for startups. Lately the pressure of continuous disruption has forced them to step up the pace.

More often than not the results of these acquisitions are disappointing.

What can companies learn from others’ failed efforts to integrate startups into large companies? The answer - there are two types of integration strategies, and they depend on where the startup is in its lifecycle.

The Innovation Portfolio
Most large companies manage three types of innovation: process innovation (making existing products incrementally better), continuous innovation (building on the strength of the company’s current business model but creating new elements) and disruptive innovation (creating products or services that did not exist before.)

Companies manage these three types of innovation with an innovation portfolio – they build innovation internally, they buy it or they partner with resources outside their company.

innovation portfolioFive Types of Innovation to Buy
If they decide to buy, large companies can:

  1. license/acquire intellectual property
  2. acquire startups for their teams (and discard the product)
  3. buy out another company’s product line for the product
  4. acquire a company for the product and its installed base of users
  5. buy out an entire company for its revenue and profits.

Silicon Valley – a Corporate Innovation Candy Store
Corporate business development and strategic partner executives are flocking to Silicon Valley to find these five types of innovation. In response, venture capital firms like Sequoia and Andreessen/Horowitz are hiring new partners just to work with their portfolio companies and match them to corporations. They are actively organizing annual and quarterly activities to bring the portfolio and Fortune 500 decision makers together–  in both large events and one-on-one visits. The goal is to get a corporate investment or an outright acquisition of the startup.

VCs like acquisitions as much as IPOs because the acquiring companies often can rationalize paying large multiples over the current valuation of the startup. For acquirers this math makes sense since they can factor in the potential impact the startup has when combined with their existing business. However, these nosebleed valuations make it even more important in getting the acquired company integrated correctly. The common mistake acquirers make is treating all acquisitions the same.

Is the Potential Acquisition Searching or Executing?
Not all new ventures are at the same stage of maturity. Remember, the definition of a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. (A business model is all the parts of a strategy necessary to deliver a product to a customer and make money from it. These include the product itself, the customer, the distribution channel, revenue model, how to get, keep and grow customers, resources and activities needed to build the business and costs.)

Startups are those companies that are still in the process of searching for a business model. Ventures that are further along and now executing their business model are no longer startups, they are now early-stage companies. Large corporations come to the valley to looking to acquire both startups which are searching for a business model and early-stage companies which are executing.

Companies that acquire startups for their intellectual property, teams or product lines are acquiring startups that are still searching for a business model. If they acquire later stage companies who already have users/customers and/or a predictable revenue stream, they are acquiring companies which are executing.

What gets lost when a large company looks at the rationale for an acquisition (IP, team, product, users) is that startups are run by founders searching for a business model. The founding team is testing for the right combination of product, market, revenue, costs, etc. They do it with a continual customer discovery process, iterating, pivoting and building incremental MVP’s.

This phase of a new venture is chaotic and unpredictable with very few processes, procedures or formal hierarchy. At this stage the paramount goal of the startup management team is to find product/market fit and a business model that can scale before they run out of cash. This search phase is driven by the startup culture which encourages individual initiative and autonomy, and creates a shared esprit de corps that results in the passionate and relentless pursuit of opportunity. This is the antithesis of the process, procedures and rules that make up large companies.

In contrast, early stage companies that have found product/market fit are now in execution mode, scaling their organization and customer base. While they still may share the same passion as a startup, the goal is now scale. Since scale and execution require repeatable processes and procedures, these companies have begun to replace their chaotic early days with org charts, HR manuals, revenue plans, budgets, key performance indicators and other tools that allow measurement and control of a growing business. And as part of their transition to predictable processes, their founders may or may not still be at the helm. Often they have brought in an operating executive as the new CEO.

Predicting Success or Failure of an Acquisition
So what? Who cares whether a potential acquisition is searching or executing?

Ironically, the business development and strategic partner executives who find the startup and negotiate the deal are not the executives who manage the integration or the acquisition. Usually it’s up to the CTO or the operating executive who wanted the innovative technology (and at times with a formal HR integration process) to decide the fate of the startup inside the acquiring company.

It turns out the success of the acquisition depends on whether the acquiring company intends to keep the new venture as a standalone division or integrate and assimilate it into the corporation.

Actually there is a simple heuristic to guide this decision.

If the startup is being acquired for its intellectual property and/or team, the right strategy is to integrate and assimilate it quickly. The rest is just overhead surrounding what is the core value to the acquiring company.

However, if the startup is still in search mode, and you want the product line and users to grow at its current pace or faster, keep the startup as an independent division and appoint the existing CEO as the division head. Given startups in this stage are chaotic, and the speed of innovation depends on preserving a culture that is driven by autonomy and initiative, insulate the acquisition as much as possible from the corporate overhead. Unless you want to stop innovation in your new acquisition dead in its tracks, do not pile on the corporate KPI’s, processes and procedures. Provide the existing CEO with a politically savvy “corporate concierge” to access the acquiring company’s resources to further accelerate growth. (It helps if the acquirer has incentives for its existing employees that tie the new acquisition’s success to those that help them.) The key insight here is that for a startup still searching for a business model, corporate processes and policies will kill innovation and drive the employees responsible for innovation out of the acquired company before the startup’s optimal value can be realized.

If the acquisition is in execution mode, the right model is to integrate and assimilate it. Combine its emerging corporate KPI’s, process and procedures with those of the acquiring company. Unless it’s the rare founder who secretly loves processes and procedures, transition the existing CEO to a corporate innovation group or an exit.

Acquisiton strategy

Lessons Learned

  • Corporate acquirers need to know what they’re buying – is their acquisition searching or executing
  • If the startup is acquired for its IP, talent or revenue, it should be rapidly integrated into the acquirer
  • If the startup is acquired for its products and/or users, preserve its startup culture by keeping it an independent unit
    • Appoint a “corporate concierge” to access the acquiring company’s resources
    • Incentive programs need to tie together the new acquisition’s continued success and the rest of the company
  • Acquirers need a formal integration and on-boarding process

ESADE Business School Commencement Speech

President Bieto, Dean Sauquet, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen….Thank you for the kind introduction. I’m honored to be at a university noted for knowledge, and in a city with 2000 years of history –  home of Gaudí one of the 20th century’s greatest innovators.ESADE quote

I’d like to start with a request.

Everyone, hold your phone up in the air like this.

Now look around.  In this sea of phones do you see any Blackberries? How about any Nokia phones?

Ok you can put your phones down now but let’s keep exploring this a bit. Raise your hand if you rented a VHS tape last night? Or if you used a paper map to find your way here?

These questions and your answers lie at the heart of what I’d like to talk about with you today: the changing face of innovation and your role in it.

Let’s start with Joseph Schumpeter. I’m sure many of you have heard his name. Schumpeter was an economist who taught at Harvard in the 1930’s and 40’s.  I like the guy because he’s credited with coining the word entrepreneur. But you probably remember him as the one who proposed the theory of creative destruction.  According to Schumpeter, capitalism is an evolutionary process where new industries and new companies continually emerge to knock out the old.

Fifty years later another Harvard professor, Clayton Christensen, developed his theory of disruptive innovation, which actually described how creative destruction worked.

Disruptive innovation leads to the creative destruction of businesses that once seemed pre-eminent and secure.

Which brings me back to your mobile phones.

Think about this; 7 years ago Nokia owned 50% of the handset market. Apple owned 0%.  In fact, it was only 7 years ago that Apple shipped its first iPhone and Google introduced its Android operating system.

Fast-forward to today—Apple is the most profitable Smartphone company in the world and in Spain Android commands a market share of more than 90%.  And Nokia?  Its worldwide market share of Smartphones has dwindled to 5%.

You’re witnessing creative destruction and disruptive innovation at work. It’s the paradox of progress in a capitalist economy.

So congratulations graduates – as you move forward in your careers, you’ll be face to face with innovation that’s relentless.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about today—how innovation will shape the business world of the next 50 years—and what it means for you.

——-

The Perfect Storm
Your time at ESADE has trained you to become a global business leader.

But the world you lead will be much different from the one your professors knew or your predecessors managed.

Just look at the disruptive challenges that businesses face today– globalization, China as a manufacturer, China as a consumer, the Internet, and a steady stream of new startups. Today’s workforce has radically different expectations, brands are losing their power, physical channels are being destroyed by virtual ones, market share is less important than market creation, and software is eating world.

Industries that we all grew up with, industries that enjoyed decades of market dominance – like newspapers, bookstores, video rentals, personal computers — are being swept away.

The convergence of digital trends along with the rise of China and globalization has upended the rules for almost every business in every corner of the globe. It’s worth noting that everything from the Internet, to electric cars, genomic sequencing, mobile apps, and social media — were pioneered by startups, not existing companies.

Perhaps that’s because where established companies might see risks or threats, startups see opportunity. As the venture capital business has come roaring back in the last 5 years, startups are awash in available capital. As a consequence, existing companies confront a tidal wave of competitors 100 times what they saw 25 years ago.

Efficiency over innovation
Yet in the face of all this change, traditional firms continue to embrace a management ethos that values efficiency over innovation. Companies horde cash and squeeze the most revenue and margin from the money they use. Instead of measuring success in dollars of profit, …firms focus on measuring capital efficiency. Metrics like Return on Net Assets, Return on Capital and Internal Rate of Return are the guiding stars of the board and CEO.

Cheered on by finance professors, Wall Street analysts, investors and hedge funds, companies have learned how to make metrics like Internal Rate of Return look great by one; outsourcing everything, two, getting assets off their balance sheet, and three only investing in things that pay off fast.

As Harvard professor Clayton Christensen noted, these efficiency metrics provided wise guidance for times when capital was scarce and raising money was hard. But they have also stacked the deck against investment in long-term innovation.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, policy makers have kept interest rates at near zero, flooding the market with cheap money in an attempt to restart growth. In spite of this, private equity funds have used the rallying cry of efficiency to hijack corporate strategy and loot the profits that historically would have been reinvested into research and development and new products. We legalized robbing the corporate treasury. Today billions of dollars that companies could have invested in innovation are sitting in the hands of private equity funds.

Unfortunately as we’ve learned from recent experience, using Return on Net Assets and IRR as proxies for efficiency and execution won’t save a company when their industry encounters creative disruption. Ask Sony about Samsung, ask any retailer about Amazon, any car company about Tesla, and any newspaper company about the web.

The stock market clearly values companies that can deliver disruptive innovation. Look at the valuations of companies like Tesla, Illumina, and Twitter.

In fact, I predict that over the next few decades, we will see two classes of public companies. The first will be commodity businesses that are valued for their ability to execute their current business model. Their lifetime as a market leader will be measured in years. The second class will be firms with a demonstrated ability to continually innovate and reinvent their business models. The companies that can show “startup-like” growth rates of 50% plus per year will get stratospheric market valuations.

