Keys to Intrapreneurial Success
Imagine for a second you were just hired to spearhead the launch of a new product line or service. You are now officially an intrapreneur and in a desperate pursuit of intrapreneurial success. The something new is completely outside the norm of the company’s core business and a fundamental shift in its target market. The corporate landscape of your new home is not fully known and even the pulse of the organization’s openness to change is opaque. On top of that, the new product line or service is your vision, not anyone else’s. Your butt is ultimately on the line.
This situation is both fantastic and daunting. On one hand, your vision has just been turbocharged by the backing of a company’s endless resources and distribution capabilities, but on the other, you’ve just added a layer of corporate bureaucracy, potentially giving up any entrepreneur’s biggest advantage: their ability to move quickly.
For those entrepreneurial minded people operating inside an organization, trying to create change through new product lines or services, for those inside organizations pitching to enter different markets, and those entrepreneurs looking to enter into companies as intrapreneurs to bring change, there are many lessons sure to be learned along the way. What follows is an outline of just three of the many keys to intrapreneurial success inside an organization.
Leverage Your Biggest Advantage
One of the key differences—and true advantages—of being an intrapreneur versus an entrepreneur is that inside a company, especially a large one, you likely have a natural distribution channel to bring your vision to the world. Take for example, Colgate, the company synonymous with toothpaste. If an entrepreneur outside of Colgate wants to begin selling their new, innovative toothpaste they likely have to spend an inordinate amount of money to market the product, get it into stores, and more importantly get it placed in stores somewhere where people will actually see it and ultimately buy it.
On the contrary, an intrapreneur inside Colgate, who has a bold new vision for toothpaste, can not only use existing channels to distribute their product with almost effortless ease, but they also stand to benefit from the ability to test the viability of the new product with a small subset of stores or distribution channels first before ever entering into the mainstream.
It’s this advantage that makes intrapreneurship a powerful force when used correctly. A long established brand and already built distribution channels can make launching a new product or service line inside an organization a potent engine for growth. A recent example can be seen in the financial technology space.
Industry disruptors, Betterment and Wealthfront, are revolutionizing the way people invest. They’ve automated virtually the entire process of investing with Apple-like simplicity and have amassed roughly $7 billion in assets on their platforms in doing so. Their products are far superior when compared to the two long-established investment brands, Vanguard & Schwab, who launched their automated investment platforms years after the start-ups entered the space. Yet despite the superior products, both Schwab and Vanguard have blown by their nimbler start-ups purely because of their brand and distribution channel. Therein lies the power of distribution.
Think Simpler, More is Rarely Better
Just because you can add a new feature to your product or service doesn’t mean you should and just because you can enter every market nook and cranny also doesn’t mean you should. It can be challenging inside an organization to focus on a specific niche when initially launching a product or service and it can be even more difficult to stop feature creep—the never ending addition of features, which rarely provide more value.
In fact, in almost every instance, consumers don’t actually want to use products. On the surface it’s an almost ridiculous notion, but it’s true. The only thing consumers actually want is the result or the benefit and anything else is merely excess. Take a simple example, nobody craves microwaving food. People don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait to microwave my food.” Rather, they wake up and need their food to be hot. If their food could magically be hot they’d take that over having to actually use the microwave.
Resources can be far less scarce inside an organization—especially if the organization is truly behind your idea—making it easier to continue to add or to expand the concept and vision beyond testing inside and eventually dominating a certain niche. Amazon is a perfect example of focusing initially on one market. In their case, they dominated books long before they entered into virtually every other consumer goods market.
The takeaway is simple for any new venture. Find your niche, eliminate excess features—which also helps to minimize cost and subsequently risk—and launch. This lean mindset will be a godsend in your pursuit of intrapreneurial success. Jack Dorsey the CEO of Twitter and Square—yes, somehow he is the CEO of two companies…120 hour weeks, anyone?—says it best, “limit the number of details and perfect every detail.”
The Ultimate Key to Intrapreneurial Success
There are likely few traits more critical to success in today’s hyper-connected world than our ability to say no. This trait, while seemingly easy and without consequence, holds arguably even more relevance for intrapreneurs than entrepreneurs. Both tend to be innovators and visionaries who oftentimes have no shortage of “great” ideas. The trouble resides with the fact that with innumerous ideas often comes an equal number of bad ideas and subsequently the risk that comes with chasing down each one of them.
The challenge of saying no as an entrepreneur backed by one’s lifetime savings or small investment is that the primary asset—money—backing your initiative is in fact finite. This limitation of money, and ultimately time or runway, creates urgency and helps to instill focus. On the contrary, when operating as an intrapreneur inside an organization it can become easier to tinker with new ideas and concepts because resources are unlikely to be as sparse.
While testing new ideas can be good, it can become problematic when it distracts from the core of what is being built. The challenge ultimately lies in being able to recognize what could fundamentally change an initiative for the better and what will merely end up as a useless field trip. Learning to recognize the difference and having the conviction and focus to say no is critical—especially inside an organization.
Matt Cosgriff, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and personal finance expert for young professionals, is the intrapreneur behind Lifewise; a Minneapolis based financial planning and investment solution for busy young professionals. When he isn’t helping people navigate the ins and outs of personal finance he is an avid hockey fan, foodie, and loves to read. Fun fact: he is nearly half way through visiting all of the Major League Baseball stadiums across the U.S.