So I hope you are thinking—“hey how can I lead a business with startup growth?” At least I hope you’re thinking that, rather than “oops I joined the wrong company.”The question for all of you is … “What will it take to inspire and manage this kind of innovation?”

Innovation
Before I answer that question, let’s take a minute to establish a common definition of innovation. At its most basic, innovation means to introduce something new. But in a business context, the meaning gets more nuanced. I’d like to describe the four types of innovation you can build inside a corporation:

The first type of corporate innovation is individual initiative. It’s exactly as it sounds – you build a corporate culture where anyone can suggest an idea and start a project. Some companies use a suggestion box, others like Google give employees 20% of their time to work on their own projects.

The second type of business innovation is called process improvement. This is the kind most of us are familiar with. Car companies introduce new models each year, running shoes grow ever lighter and more flexible, Coca-Cola offers a new version of Coke. Smart companies are always looking to make their current products better – and there are many ways to do this. For example they can reduce component cost, introduce a line extension or create new versions of the existing product. These innovations do not require change in a company’s existing business model.

This is what companies typically do to secure and defend their core business.

The third type of business innovation – continuous innovation – is much harder. Continuous innovation builds on a strength of the company’s current business model but requires that new elements be created. For example, Coke added snack foods, which could be distributed through its existing distribution channels. The Amazon Kindle played on Amazon’s strengths as a distributor of content but required developing expertise in electronics and manufacturing.

Fourth and finally is disruptive innovation – this is the innovation we associate with startups. This type of innovation creates new products or new services that did not exist before. It’s the automobile in the 1910’s, radio in the 1920’s, television in the 1950’s, the integrated circuit in the 1960’s, the fax machine in the 1970’s, personal computers in the 1980’s, the Internet in the 1990’s, and the Smartphone, human genome sequencing, and even fracking in this decade. These innovations are exactly what Schumpeter and Christensen were talking about. They create new industries and destroy existing ones. And interestingly, in spite of all their resources, large companies are responsible for very, very few disruptive innovations.

The first two types of innovation—individual and process innovation– are what good companies do well.  The third type—continuous innovation—is a hallmark of great companies like GE and Procter and Gamble.  But the fourth type of innovation – creating disruptive innovation– and doing it on a repeatable basis– is what extraordinary companies do. Apple with the iPod, iPhone and iPad; Amazon with Amazon Web Services and Kindle; Toyota with the Prius… these companies are extraordinary because, like startups, they create entirely new products and services.

ESADE and other great business schools have provided decades of advice and strategy for the first three types of innovation. But leading an existing firm to innovate like a startup is not business as usual.

Building Innovation Internally is Hard
Paradoxically, in spite of the seemingly endless resources, innovation inside of an existing company is much harder than inside a startup.  That’s because existing companies face a conundrum: Every policy and procedure that makes them efficient execution machines stifles innovation.

Think about this.  When it comes to innovation, public companies have two strikes against them.  First the markets favor capital efficiency over R&D.  And secondly, their sole purpose is to focus resources on the execution of their business model.

As a consequence, companies are optimized for execution over innovation. And to keep executing large organizations hire employees with a range of skills and competencies. To manage these employees companies create metrics to control, measure and reward execution.  But remember—in public companies financial metrics take precedence. As a result, staff functions and business units develop their own performance indicators and processes to ensure that every part of the organization marches in lock step to the corporate numbers.

These Key Performance Indicators and processes are what make a company efficient —but they are also the root cause of its inability to be agile and innovative. Every time another execution process is added, corporate innovation dies a little more.

Act Like a Startup
So how does a company act like a startup in search of new business models while still continuing to successfully execute?

First, management must understand that innovation happens not by exception but is integral to all parts of the firm. If they don’t, then the management team has simply become caretakers of the founders’ legacy. This never ends well.

Second and maybe the most difficult is the recognition that innovation is chaotic, messy and uncertain. Not everything will work out, but failure in innovation is not cause for firing but for learning. Managers need radically different tools to control and measure innovation. A company needs innovation policies, innovation processes and innovation incentives to match those it already has for execution. These will enable firms to embrace innovation by design not by exception.

Third, smart companies manage an innovation portfolio where they can pursue potential disruption in a variety of ways. To build innovation internally companies can adopt the practices of startups and accelerators.  To buy innovation companies can buy intellectual property, acquire great teams, buy-out another company’s product line or even buy entire companies. And if they’re particularly challenged in a market they can acquire and integrate disruptive innovation.  My favorite example is Exxon’s $35 billion purchase of XTO Energy in large part to get their fracking expertise.

Other smart companies are learning how to use Open Innovation pioneered by Henry Chesbrough who teaches here at ESADE. They can partner with suppliers, co-create with consumers, open-source key technologies, open their application programming interfaces, or run open incubators for customer ideas.

Everything I’ve been talking about smart companies have already figured out.  Many firms are creating the new role of Chief Innovation Officer to lead and manage these innovation activities. Ultimately this is not just another staff function. The Chief Innovation Officer is a c-level executive who runs the company’s entire innovation portfolio and oversees the integration of innovation metrics and initiatives across the entire organization.

Looking forward, all of you will play a role in the future of business innovation, whether you help to accelerate it or discourage it.
How can you kill innovation? Some companies have so lost the DNA for innovation they become “rent seekers”. Rent seekers fight to keep the status quo. Instead of offering better products or superior service, rent seekers hire lawyers and lobbyists to influence politicians to pass laws that block competition. The bad news here is that countries where bribes and corruption are the cost of doing business or that are dominated by organized interest groups, tend to be the economic losers. And as rent-seeking becomes more attractive than innovation, the economy falls into decline.

I know that’s not the path most of you want to take. Instead I think you want to be part of the innovation team.  And if you do you are in luck. Companies need your help.

They need your help in creating new metrics to manage measure disruptive innovation.  They need your help in creating new innovation incentive systems that reward creative innovation.

And they need your help as leaders who can run companies that can both execute and innovate.

Finally, remember Innovation won’t come from plans or people outside your company  – it will be found in the people you already have inside who understand your company’s strengths and its vulnerabilities.

So in closing, let me leave you with this final thought:

A pessimist sees danger in every opportunity but an optimist.. an optimist sees opportunity in every danger.

In the last 150 years only a few generations have had the opportunity to reshape the nature of business.

Be an optimist.

Congratulations class of 2014:

Embrace change and lead the way.

—-

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Why Internal Ventures are Different from External Startups

Henry Chesbrough is known as the father of Open Innovation and wrote  the book that defined the practice. Henry is the Faculty Director of the  Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, at U.C. Berkeley in the Haas Business School.  Henry and I teach a corporate innovation class together.

——

Thanks to Steve for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all.  This post follows directly on Steve’s earlier excellent post, Why Companies are not Startups.

The question of how corporations can be more innovative is one I have wrestled with for a long time.  For those who don’t know, I wrote the book Open Innovation in 2003, and followed it with Open Business Models in 2006, and Open Services Innovation in 2011.

More recently, Steve, Alexander Osterwalder and I have started sharing notes, ideas and insights on this problem.  We even ran an executive education course last fall at Berkeley on Corporate Business Model Innovation that helped each of us understand the others’ perspectives on this problem.  In this post, I want to share some new thoughts that build on Steve’s post, and connect them to Lean Startup methods.  However, I will then argue that while these methods are necessary to managing new ventures inside a company, they are insufficient.

First, let me recap a key insight for me from Steve’s post.  A startup is a temporary organization in search of a repeatable, scalable business model.  A corporation, by contrast, is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable, scalable business model.  While a simple statement, this is a profound insight.  When companies want to innovate a new business model (vs. innovating new products and services within an already scaled business model), the processes that companies have optimized for execution inevitably interfere with the search processes needed to discover a new business model.

This has serious implications for corporate venturing, for innovating new businesses – and new business models – inside an existing corporation.  The context for an internal venture inside an existing company is dramatically different from the context confronting an external startup out in the wild.  The good news is that corporations have access to resources and capabilities that most startups can only dream of, whether it is free cash flow, a strong brand, a vibrant supply chain, strong distribution, a skilled sales force, and so on.  The bad news is that, as Steve reminded us above, each of these assets is tailored to execute the existing business model, not to help search for a new one.  So what seem like unfair advantages for corporate ventures become inflexible liabilities that block the search process of the venture.

But the contextual differences go even beyond these substantial differences.  A corporate venture, struggling to search for a new, repeatable and scalable business model, must wage that struggle on two fronts, not just one.  The external startup has to work long hours, and make many pivots, to identify the product-market fit, validate the MVP, and articulate a winning business model that can then be repeated and scaled.  The internal venture must do all this, and more!  The internal venture must fight on a second front at the same time within the corporation.  That second fight must obtain the permissions, protection, resources, etc. needed to launch the venture initiative, and then must work to retain that support over time as conflicts arise (which they will).

Knowing Steve’s fondness for military metaphors, think of the corporate venture as fighting a war on two fronts at the same time.  Just as Germany’s domination of Western Europe in World War II was eventually undone by its decision to launch a second front by invading Russia, so too unlike a start up, corporate ventures cannot focus solely on winning in the external marketplace.   This leads to two key points:

Point 1:  You have to fight – and win- on two fronts (both outside and inside), in order to succeed in corporate venturing.  As Steve would say, this is a big idea.

One memorable example of this was Xerox’s internal venture capital fund, Xerox Technology Ventures (XTV).  Launched by Robert Adams in 1989, this $30 million fund grew to over $200 million in the next 7 years, as it launched companies like Documentum and Document Sciences out of Xerox’s fabled Palo Alto Research Center.  This financial performance was extraordinary, and put XTV in the top quartile of all VC funds launched in 1989.  Ordinary VCs would use this success to raise an even larger fund, and try to create the magic once more.

But Xerox instead chose to shut XTV down in 1996, despite its external success.  Why?  XTV’s success created lots of internal dissatisfaction within Xerox.  The success of Documentum and Document Sciences, they felt, came largely from Xerox technology and customers, yet the startup companies XTV funded got all the credit.  Worse, Robert Adams and his two partners got 20% of the carried interest in the fund, resulting in payouts of $30 million to the partnership.  This was more, far more, than the Xerox CEO was paid in those years.  So XTV won in the market, but lost inside the corporation.

This leads us to:

Point two: Corporate ventures may need to pivot to obtain and retain internal corporate support for the venture.  This is likely to be controversial for adherents to Lean Startup thinking because we traditionally think of pivoting to improve the product-market fit in the external marketplace.  But astute corporate venture managers, realizing that they must fight the war on two fronts, will also be alert to the need to pivot if needed in order to keep the internal support they require in order to succeed.  For example, the new venture might pivot away from current customers of the corporation in the early days of the venture, in order to reduce friction with the established sales force (who want to sell large quantities of the current product, not test minute quantities of some future product that may or may not ever be built in volume.  Worse, the potential new product might give customers a reason to delay the purchase of today’s products).

This also suggests that the internal organization must be carefully designed and prepared in order to sustain internal support for ventures over time.  Ventures that launch without this preparation are at great risk as soon as the initial enthusiasm for innovation begins to wane.  One bad quarter for the company, or one transition for a key internal champion, or the arrival of a new CEO who wants to clean house, any of these unforeseen changes could spell doom for an unprepared internal venture program.

This suggests a further modification to Lean Startup:  Get Upstairs in the Building.  You will need strong, sustained internal support for successful internal venturing.  You will need to get the bigwigs upstairs to sign up to the risks, and put structures in place to insulate and protect the ventures from the execution processes in a large company that will attack the new venture.  Think of it as internal political product-market fit, and prepare to pivot in order to increase that fit (and your support).

We will continue our conversations, and I fully expect that Steve, Alex and I will have more to say about how best to structure and support new ventures inside a large corporation in future posts!

Lessons Learned:

  • Internal ventures face a different context than do external startups.
  • Venturing inside a corporation is a 2-front war.
  • Lean Startup Methods are necessary, but insufficient, to fight this war.
  • An internal venture may need to pivot to gain or maintain internal support.  Get Upstairs in the Building, to generate this support.
  • Stay tuned, as Steve, Alex and I have more coming….

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Why Companies are Not Startups

In the last few years we’ve recognized that a startup is not a smaller version of a large company. We’re now learning that companies are not larger versions of startups.

There’s been lots written about how companies need to be more innovative, but very little on what stops them from doing so.

Companies looking to be innovative face a conundrum: Every policy and procedure that makes them efficient execution machines stifles innovation.

This first post will describe some of the structural problems companies have; follow-on posts will offer some solutions.

—-

Facing continuous disruption from globalization, China, the Internet, the diminished power of brands, changing workforce, etc., existing enterprises are establishing corporate innovation groups. These groups are adapting or adopting the practices of startups and accelerators – disruption and innovation rather than direct competition, customer development versus more product features, agility and speed versus lowest cost.

But paradoxically, in spite of all their seemingly endless resources, innovation inside of an existing company is much harder than inside a startup. For most companies it feels like innovation can only happen by exception and heroic efforts, not by design. The question is – why?

The Enterprise: Business Model Execution
We know that a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. The corollary for an enterprise is:

A company is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable and scalable business model.

Once you understand that existing companies are designed to execute then you can see why they have a hard time with continuous and disruptive innovation.

Every large company, whether it can articulate it or not, is executing a proven business model(s). A business model guides an organization to create and deliver products/service and make money from it. It describes the product/service, who is it for, what channel sells/deliver it, how demand is created, how does the company make money, etc.

Somewhere in the dim past of the company, it too was a startup searching for a business model. But now, as the business model is repeatable and scalable, most employees take the business model as a given, and instead focus on the execution of the model – what is it they are supposed to do every day when they come to work. They measure their success on metrics that reflect success in execution, and they reward execution.

It’s worth looking at the tools companies have to support successful execution and explain why these same execution policies and processes have become impediments and are antithetical to continuous innovation.

20th century Management Tools for Execution
In the 20th century business schools and consulting firms developed an amazing management stack to assist companies to execute. These tools brought clarity to corporate strategy, product line extension strategies, and made product management a repeatable process.

bcg matrix

For example, the Boston Consulting Group 2 x 2 growth-share matrix was an easy to understand strategy tool – a market selection matrix for companies looking for growth opportunities.

Strategy Maps from Robert Kaplan

Strategy Maps

Strategy Maps are a visualization tool to translate strategy into specific actions and objectives, and to measure the progress of how the strategy gets implemented.

StageGate

StageGate Process

Product management tools like Stage-Gate® emerged to systematically manage Waterfall product development. The product management process assumes that product/market fit is known, and the products can get spec’d and then implemented in a linear fashion.

Strategy becomes visible in a company when you draw the structure to execute the strategy. The most visible symbol of execution is the organization chart. It represents where employees fit in an execution hierarchy; showing command and control hierarchies – who’s responsible, what they are responsible for, and who they manage below them, and report to above them.

GM 1925 org chart

All these tools – strategy, product management and organizational structures, have an underlying assumption – that the business model – which features customers want, who the customer is, what channel sells/delivers the product or service, how demand is created, how does the company make money, etc – is known, and that all the company needed is a systematic process for execution.

Driven by Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and Processes
Once the business model is known, the company organizes around that goal and measures efforts to reach the goal, and seeks the most efficient ways to reach the goal. This systematic process of execution needs to be repeatable and scalable throughout a large organization by employees with a range of skills and competencies. Staff functions in finance, human resources, legal departments and business units developed Key Performance Indicators, processes, procedures and goals to measure, control and execute.

Paradoxically, these very KPIs and processes, which make companies efficient, are the root cause of corporations’ inability to be agile, responsive innovators. 

This is a big idea.

Finance  The goals for public companies are driven primarily by financial Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). They include: return on net assets (RONA), return on capital deployed, internal rate of return (IRR), net/gross margins, earnings per share, marginal cost/revenue, debt/equity, EBIDA, price earning ratio, operating income, net revenue per employee, working capital, debt to equity ratio, acid test, accounts receivable/payable turnover, asset utilization, loan loss reserves, minimum acceptable rate of return, etc.

(A consequence of using these corporate finance metrics like RONA and IRR is that it‘s a lot easier to get these numbers to look great by 1) outsourcing everything, 2) getting assets off the balance sheet and 3) only investing in things that pay off fast. These metrics stack the deck against a company that wants to invest in long-term innovation.)

These financial performance indicators then drive the operating functions (sales, manufacturing, etc) or business units that have their own execution KPI’s (market share, quote to close ratio, sales per rep, customer acquisition/activation costs, average selling price, committed monthly recurring revenue, customer lifetime value, churn/retention, sales per square foot, inventory turns, etc.)

Corp policies and KPIs

Corporate KPI’s, Policy and Procedures: Innovation Killers

HR Process  Historically Human Resources was responsible for recruiting, retaining and removing  employees to execute known business functions with known job spec’s. One of the least obvious but most important HR Process, and ultimately the most contentious, issue in corporate innovation is the difference in incentives. The incentive system for a company focused on execution is driven by the goal of meeting and exceeding “the (quarterly/yearly) plan.”  Sales teams are commission-based, executive compensation is based on EPS, revenue and margin, business units on revenue and margin contribution, etc.

What Does this Mean?
Every time another execution process is added, corporate innovation dies a little more.

The conundrum is that every policy and procedure that makes a company and efficient execution machine stifles innovation.

Innovation is chaotic, messy and uncertain. It needs radically different tools for measurement and control. It needs the tools and processes pioneered in Lean Startups.HBR Lean Startup article

While companies intellectually understand innovation, they don’t really know how to build innovation into their culture, or how to measure its progress.

What to Do?
It may be that the current attempts to build corporate innovation are starting at the wrong end of the problem. While it’s fashionable to build corporate incubators there’s little evidence that they deliver more than “Innovation Theater.” Because internal culture applies execution measures/performance indicators to the output of these incubators and allocates resources to them same way as to executing parts of company.

Corporations that want to build continuous innovation realize that innovation happens not by exception but as integral to all parts of the corporation.

To do so they will realize that a company needs innovation KPI’s, policies, processes and incentives. (Our Investment Readiness Level is just one of those metrics.) These enable innovation to occur as an integral and parallel process to execution. By design not by exception.

We’ll have more to say about this in future posts.

Lessons Learned

  • Innovation inside of an existing company is much harder than a startup
  • KPI’s and processes are the root cause of corporations’ inability to be agile and responsive innovators
  • Every time another execution process is added, corporate innovation dies a little more
  • Intellectually companies understand innovation, they don’t have the tools to put it into practice
  • Companies need different policies,  procedures and incentives designed for innovation
  • Currently the data we use for execution models the past
  • Innovation metrics need to be predictive for the future
  • These tools and practices are coming…

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Is This Startup Ready For Investment?

Since 2005 startup accelerators have provided cohorts of startups with mentoring, pitch practice and product focus. However, accelerator Demo Days are a combination of graduation ceremony and pitch contest, with the uncomfortable feel of a swimsuit competition. Other than “I’ll know it when I see it”, there’s no formal way for an investor attending Demo Day to assess project maturity or quantify risks. Other than measuring engineering progress, there’s no standard language to communicate progress.

Corporations running internal incubators face many of the same selection issues as startup investors, plus they must grapple with the issues of integrating new ideas into existing P&L-driven functions or business units.

What’s been missing for everyone is:

  • a common language for investors to communicate objectives to startups
  • a language corporate innovation groups can use to communicate to business units and finance
  • data that investors, accelerators and incubators can use to inform selection

While it doesn’t eliminate great investor judgment, pattern recognition skills and mentoring, we’ve developed an Investment Readiness Level tool that fills in these missing pieces.

—-

Investment Readiness Level (IRL) for Corporations and Investors
The startups in our Lean LaunchPad classes and the NSF I-Corps incubator use LaunchPad Central to collect a continuous stream of data across all the teams. Over 10 weeks each team gets out of the building talking to 100 customers to test their hypotheses across all 9 boxes in the business model canvas.

We track each team’s progress as they test their business model hypotheses. We collect the complete narrative of what they discovered talking to customers as well as aggregate interviews, hypotheses to test, invalidated hypotheses and mentor and instructor engagements. This data gives innovation managers and investors a feel for the evidence and trajectory of the cohort as a whole and a top-level view of each teams progress. The software rolls all the data into an Investment Readiness Level score.

(Take a quick read of the post on the Investment Readiness Level – it’s short. Or watch the video here.)

The Power of the Investment Readiness Level: Different Metrics for Different Industry Segments
Recently we ran a Lean LaunchPad for Life Sciences class with 26 teams of clinicians and researchers at UCSF.  The teams developed businesses in 4 different areas– therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices and digital health.  To understand the power of this tool, look at how the VC overseeing each market segment modified the Investment Readiness Level so that it reflected metrics relevant to their particular industry.

Medical Devices
Allan May of Life Science Angels modified the standard Investment Readiness Level to include metrics that were specific for medical device startups. These included; identification of a compelling clinical need, large enough market, intellectual property, regulatory issues, and reimbursement, and whether there was a plausible exit.

In the pictures below, note that all the thermometers are visual proxies for the more detailed evaluation criteria that lie behind them.

Device IRL

Investment Readiness Level for Medical Devices

You can watch the entire presentation here

Therapeutics
Karl Handelsman of CMEA Capital modified the standard Investment Readiness Level (IRL) for teams developing therapeutics to include identifying clinical problems, and agreeing on a timeline to pre-clinical and clinical data, cost and value of data points, what quality data to deliver to a company, and building a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) network. The heart of the therapeutics IRL also required “Proof of relevance” – was there a path to revenues fully articulated, an operational plan defined. Finally, did the team understand the key therapeutic liabilities, have data proving on-target activity and evidence of a therapeutic effect.

Therapeutics IRL

You can see the entire presentation here

Digital Health
For teams developing Digital Health solutions, Abhas Gupta of MDV noted that the Investment Readiness Level was closest to the standard web/mobile/cloud model with the addition of reimbursement and technical validation.

Digital Health

Diagnostics
Todd Morrill wanted teams developing Diagnostics to have a reimbursement strategy fully documented, the necessary IP in place, regulation and technical validation (clinical trial) regime understood and described and the cost structure and financing needs well documented.

Diagnostics IRL

You can see the entire presentation here

For their final presentations, each team explained how they tested and validated their business model (value proposition, customer segment, channel, customer relationships, revenue, costs, activities, resources and partners.) But they also scored themselves using the Investment Readiness Level criteria for their  market. After the teams reported the results of their self-evaluation, the  VC’s then told them how they actually scored.  We were fascinated to see that the team scores and the VC scores were almost the same.

Lessons Learned

  • The Investment Readiness Level provides a “how are we doing” set of metrics
  • It also creates a common language and metrics that investors, corporate innovation groups and entrepreneurs can share
  • It’s flexible enough to be modified for industry-specific business models
  • It’s part of a much larger suite of tools for those who manage corporate innovation, accelerators and incubators

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When Product Features Disappear – Amazon, Apple and Tesla and the Troubled Future for 21st Century Consumers

One of the great innovations of the 21st century are products that are cloud-connected and update and improve automatically. For software, gone are the days of having to buy a new version of physical media (disks or CD’s.) For hardware it’s the magical ability to have a product get better over time as new features are automatically added.

The downside is when companies unilaterally remove features from their products without asking their customers permission and/or remove consumers’ ability to use the previous versions. Products can just as easily be downgraded as upgraded.Loser

It was a wake up call when Amazon did it with books, disappointing when Google did it with Google Maps, annoying when Apple did it to their office applications – but Tesla just did it on a $100,000 car.

It’s time to think about a 21st Century Bill of Consumer Product Rights.

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Amazon – Down the Memory Hole
In July 2009 facing a copyright lawsuit Amazon remotely deleted two books users had already downloaded and paid for on their Kindles. Amazon did so without notifying the users let alone asking their permission. It was a chilling reminder that when books and content are bits instead of atoms, someone can change the content – or simply disappear a book – all without users’ permission. (The irony was the two books Amazon deleted were Animal Farm and 1984.)

Google – Well It Looks Better
In July 2013 Google completely redesigned Google Maps – and users discovered that on their desktop/laptop, the new product was slower than the one it replaced and features that were previously available disappeared. The new Google Maps was worse then one it replaced – except for one key thing – its User Interface was prettier and was unified across platforms. If design was the goal, then Google succeeded. If usability and functionality was a goal, then the new version was a step backwards.

Apple – Our Code Base is More Important than Your Features
In November 2013 Apple updated its operating system and cajoled its customers to update their copies of Apple’s iWork office applications – Pages (Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft Word),  Keynote (its PowerPoint equivalent), and Numbers (an attempt to match Excel). To get users to migrate from Microsoft Office and Google Docs, Apple offered these iWorks products for free.iwork

Sounds great– who wouldn’t want the newest version of iWorks with the new OS especially at zero cost?  But that’s because you would assume the new versions would have more features. Or perhaps given its new fancy user interface, the same features? The last thing you would assume is that it had fewer features. Apple released new versions of these applications with key features missing, features that some users had previously paid for, used, and needed. (Had they bothered to talk to customers, Apple would have heard these missing features were critical.)

But the release notes for the new version of the product had no notice that these features were removed.

Their customers weren’t amused.

Apple’s explanation? “These applications were rewritten from the ground up, to be fully 64-bit and to support a unified file format between OS X and iOS 7 versions.”

Translated into English this meant that Apple engineering recoding the products ran out of time to put all the old features back into the new versions. Apple said, “… some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release. We plan to reintroduce some of these features in the next few releases and will continue to add brand new features on an ongoing basis.

Did they think anyone wouldn’t notice?

Decisions like this make you wonder if anyone on the Apple executive staff actually understood that a “unified file format” is not a customer feature.

While these examples are troubling, up until now they’ve been limited to content or software products.

Tesla – Our Problems are Now Your Problems
In November 2013 Tesla, a manufacturer of ~$70,000 to $120,000 electric cars, used a software “update” to disable a hardware option customers had bought and paid for – without telling them or asking their permission.

Tesla Model SOne of Tesla features is a $2,250 “smart air suspension” option that automatically lowers the car at highway speeds for better mileage and stability. Over a period of 5 weeks, three Tesla Model S cars had caught fire after severe accidents – two of them apparently from running over road debris that may have punctured the battery pack that made up the floor pan of the car. After the car fires Tesla pushed a software release out to its users. While the release notice highlighted new features in the release, nowhere did it describe that Tesla had unilaterally disabled a key part of the smart air suspension feature customers had purchased.

Only after most of Telsa customers installed the downgrade did Tesla’s CEO admit in a blog post,  “…we have rolled out an over-the-air update to the air suspension that will result in greater ground clearance at highway speed.”

Translation – we disabled one of the features you thought you bought. (The CEO went on to say that another software update in January will give drivers back control of the feature.) The explanation of the nearly overnight removal of this feature was vague “…reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety.” If it wasn’t about safety, why wasn’t it offered as a user-selected option? One could only guess the no notice and immediacy of the release had to do with the National Highway Safety Administration investigation of the Tesla Model S car fires.

This raises the question: when Tesla is faced with future legal or regulatory issues, what other hardware features might Tesla remove or limit in cars in another software release? Adding speed limits?  Acceleration limits? Turning off the Web browser when driving?  The list of potential downgrades to the car is endless with the precedent now set of no obligation to notify their owners or ask their permission.

In the 20th century if someone had snuck into your garage and attempted to remove a feature from your car, you’d call the police. In the 21st century it’s starting to look like the normal course of business.

What to Do
While these Amazon, Google, Apple and Tesla examples may appear disconnected, taken together they are the harbinger of the future for 21st century consumers. Cloud-based updates and products have changed the landscape for consumers. The product you bought today may not be the product you own later.

Given there’s no corporate obligation that consumers permanently own their content or features, coupled with the lack of any regulatory oversight of cloud-based products, Apple’s and Tesla’s behavior tells us what other companies will do when faced with engineering constraints, litigation or regulation. In each of these cases they took the most expedient point of view; they acted as if their customers had no guaranteed rights to features they had purchased. So problem solving in the corporate board room has started with “lets change the feature set” rather than “the features we sold are inviolate so lets solve the problem elsewhere.”

There’s a new set of assumptions about who owns your product. All these companies have crafted the legal terms of use for their product to include their ability to modify or remove features. Manufacturers not only have the means to change or delete previously purchased products at will, there’s no legal barrier to stop them from doing so.

The result is that consumers in the 21st century have less protection then they did in the 20th.

What we can hope for is that smart companies will agree to a 21st Century Bill of Consumer Product Rights. What will likely have to happen first is a class-action lawsuit establishing consumers’ permanent rights to retain features they have already purchased.

Some smart startups might find a competitive advantage by offering customer-centric products with an option of “no changes” and “perpetual feature rights” guarantee.

A 21st Century Bill of Consumer Product Rights

  • For books/texts/video/music:
    • No changes to content paid for (whether on a user’s device or accessed in the cloud)
  • For software/hardware:
    • Notify users if an update downgrades or removes a feature
    • Give users the option of not installing an update
    • Provide users an ability to rollback (go back to a previous release) of the software

Lessons Learned

  • The product you bought today may not be the product you have later
  • Manufacturers can downgrade your product as well as upgrade it
  • You have no legal protection

Update: a shorter version of the post was removed from the Tesla website forum

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Lean Goes Better with Coke – the Future of Corporate Innovation

In 2012 I got together with Alexander OsterwalderHenry Chesbrough and Andre Marquis to think about the Lean and the future of corporate innovation. We had some radical thoughts how companies were going to have change to remain competitive in the 21st century in a blog post. What we didn’t envision was that one creative corporate VP would take that post and build a world-class corporate innovation program around it.

David Butler is the VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship of at The Coca-Cola Company – responsible for finding breakthrough innovation and building an entrepreneurial culture.  Here’s how he’s shaping the future of corporate innovation.

Coke logo————–

Innovation isn’t the destination it’s the Journey. What CEOs, management teams and shareholders care about is growth—revenue growth, greater user adoption, increased market share, bigger margins, etc. So the first step for any corporate  “innovation” organization is to tie the word, “innovation,” to the more tangible concept of “growth.” That single step can create a lot of clarity and direction for the organization.

Breakthrough Innovation.” Innovation can create 2 kinds of growth: sustaining innovation (small and incremental growth yet predictable) and disruptive innovation (explosive exponential growth yet highly uncertain). Like most big companies, we’re pretty good at the kind of innovation that creates incremental growth. We know how to fund it, how to staff it, how to measure it, etc.

For the past year or so, we’ve been focused on disruptive “breakthrough” innovation (game-changing, etc.) to create exponential growth.

Innovation sounds easy. It never is. In our case, we’re local in over 200 countries with operations in basically every city on the planet. We have a portfolio of more than 500 brands and 4000 products and people invite us into their lives more 1.8 billion times a day. Our market cap is around $170B. For most big, established companies like us, our business models were developed years—even decades ago. We’ve built up strength in executing our business model, not creating new ones. So, if you’re Coca-Cola, where do you begin?

It didn’t take us very long to connect the dots between exponential growth, business model innovation and the “Lean Startup” movement. The Lean Startup movement is almost a decade old now and it’s now easier than ever for anyone to learn “Lean Startup” methods and become more entrepreneurial. In fact, I believe the movement is now mainstream—startups, VCs, accelerators, are no longer “new.”

There are co-working spaces in basically every city in the world—from Nepal to New York. Almost every large organization has some kind of incubator or accelerator program. And this has created a global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But most big companies are still in the shallow-end of the entrepreneurial ecosystem pool. And this is ironic because big companies have so much to add. Big companies know how to scale—most have a lot to learn about starting (as in Lean Startup) but they know how to leverage assets, use network effects, plan and execute. Big companies with big brands have a lot to learn from startups but together, they can do things neither one of them could do alone. And that has become our vision—to make it easier for starters to be scalers and scalers to be starters.

So this is where my head was when I read Steve’s “The Future of Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship” post last year. At the time, we were definitely in the shallow-end. Now, a year later, (and A LOT of learning), we’re moving into the deep-end and Steve’s 8 strategies are more relevant than ever. Based on our experience, here’s are our Lessons Learned from Steve’s 8 corporate innovation strategies and then four more from Coke for consideration:

Lessons Learned

  1. 21st century corporate survival requires companies to continually create a new set of businesses by inventing new business models. What is sometimes missed is the opportunity for big companies to leverage their enormous assets (brands, relationships, routes-to-market, etc.) in developing these new models. Most startups can only dream of the kinds of assets most big companies have.
    We believe that using the customer development process to monetize these assets through new business models can create huge competitive advantage and more speed to market for us and other big companies.
  2. Most of these new businesses need to be created outside of the existing business units. We’ve found that this can only happen if it’s just on the edge of a business unit. Startups need to be close enough to the BU to validate assumptions and leverage BU resources (people, funding, relationships, etc.) but just far enough out to be able to use different processes and systems to move fast, pivot, etc. But there’s no one-size fits all approach to this—every company will have to figure out what works for them.
  3. The exact form of the new business models is not known at the beginning. It only emerges after an intense business model design and search activity based on the customer development process. This is so true but so foreign for most big companies. And why wouldn’t it be? All of their internal systems are designed to keep doing what they’ve always done best. They are also under huge pressure to deliver quarterly earnings for shareholders and meet analysts expectations. Using an alternative process including different systems and metrics is key.
  4. Companies will have to maintain a portfolio of new business model initiatives, not unlike a venture capital firm, and they will have to accept that maybe only 1 out 10 initiatives might succeed. We’re hoping for 1 out of 10 but hedging our bets by launching and networking  “Accelerators” around the world in both developing and developed economies—from Bangalore to Buenos Aires. We call this our Accelerator Program but our goal is to create new startups, not really invest in existing startups like most traditional accelerator programs. When we need to mash-up with a startup to do something neither of us could do alone, we’re doing that but or goal is to really build new companies.
  5. To develop this new portfolio, companies need to provide a stable innovation funding mechanism for new business creation, one that is simply thought of as a cost of doing business. Absolutely, but it’s not just about a new “innovation” fund—that’s almost the easy part. The hard part is designing all of the systems to enable the success of the startups. From Tax to Legal to Finance to HR, designing the new systems requires enormous amount of collaboration, transparency and trust.
  6. Many of the operating divisions can and should provide resources to the new businesses inside the company. That’s the only way this works. Everybody has to have “skin-in-the-game.” But again, when you get this right, it can create enormous engagement and excitement inside the Business Unit and across the company.
  7. We need a new organizational structure to manage the creation of new businesses and to coordinate the sharing of business model resources. Again, absolutely true. But in our case, creating the new structure and systems has been almost like starting a startup. Pitching to senior management, using minimum viable products (MVPs), validating assumptions through lots and lots of testing, pivoting hard when you need to—all of this is required in setting up the structure and systems to do this inside of a big company.
  8. Some of these new businesses might become new resources to the existing operating units in the company or they could grow into becoming the new profit generating business units of the company’s future. We’re betting on the latter. Our goal is to create new, high-growth companies outside of the NARTD industry (non-alcoholic ready-to-drink) through this program. We have literally hundreds of thousands of people focused on our core business. We’re hoping to use this opportunity to leverage our assets in new, fast-growing industries.
  9. In building capability, the company should look for “starters,” not “scalers.” Starters have a completely different mindset and skills than scalers have. We found we needed to hire expert starters—people who knew how to bootstrap, build MVPs, find a free or very low-cost way of testing a hypothesis, pitch, pivot, etc. We also learned that creating the same kinds of conditions that enable co-founders to thrive on the “outside” is very important to maintain on the “inside.” We had to design a whole new hiring process, compensation model, operating model, co-working spaces, etc. to find, attract and retain “starters.”
  10. But it’s not only about creating new revenue streams—creating new behaviors across the company’s culture is key. Getting everyone on the same page with the same language and familiar with new methods and tools is key to making this stick. So along with our Accelerator Program, we’ve also introduced a new “Open Entrepreneurship” program to give everyone inside our company the opportunity to learn Lean Startup methods and tools. This is what we mean by making it easier for “scalers” to be “starters.”
  11. Finding the balance between transparency and opacity is critical. Inside the company, the person or team or group that’s been asked to lead this effort must be completely transparent—function agnostic, open, inclusive, freely sharing everything. This is so new for everyone involved, that there can’t be any kind of “black box” or “cool club” perception around this or it won’t work. On the flip side, just like it is for every startup, there is so much iteration, learning, testing, etc. going on that even if you wanted to talk about what you’re doing in detail, it would sort of depend on the day as things change so frequently. We’ve found it best to take a “more is more” approach internally and a “less is more” approach externally.
  12. Nobody, no matter how smart they are, can do this alone. Forming informal networks, both internally and externally, is key. It’s really important for the co-founders of the internal startups to build relationships across the company. And in the same way it’s equally important for the company to authentically connect with the startup community. Being very open and honest with what they’re trying to do is key. And we’ve found that once we built this bridge, we’ve been able to count on a lot of help from the startup community (and visa versa). And as the relationship grows, so does the trust.

These are still early days for us at Coke and we have a lot to learn. But we feel that if we and other big companies can get this right, it could be really big.Butler Fast Company
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Strangling Innovation: Tesla versus “Rent Seekers”

The greatest number of jobs is created when startups create a new market – one where the product or service never existed before or is radically more convenient. Yet this is where startups will run into anti-innovation opponents they may not expect. These opponents have their own name –  “rent seekers” – the landlords of the status-quo.

Smart startups prepare to face off against rent seekers and map out creative strategies for doing so…. First, however, they need to understand what a rent seeker is and how they operate…

———-

Recently, the New York and North Carolina legislatures considered a new law written by Auto Dealer lobbyists that would make it illegal for Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers. This got me thinking about the legal obstacles that face innovators with new business models.

Examples of startups challenging the status quo include: Lyft, SquareUber, Airbnb, SpaceX, Zillow, BitcoinLegalZoom, food trucks, charter schools, and massively open online courses. Past examples of startups that succeeded in redefining current industries include Craigslist, Netflix, Amazon, Ebay and Paypal.

While Tesla, Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, et al are in very different industries, they have two things in common: 1) they’re disruptive business models creating new markets and upsetting the status quo and 2) the legal obstacles confronting them weren’t from direct competitors, but from groups commonly referred to as “rent seekers.”

Rent Seekers
Rent seekers are individuals or organizations that have succeeded with existing business models and look to the government and regulators as their first line of defense against innovative competition. They use government regulation and lawsuits to keep out new entrants with more innovative business models. They use every argument from public safety to lack of quality or loss of jobs to lobby against the new entrants. Rent seekers spend money to increase their share of an existing market instead of creating new products or markets. The key idea is that rent seeking behavior creates nothing of value.

These barriers to new innovative entrants are called economic rent. Examples of economic rent include state automobile franchise laws, taxi medallion laws, limits on charter schools, auto, steel or sugar tariffs, patent trolls, bribery of government officials, corruption and regulatory capture. They’re all part of the same pattern – they add no value to the economy and prevent innovation from reaching the consumer.

No regulation?
Not all government regulation is rent or rent seeking. Not all economic rents are bad. Patents for example, provide protection for a limited time only, to allow businesses to recoup R&D expenses as well as make a profit that would often not be possible if completely free competition were allowed immediately upon a products’ release. But patent trolls emerged as rent seekers by using patents as legalized extortion of companies.

How do Rent Seekers win?
Instead of offering better products or better service at lower prices, rent seekers hire lawyers and lobbyists to influence politicians and regulators to pass laws, write regulations and collect taxes that block competition. The process of getting the government to give out these favors is rent-seeking.

Rent seeking lobbyists go directly to legislative bodies (Congress, State Legislatures, City Councils) to persuade government officials to enact laws and regulations in exchange for campaign contributions, appeasing influential voting blocks or future jobs in the regulated industry. They also use the courts to tie up and exhaust a startups limited financial resources.

Lobbyists also work through regulatory bodies like FCC, SEC, FTC, Public Utility, Taxi, or Insurance Commissions, School Boards, etc.   Although most regulatory bodies are initially set up to protect the public’s health and safety, or to provide an equal playing field, over time the very people they’re supposed to regulate capture the regulatory agencies. Rent Seekers take advantage of regulatory capture to protect their interests against the new innovators.

PayPal – Dodging Bullets
PayPal consistently walked a fine line with regulators. Early on the company shutdown their commercial banking operation to avoid being labeled as a commercial bank and burdened by banks’ federal regulations. PayPal worried that complying with state-by-state laws for money transmission would also be too burdensome for a startup so they first tried to be classified as a chartered trust company to provide a benign regulatory cover, but failed. As the company grew larger, incumbent banks forced PayPal to register in each state. The banks lobbied regulators in Louisiana, New York, California, and Idaho and soon they were issuing injunctions forcing PayPal to delay their IPO. Ironically, once PayPal complied with state regulations by registering as a “money transmitter” on a state-by-state basis, it created a barrier to entry for future new entrants.

U.S. Auto Makers – Death by Rent Seeking
The U.S. auto industry is a textbook case of rent seeking behavior. In 1981 unable to compete with the quality and price of Japanese cars, the domestic car companies convinced the U.S. government to restrict the import of  “foreign” cars. The result? Americans paid an extra $5 billion for cars. Japan overcame these barriers by using their import quotas to ship high-end, high-margin luxury cars, establishing manufacturing plants in the U.S. for high-volume lower cost cars and by continuing to innovate. In contrast, U.S. car manufacturers raised prices, pocketed the profits, bought off the unions with unsustainable contracts, ran inefficient factories and stopped innovating. The bill came due two decades later as the American auto industry spiraled into bankruptcy and its market share plummeted from 75% in 1981 to 45% in 2012.

unplug tesla

Innovation in the Auto Industry
According to the Gallup Poll American consumers view car salesman as dead last in honesty and ethics. Yet when Tesla provided consumers with a direct sales alternative, the rent seekers – the National Auto Dealers Association turned its lobbyists loose on State Legislatures robbing consumers in North Carolina, New York and Texas of choice in the marketplace.

In these states it appears innovation be damned if it gets in the way of a rent seeker with a good lobbyist.

Much like Paypal, it’s likely that after forcing Tesla to win these state-by-state battles, the auto dealers will have found that they dealt themselves the losing hand.

Rent seeking is bad for the economy
Rent seeking strangles innovation in its crib. When companies are protected from competition, they have little incentive to cut costs or to pay attention to changing customer needs. The resources invested in rent seeking are a form of economic waste and reduce the wealth of the overall economy.

Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction - that entry by entrepreneurs was the disruptive force that sustained economic growth even as it destroyed the value of established companies – didn’t take into account that countries with lots of rent-seeking activity (pick your favorite nation where bribes and corruption are the cost of doing business) or dominated by organized interest groups tend to be the economic losers. As rent-seeking becomes more attractive than innovation, the economy falls into decline.

Startups, investors and the public have done a poor job of calling out the politicians and regulators who use the words “innovation means jobs” while supporting rent seekers.

What does this mean for startups?
In an existing market it’s clear who your competitors are. You compete for customers on performance, ease of use, or price. However, for startups creating a new market – one where either the product or service never existed before or the new option is radically more convenient for customers -  the idea that rent seekers even exist may come as a shock. “Why would anyone not want a better x, y or z?” The answer is that if your startup threatens their jobs or profits, it doesn’t matter how much better life will be for consumers, students, etc. Well organized incumbents will fight if they perceive a threat to the status quo.

As a result disrupting the status quo in regulated market can be costly. On the other hand, being a private and small startup means you have less to lose when you challenge the incumbents.

impossibleIf you’re a startup with a disruptive business model here’s what you need to do:

Map the order of battle

  • Laughing at the dinosaurs and saying, “They don’t get it” may put you out of business. Expect that existing organizations will defend their turf ferociously i.e. movie studios, telecom providers, teachers unions, etc.
  • Understand who has political and regulator influence and where they operate
  • Figure out an “under the radar” strategy which doesn’t attract incumbents lawsuits, regulations or laws when you have limited resources to fight back

Pick early markets where the rent seekers are weakest and scale

  • For example, pick target markets with no national or state lobbying influence. i.e. Craigslist versus newspapers, Netflix versus video rental chains, Amazon versus bookstores, etc.
  • Go after rapid scale of passionate consumers who value the disruption i.e. Uber and Airbnb, Tesla
  • Ally with some larger partners who see you as a way to break the incumbents lock on the market. i.e. Palantir and the intelligence agencies versus the Army and IBM’s i2, / Textron Systems Overwatch

AirBnb – Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead
For example, Airbnb, thrives even though almost all of its “hosts” are not paying local motel/hotel taxes nor paying tax on their income, and many hosts are violating local zoning laws. Some investors and competitors may be concerned about regulatory risk and liability.  AirBNB’s attitude seems to be “build the business until someone stops me, and change or comply with regulations later.”  This is the same approach that allowed Amazon to ignore local sales taxes for the last two decades.

When you get customer scale and raise a large financing round, take the battle to the incumbents. Strategies at this stage include:

  • Hire your own lobbyists
  • Begin to build your own influence and political action groups
  • Publicly shame the incumbents as rent seekers
  • Use competition among governments to your advantage, eg, if  New York or North Carolina doesn’t want Tesla, put the store in New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, increasing New Jersey’s tax revenue
  • Cut deals with the rent seekers. i.e. revenue/profit sharing, two-tier hiring, etc.
  • Buy them out i.e. guaranteed lifetime employment

Lessons Learned

  • Rent seekers are organizations that have lost the ability to innovate
  • They look to the government to provide their defense against innovation
  • Map the order of battle
  • Pick early markets and scale
  • With cash, take the battle to the incumbent

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Free Reprints of “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything”

The Harvard Business Review is offering free reprints of  the May 2013 cover article, “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything

Available here

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When Hell Froze Over – in the Harvard Business Review

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“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

Groucho Marx

In my 21 years as an entrepreneur, I would come up for air once a month to religiously read the Harvard Business Review. It was not only my secret weapon in thinking about new startup strategies, it also gave me a view of the management issues my customers were dealing with. Through HBR I discovered the work of Peter Drucker and first read about management by objective. I learned about Michael Porters’s five forces. But the eye opener for me was reading Clayton Christensen HBR article on disruption in the mid 1990’s and then reading the Innovators Dilemma. Each of these authors (along with others too numerous to mention) profoundly changed my view of management and strategy. All of this in one magazine, with no hype, just a continual stream of great ideas.

HBR Differences

For decades this revered business magazine described management techniques that were developed in and were for large corporations –  offering more efficient and creative ways to execute existing business models. As much as I loved the magazine, there was little in it for startups (or new divisions in established companies) searching for a business model. (The articles about innovation and entrepreneurship, while insightful felt like they were variants of the existing processes and techniques developed for running existing businesses.) There was nothing suggesting that startups and new ventures needed their own tools and techniques, different from those written about in HBR or taught in business schools.

To fill this gap I wrote The Four Steps to the Epiphany, a book about the Customer Development process and how it changes the way startups are built. The Four Steps drew the distinction that “startups are not smaller versions of large companies.” It defined a startup as a “temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Today its concepts of  “minimum viable product,” “iterate and pivot”, “get out of the building,” and “no business plan survives first contact with customers,” have become part of the entrepreneurial lexicon. My new book, The Startup Owners Manual, outlined the steps of building a startup or new division inside a company in far greater detail.

HBR Cust DevIn the last decade it’s become clear that companies are facing continuous disruption from globalization, technology shifts, rapidly changing consumer tastes, etc. Business-as-usual management techniques focused on efficiency and execution are no longer a credible response. The techniques invented in what has become the Lean Startup movement are now more than ever applicable to reinventing the modern corporation. Large companies like GE, Intuit, Merck, Panasonic, and Qualcomm are leading the charge to adopt the lean approach to drive corporate innovation. And  the National Science Foundation and ARPA-E adopted it to accelerate commercialization of new science.

Today, we’ve come full circle as Lean goes mainstream. 250,0000 copies of the May issue of Harvard Business Review go in the mail to corporate and startup executives and investors worldwide. In this month’s issue, I was honored to write the cover story article, “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything.”  The article describes Lean as the search for a repeatable and scalable business model – and business model design, customer development and agile engineering – as the way you implement it.

I’m  proud to be called the “father” of the Lean Startup Movement. But I hope at least two—if not fifty—other catalysts of the movement are every bit as proud today. Eric Ries, who took my first Customer Development class at Berkeley, had the insight that Customer Development should be paired with Agile Development. He called the combination “The Lean Startup” and wrote a great book with that name.

HBR CanvasAlexander Osterwalder‘s inspired approach to defining the business model in his book Business Model Generation provide a framework for the Customer Development and the search for facts behind the hypotheses that make up a new venture. Osterwalder’s business model canvas is the starting point for Customer Development, and the “scorecard” that monitors startups’ progress as they turn their hypotheses about what customers want into actionable facts—all before a startup or new division has spent all or most of its capital.

The Harvard Business Review is providing free access to the cover story article, “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything.  Go read it.

Then go do it.

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Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate

My friend Ron Ashkenas interviewed me for his blog on the Harvard Business Review. Ron is a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, and is currently serving as an Executive-in-Residence at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He is a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.  For what I had thought were a few simple ideas about taking what we’ve learned about startups and applying it to corporate innovation, the post has gotten an amazing reaction. Here’s Ron’s blog post.

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What’s striking about Fast Company’s 2013 list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies is the relative absence of large, established firms. Instead the list is dominated by the big technology winners of the past 20 years that have built innovation into their DNA (Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft), and a lot of smaller, newer start-ups. The main exceptions are Target, Coca Cola, Corning, Ford, and Nike (the company that topped the list).

It’s not surprising that younger entrepreneurial firms are considered more innovative. After all, they are born from a new idea, and survive by finding creative ways to make that idea commercially viable. Larger, well-rooted companies however have just as much motivation to be innovative — and, as Scott Anthony has argued, they have even more resources to invest in new ventures. Sowhy doesn’t innovation thrive in mature organizations?

To get some perspective on this question, I recently talked with Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur, co-author of The Start-Up Owner’s Manual, and father of the “lean start-up” movement. As someone who teaches entrepreneurship not only in universities but also to U.S. government agencies and private corporations, he has a unique perspective. And in that context, he cites three major reasons why established companies struggle to innovate.

First, he says, the focus of an established firm is to execute an existing business model — to make sure it operates efficiently and satisfies customers. In contrast, the main job of a start-up is to search for a workable business model, to find the right match between customer needs and what the company can profitably offer. In other words in a start-up, innovation is not just about implementing a creative idea, but rather the search for a way to turn some aspect of that idea into something that customers are willing to pay for.

Finding a viable business model is not a linear, analytical process that can be guided by a business plan. Instead it requires iterative experimentation, talking to large numbers of potential customers, trying new things, and continually making adjustments. As such, discovering a new business model is inherently risky, and is far more likely to fail than to succeed. Blank explains that this is why companies need a portfolio of new business start-ups rather than putting all of their eggs into a limited number of baskets. But with little tolerance for risk, established firms want their new ventures to produce revenue in a predictable way — which only increases the possibility of failure.

Finally, Blank notes that the people who are best suited to search for new business models and conduct iterative experiments usually are not the same managers who succeed at running existing business units. Instead, internal entrepreneurs are more likely to be rebels who chafe at standard ways of doing things, don’t like to follow the rules, continually question authority, and have a high tolerance for failure. Yet instead of appointing these people to create new ventures, big companies often select high-potential managers who meet their standard competencies and are good at execution (and are easier to manage).

The bottom line of Steve Blank’s comments is that the process of starting a new business — no matter how compelling the original idea — is fundamentally different from running an existing one. So if you want your company to grow organically, then you need to organize your efforts around these differences.

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Qualcomm’s Corporate Entrepreneurship Program – Lessons Learned (Part 2)

I ran into Ricardo Dos Santos and his amazing Qualcomm Venture Fest a few years ago and was astonished with its breath and depth.  From that day on, when I got asked about which corporate innovation program had the best process for idea selection, I started my list with Qualcomm.

This is part 2 of Ricardo’s “post mortem” of the life and death of Qualcomm’s corporate entrepreneurship program.  Part 1 outlining the program is here. Read it first.

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What Qualcomm corporate innovation challenges remained?
Ironically, our very success in creating radically new product and business ideas ran headlong into cultural and structural issues as well as our entrenched R&D driven innovation model:

  • Cultural Issues:  Managers approved their employees sign-up for the bootcamp, but became concerned with the open-ended decision timelines that followed for most of the radical ideas.  Employees had a different concern – they simply wanted more clarity on how to continue to be involved, since formal rules of engagement ended with the bootcamp.
  • Structural Issues:  Most of the radical ideas coming out of the 3-month bootcamp possessed a high hypotheses-to-facts ratio.  When the teams exited the bootcamp, however, it was unclear which existing business unit should evaluate them. Since there weren’t corporate resource for further evaluation, (one of our programs’ constraints was not to create new permanent infrastructures for implementation,) we had no choice but to assign the idea to a business unit and ask them to perform due diligence the best they could. (By definition, before they had a chance to fully buy into the idea and the team).

With hindsight we should have had “proof of concepts” tested in a corporate center (think ‘pop-up incubator’) where they would do extensive Customer Discovery. We should had done this before assigning the teams to a particular business unit (or had the ability to create a new business unit, or spin the team out of the company).

The last year of the program, we tried to solve this problem by requiring that the top 20 teams first seek a business unit sponsor before being admitted into the bootcamp (and we raised a $5 million fund from the BUs earmarked for initial implementation ($250K/team.) Ironically this drew criticism from some execs fearing we might have missed the more radical, out-of-the box ideas!

  • Entrenched Innovation Model Issues:  Qualcomm’s existing innovation model – wireless products were created in the R&D lab and then handed over to existing business units for commercialization – was wildly successful in the existing wireless and mobile space. Venture Fest was not integral to their success. Venture Fest was about proposing new ventures, sometimes outside the wireless realm, by stressing new business models, design and open innovation thinking, not proposing new R&D projects.These non-technical ideas ran counter to the company’s existing R&D, lab-to-market model that built on top of our internally generated intellectual property.  The result was that we couldn’t find internal homes for what would have been great projects or spinouts. (Eventually Qualcomm did create a corporate incubator to handle projects beyond the scope of traditional R&D, yet too early to hand-off to existing business unit).

We were asking the company’s R&D leads, the de-facto innovation leaders, who had an existing R&D process that served the company extremely well, to adopt our odd-ball projects. Doing so meant they would have to take risks for IP acquisition and customer/market risks outside their experience or comfort zone. So when we asked them to embrace these new product ideas, we ran into a wall of (justified) skepticism. Therefore a major error in setting up our corporate innovation program was our lack of understanding how disruptive it would be to the current innovation model and to the executives who ran the R&D Labs.

What could have been done differently?
We had relative success flowing a good portion of ideas from the bootcamp into the business and R&D units for full adoption, partial implementation or strategic learning purposes, but it was a turbulent affair.  With hindsight, there were four strategic errors and several tactical ones:

1)   We should have recruited high level executive champions for the program (besides the CEO). They could have helped us anticipate and solve organizational challenges and agree on how we planned to manage the risks.

2)   We should have had buy-in about the value of disruptive new business models, design and open innovation thinking.

3)   We unknowingly set up an organizational conflict on day one. We were prematurely pushing some of the teams in the business units. The ‘elephant in the room’ was that the Venture Fest program didn’t fit smoothly with the BU’s readiness for dealing with unexpected ‘bottoms up’ innovation, in a quarterly- centric, execution environment.

4)   Our largest customer should have been the R&D units, but the reality was that we never sold them that the company could benefit by exploring multiple innovation models to reduce the risks of disruption – we had taken this for granted and met resistance we were unprepared to handle.

Qualcomm Lessons Learned

Qualcomm Lessons Learned

  • The Venture Fest program truly was ground breaking.  Yet we never told anyone outside the company about it. We should have been sharing what we built with the leading business press, highlighting the vision and support of the program’s originator, the CEO.
  • We should have asked for a broader innovation time off and incentive policy for employees, managers, and executives.  Entrepreneurial employees must have clear opportunities to continue to own ideas through any stage of funding – that’s the major incentive they seek.  Managers and execs should be incentivized for accommodating employee involvement and funding valuable experiments.
  • We needed a for a Proof of Concept center.  Radical ideas seldom had an obvious home immediately following the bootcamp.  We lacked a formal center that could help facilitate further experiments before determining an implementation path.  A Proof of Concept center, which is not the same as a full-fledged incubator, would also be responsible to develop a companywide core competence in business model and open innovation design and a VC-like, staged-risk funding decision criteria for new market opportunities.
  • It’s hard to get ideas outside of a company’s current business model get traction (given that the projects have to get buy-in from operating execs) – encouraging spin-offs is a tactic worth considering to keep the ideas flowing.

Epilogue
The program became large enough that it came time to choose between expanding the program or making it more technology focused and closely tied to corporate R&D. In the end my time in the sun eventually ran out.

I had the greatest learning experience of my life running Qualcomm’s corporate entrepreneurship program and met amazingly brave and gracious employees with whom I’ve made a lifetime connection.  I earnestly believe that large corporations should emulate Lean Startups (Business model design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering.)  I am now eager to share and discuss the insights with other practitioners of innovation – I can be reached at ricardo_dossantos@alum.mit.edu

Lessons Learned

  • We now have the tools to build successful corporate entrepreneurship programs.
  • However, they need to match a top-level (board, CEO, exec staff) agreement on strategy and structure.
  • If I were starting a corporate innovation program today, I’d use the Lean LaunchPad classes as the starting framework.
  • Developing a program to generate new ideas is the easy part.  It gets really tough when these projects are launched and have to fight for survival against current corporate business models.

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Designing a Corporate Entrepreneurship Program – A Qualcomm Case Study (part 1 of 2)

I ran into Ricardo Dos Santos and his amazing Qualcomm Venture Fest a few years ago and was astonished with its breath and depth.  From that day on, when I got asked about which corporate innovation program had the best process for idea selection, I started my list with Qualcomm.

This is Ricardo’s “post mortem” account of the life and death of a corporate entrepreneurship program.  Part 1 outlining the program is here.  Part 2 describing the challenges and “lessons learned” will follow.

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The origin
In 2006, as a new employee of the Fortune 100 provider of wireless technology and services, San Diego’s Qualcomm, I volunteered to salvage a fledging idea management system (fancy term for an online suggestion box) by turning into a comprehensive corporate entrepreneurship program.

Qualcomm’s visionary CEO, Paul Jacobs, wanted to use internal Qualcomm ideas to find breakthrough innovation that could be turned into products, (not simply a suggestion box for creative thoughts or improving sustaining innovation.)  He gave my innovation team free reign on designing a new employee innovation program. His only request was that we keep two of the original program’s goals:

1. The program had to remain fully open to employees from all divisions.
2. The ideas were to be implemented by existing business or R&D units – i.e., no need to create new permanent infrastructures for innovation.

And he added a third goal that would ensure his greater involvement and support going forward.

3. The program had to have an efficient mechanism to bubble-up the best ideas (and their champions) to the timely attention of the top executive team.

The design challenge

We wanted to transform our simple online suggestion box into a program that encouraged employees to behave like intrapreneurs (and their managers and executives as enablers).  Our challenge was to design a program that could:

  • Teach participants on how to turn their ideas into fundable experiments.
  • Educate employees who submit ideas that in corporations, there is no magic innovation leprechaun at the end of the rainbow that turn their unsolicited suggestions into pots of gold – they themselves had to take ownership and fight for their ideas.

All while keeping in mind that employees, managers and executives have day jobs – so how could we ask them to spend significant time on new ideas while not sacrificing their present obligations?

Thus began our search for a program that would properly balance the focus on the present with the need to increase our options for the future.

Qualcomm Innovation Process

Qualcomm Innovation Process

Qualcomm’s Corporate Entrepreneurship Program – Venture Fest
In 2006 we searched outside of Qualcomm for other similar entrepreneurship programs where participants also had to balance other obligations.  We realized this mechanism had been occurring for years at University’s startup competitions, such as the MIT 100K Accelerate Contest.   In these competitions, multidisciplinary self-forming teams of students work part time to pitch new companies.  The program we implemented inside of Qualcomm ended up being very similar.  We dubbed the program Qualcomm’s Venture Fest and the process, “Collective Entrepreneurship”, a three-phase program combining crowdsourcing with entrepreneurial techniques for startup creation.

The first phase of the program leveraged the idea management system to collect a large number of competing entries then ultimately down-selected to the top 10-20 concepts with the most breakthrough potential, according to peer and expert reviews.

Qualcomm Venture Fest

Qualcomm Venture Fest

The second phase, and heart of the program, was a three-month, part time bootcamp that would prepare idea champions for the internal funding battle that followed.  The bootcamp requested that participants do what entrepreneurs do before requesting seed funding  – Discover, Network and Accelerate.  (In hindsight we were having our employees get out of the building to talk to customers, build prototypes and generate partner interest – essentially doing Customer Discovery years before Steve Blank taught his Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford and the National Science Foundation!). Our employees faced the typical impediments to corporate entrepreneurship – lack of employee time, skills, connections, pre-seed money, and official sources to discuss and manage the risk/rewards tradeoffs of sticking your neck-out. So our program staff built a support system of contextual education, mentorship, micro-funding, and hands-on coaching.

Finally, the third phase of the program, implementation, began with the top team’s pitches to the C-level executive team, which determined the competition winners, prize money and directed other promising teams to target business unit sponsors. Our program staff facilitated the handoff and disseminated the value extracted from any funded experiments, including future option, strategic and exit value.

In retrospect we designed something akin to a startup accelerator, the Lean LaunchPad classes or the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, although none of these existed in 2006.

What went right?
We had C-level support. The CEO of the company embraced the program and supported the process, especially since it brought novel and thought provoking ideas to his executive team’s attention.

The program steadily generated healthy interest from Qualcomm employees – submissions grew from 82 in the first year to over 500 in its fifth and final year.  Several ideas were fully or partially implemented, (with hundreds of millions of USD invested), with a couple of genuine breakthrough successes, and hundreds of related patents were filed.  Employees reported noticeable gains in entrepreneurial skills and attitude, and the CEO seemed happy with how his baby was being raised.

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Part 2 – challenges and lessons learned – is here.
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The Future of Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Almost every large company understands it needs to build an organization that deals with the ever-increasing external forces of continuous disruption, the need for continuous innovation, globalization and regulation.

But there is no standard strategy and structure for creating corporate innovation.

We outline the strategy problem in this post and will propose some specific organizational suggestions in follow-on posts.

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I’m sitting at the ranch with Alexander OsterwalderHenry Chesbrough and Andre Marquis listening to them recount their lessons-learned consulting for some of the world’s largest corporations. I offered what I just learned from spending a day at the ranch with the R&D group of a $100 billion corporation along with the insights my Startup Owners Manual co-author Bob Dorf who has several Fortune 100 clients.Osterwalder Chesbrough Marquis

(Full disclosure. I’m recovering from a reading spree of Chandlers Strategy and Structure, Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management and The Other Side of Innovation by Trimble and Govindarajan, Henry Chesbrough’s Open Innovation, as well as The Innovator’s DNA from Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. So some or most of this post might be that I’ve overdosed on business books for the month.)

Collectively we’re beginning to see a pattern and we want to offer some concrete suggestions about Corporate Management and Innovation strategy and the structural (i.e. organizational) changes corporations need to make.

If we’re right, it will give 21st companies a way to deal with innovation – both sustaining and disruptive – as a normal course of business rather than by exception or crisis. Companies will be organized around Continuous Innovation.

Strategy and Structure in the 21st Century
While companies have existed for the last 400 years, their modern form is less than 150 years old. In the U.S. the growth of railroads, telegraph, meat packers, steel and industrial equipment forced companies to deal with the strategies of how to organize a complex organization. In turn, these new strategies drove the need for companies to be structured around functions (manufacturing, purchasing, sales, etc.)

90 years ago companies faced new strategic pressures as physical distances in the United States limited the reach of day-to-day hands-on management. In addition, firms found themselves now managing diverse product lines. In response, another structural shift in corporate organization occurred. In the 1920’s companies restructured from monolithic functional organizations (sales, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing, etc.) and reorganized into operating divisions (by product, territory, brand, etc.) each with its own profit and loss responsibility. This strategy-to-structure shift from functional organizations to operating divisions was led by DuPont and popularized by General Motors and quickly followed by Standard Oil and Sears.

GM 1925 org chart

General Motors Organization Chart ~1925

In each case, whether it was organizing by functions or organizing by operating divisions, the diagram we drew for management was an organization chart. Invented in 1854 by Daniel McCallum, superintendent of the New York and Erie railroad, the org chart became the organizing tool for how to think about strategy and structure.   It allowed companies to visually show command and control hierarchies – who’s responsible, what they are responsible for and who they manage underneath them, and report to above them.  (The irony is that while the org chart may have been new for companies, the hierarchies it described paralleled military organization and had been around since the Roman Legion.)

While org charts provided the “who” of a business, companies were missing a way to visualize the “how” of a business. In the 1990’s Strategy Maps provided the “How.” Evolved from Balanced Scorecards by Kaplan and Norton, Strategy Maps are a visual representation of an organization’s strategy. Strategy Maps are a tool to translate the strategy into specific actions and objectives to measure the progress of how the strategy gets implemented (but offer no help on how to create new strategies.).

Strategy Maps from Robert Kaplan

Strategy Maps from Robert Kaplan

By the 21st century, organizations still lacked a tool to create and formulate new strategies.  Enter the Business Model Canvas. The canvas describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value (economic, social, or other forms of value). The canvas ties together the “who and how” and provides the “why”. External to the canvas are the environmental influences (industry forces, market forces, key trends and macro-economic forces.)  With the business model canvas in hand, we can now approach rethinking corporate innovation strategy and structure.

Business Model Canvas

Management Innovation in the 21st Corporation
Existing companies and their operating divisions implement known business models. Using the business model canvas, they can draw how their organization is creating, delivering, and capturing value. A business model for an existing company or division is not filled with hypotheses, it is filled with a series of facts. Operating divisions execute the known business model. Plans and processes are in place, and rules, job specifications, revenue, profit and margin goals have been set. Forecasts can be based on a series of known conditions.

BusinessModel Innovation in existing companies

Inside existing companies and divisions, the business model canvas is used as a tool to implement and continuously improve existing business models incrementally. This might include new products, markets or acquisitions.

A New Strategy for Entrepreneurship in the 21st Corporation

Yet, simply focusing on improving existing business models is not enough anymore. To assure their survival and produce satisfying growth, corporations need to invent new business models. This challenge requires entirely new organizational structures and skills.

This is not unlike the challenges corporations were facing in the 1920′s. Companies then found that their existing strategy and structures (organizations) were inadequate to respond to a changing world. We believe that the solution for companies today is to realize that what they are facing is a strategy and structure problem, common to all companies.

The video below (from Strategyzer.com) emphasizes that companies will need to have an organization that can do two things at the same time:  executing and improving existing models and inventing  - new and disruptive – business models.

We propose that corporations equipped for the challenges of the 21st century think of innovation as a sliding scale between execution and search.

  1. For companies to survive in the 21st century they need to continually create a new set of businesses, by inventing new business models.
  2. Most of these new businesses need to be created outside of the existing business units.
  3. The exact form of the new business models is not known at the beginning. It only emerges after an intense business model design and search activity based on the customer development process.
  4. Companies will have to maintain a portfolio of new business model initiatives, not unlike a venture capital firm, and they will have to accept that maybe only 1 out 10 initiatives might succeed.
  5. To develop this new portfolio, companies need to provide a stable innovation funding mechanism for new business creation, one that is simply thought of as a cost of doing business
  6. Many of the operating divisions can and should provide resources to the new businesses inside the company
  7. We need a new organizational structure to manage the creation of new businesses and to coordinate the sharing of business model resources.
  8. Some of these new businesses might become new resources to the existing operating units in the company or they could grow into becoming the new profit generating business units of the company’s future.

In future blog posts we’ll propose a specific structure for Entrepreneurship and Continuous Innovation in the 21st Corporation.

Lessons Learned

  • Continuous disruption will be the norm for corporations in the 21st century
  • Continuous innovation – in the form of new businesses-  will be the path for long term corporate survival
  • Current corporate organizational models are inadequate for the task
  • We will propose some alternatives

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Startup Communities – Building Regional Clusters

How to build regional entrepreneurial communities has just gotten it’s first “here’s how to do it” book. Brad Feld’s new book Startup Communities joins the two other “must reads,” (Regional Advantage and Startup Nation) and one “must view” (The Secret History of Silicon Valley) for anyone trying to understand the components of a regional cluster.

There’s probably no one more qualified to write this book then Brad Feld (startup founder, co founder of two VC firms – Mobius and Foundry, and founder of TechStars.)

Leaders and Feeders
Feld’s thesis is that unlike the common wisdom, it is entrepreneurs that lead a startup community while everyone else feeds the community.

Feld describes the characteristics of those who want to be regional Entrepreneurial Leaders; they need to be committed to their region for the long term (20+ years), the community and its leaders must be inclusive, play a non-zero sum game, be mentorship-driven and be comfortable experimenting and failing fast.

Feeders include the government, universities, investors, mentors, service providers and large companies. He points out that some of these, government, universities and investors think of themselves as the leaders and Feld’s thesis is that we’ve gotten it wrong for decades.

This is a huge insight, a big idea and a fresh way to view and build a regional ecosystem in the 21st century. It may even be right.

Activities and Events
One of the most surprising (to me) was the observation that a regional community must have continual activities and events to engage all participants. Using Boulder Colorado as an example, (Feld’s home town) this small entrepreneurial community runs office hours, Boulder Denver Tech Meetup, Boulder Open Coffee ClubIgnite Boulder, Boulder Beta, Boulder Startup Digest, Startup Weekend events, CU New Venture Challenge, Boulder Startup Week, Young Entrepreneurs Organization and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado. For a city of 100,000 (in a metro area of just 300,000 people) the list of activities/events in Boulder takes your breath away. They are not run by the government or any single organization. These are all grassroots efforts by entrepreneurial leaders. These events are a good proxy for the health and depth of a startup community.

Incubators and Accelerators
One of the best definitions in the book is when Feld articulates the difference between an incubator and an accelerator. An incubator provides year-round physical space, infrastructure and advice in exchange for a fee (often in equity.) They are typically non-profit, attached to a university (or in some locations a local government.) For some incubators, entrepreneurs can stay as long as they want. There is no guaranteed funding. In contrast, an accelerator has cohorts going through a program of a set length, with funding typically provided at the end.

Feld describes TechStars (founded in 2006 with David Cohen) as an example of how to build a regional accelerator. In contrast to other accelerators TechStars is mentor-driven, with a profound belief that entrepreneurs learn best from other entrepreneurs. It’s a 90-day program with a clear beginning and end for each cohort. TechStars selection criteria is to first focus on picking the right team then the market. They invest $118,000 ($18k seed funding + $100K convertible note) in 10 teams per region.

Role of Universities
To the entrepreneurial community Stanford and MIT are held up as models for “outward-facing” research universities. They act as community catalysts, as a magnet for great entrepreneurial talent for the region, and as teachers and then a pipeline for talent back into the region. In addition their research offers a continual stream of new technologies to be commercialized.

Feld’s observation is that that these schools are exceptions that are hard to duplicate. In most universities entrepreneurial engagement is not rewarded, there’s a lack of resources for entrepreneurial programs and cross-campus collaboration is not in the DNA of most universities.

Rather than thinking of the local university as the leader, Feld posits a more effective approach is to use the local college or university as a resource and a feeder of entrepreneurial students to the local entrepreneurial community. He uses Colorado University’ Boulder as an example of of a regional university being as inclusive as possible with courses, programs and activities.

Finally, he suggests engaging alumni for something other than fundraising – bringing back to the campus, having them mentor top students and celebrating their successes.

Role of Government
Feld is not a big fan of top-down government driven clusters. He contrasts the disconnect between entrepreneurs and government. Entrepreneurs are painfully self-aware but governments are chronically not self-aware.  This makes government leaders out of touch on how the dynamics of startups really work. Governments have a top-down command and control hierarchy, while entrepreneurs work in a bottoms-up networked world. Governments tend to focus on macro metrics of economic development policy while entrepreneurs talk about lean, startups, people and product. Entrepreneurs talk about immediate action while government conversations about policy do not have urgency.  Startups aim for immediate impact, while governments want to control. Startup communities are networked and don’t lend themselves to a command and control system.

Community Culture
Feld believes that the Community Culture, how individuals interact and behave to each other, is a key part of defining and entrepreneurial community. His list of cultural attributes is an  integral part of Silicon Valley. Give before you get, (in the valley we call this the “pay it forward” culture.) Everyone is a mentor, so share your knowledge and give back. Embrace weirdness, describes a community culture that accepts differences. (Starting post World War II the San Francisco bay area became a magnet for those wanting to embrace alternate lifestyles. For personal lifestyles people headed to San Francisco. For alternate business lifestyles they went 35 miles south to Silicon Valley.)

I was surprised to note that the biggest cultural meme of Silicon Valley didn’t make his Community Culture chapter - failure equals experience.

Broadening the Startup Community
Feld closes by highlighting some of the issues faced by a startup community in Boulder.  The one he calls Parallel Universes notes that there may be industry specific (biotech, clean tech etc.) startup communities sitting side-by-side and not interacting with each other.

He then busts the myths clusters tell themselves; “lets be like Silicon Valley” and the “there’s not enough capital here.”

Quibbles
There’s data that that seems to indicate a few of Feld’s claims about about the limited role of venture, universities and governments might be overly broad (but doesn’t diminish his observation that they’re feeders not leaders.) In addition, while Silicon Valley was a series of happy accidents, other national clusters have extracted its lessons and successfully engineered on top of those heuristics. And while I might have misread Feld’s premise about local venture capital, but it seems to be, “if there isn’t a robust venture capital in your region it’s because there isn’t a vibrant entrepreneurial community with great startups. As venture capital exists to service startup when great startups are built investors will show up.” Wow.

Finally, local government top-down initiatives are not the only way governments can incentivize entrepreneurial efforts. Some like the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps have had a big bang for little bucks.

Summary
Entrepreneurship is rising in almost every major city and region around the world. I host at least one region a week at the ranch and each of these regions are looking for a roadmap. Startup Communities is it. It’s a strategic, groundbreaking book and a major addition to what was missing in the discussion of how to build a regional cluster. I’m going to be quoting from it liberally, stealing from it often, and handing it out to my visitors.

Buy it.

Lessons Learned

  • Entrepreneurs lead a startup community while everyone else feeds the community
  • Feeders include the government, universities, investors, mentors, service providers and large companies
  • Continual activities and events are essential to engage all participants
  • Top-down government-driven clusters are an oxymoron
  • Building a regional entrepreneurial culture is critical

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