Last week, I had the opportunity to attend and speak briefly at the 2019 Corporate Innovation Summit at 1871. This was a meeting of forward-thinking minds from Fortune 500 companies including eTrade, Mars Wrigley, Exelon, and more. The goal was to share ideas on how to extend innovation beyond experimentation — into empowering everyone in large organizations to build new products, collaborate better with startups, and drive results company-wide.
Previously as GM of OkCupidLabs (part of Match.com), my role was similar to most of the attendees at this summit. Our goal at OkCupidLabs was to build new businesses from the ground up. This included discovering and investigate trends, tools, and processes that would help make innovation more accessible to the greater organization.
In general, my advice to most innovation teams generally follows the same patterns I advise to most startups:
1. Start Small
We've all heard this advice when applied to startups building their products: start with an MVP. But for anyone who's worked in a larger organization, it won't come as a surprise that starting small is actually much harder than it should be. Most other endeavors in large organizations are, well, large — more team, more capital, more stakeholders, and bigger targets. It can feel hard to find a project, product, or business that will move the needle for the greater enterprise.
But organizations that focus on smaller endeavors generally see more success, and they see success faster. Take Walmart, for example, which is now building targetted mobile apps for small functions inside of their supply chain.
Driving repeat success there has been about focusing on a small team/function within the org, and making their jobs more efficient. There are now dedicated apps for price checks, supply monitoring, availability, etc. By keeping the use cases confined to specific functions, they can build and iterate far more rapidly.
The secret is that any one of these apps likely doesn't move much of the needle by itself for the greater organization. But the portfolio of all of these apps, when viewed together, has an enormous impact. Instead of trying to find the grand endeavor to re-invent the corporation, try to find the problem that can be solved this week—then do that every week, and before you know it you'll have made a big impact.
2. Solicit Feedback Regularly
Another challenge inside larger organizations is that innovation groups and products can be siloed into "labs" organizations where the team builds interesting and innovative new products and businesses, that unfortunately sometimes never see the light of day. During the summit, a number of organizations discussed how, instead of creating siloed skunkworks, they are now actively and regularly involving business leaders from around the organization from the very beginning — and pairing internal feedback from stakeholders with external feedback from users and customers along the way.
This is absolutely critical for innovation groups that need to transition projects to other departments or divisions when they reach a growth phase. Without buy-in and assistance from the start, these orgs may find that their internal startups have no "acquirers" in the rest of the business, right when they are generating some success. That's probably the worst type of internal failure, when you have something with potential, but it falls by the wayside because it doesnt have a planned transition partner elsewhere in the organization.
My advice is to do this in the same way that startups solicit, collect, and measure feedback from their users and investors. Treat these stakeholders in the rest of the business as investors and advisors to the newco, and you'll go far. Use both qualitative and quantitative methods of feedback gathering, and report back results. Be rigorous about getting to the "Why" behind feedback given, then record that feedback and report back to those involved in moving the ball forward.
3. Empower Everyone To Be A Creator
Another trend I want to highlight at the summit is the ongoing shift in technology adoption and comfort levels for most of the younger generations of new employees. There is a wave of people, now in their 20s and 30s, who have grown up using software, the internet, mobile applications, and data in their everyday lives. They're used to complicated queries, linking data together, and building something visually. They've done it for side projects, for community endeavors, and for fun.
As Elad Gil eloquently states in his post about 2019 trends (emphasis mine):
... the average knowledge worker has gotten more savvy and hands on. A lot more people have grown up with a computer in the home, have taken a CS class in college (now the most popular major at a number of universities), or gone to a coding bootcamp or school like Lambda School. Not all people exposed to CS end will as full-fledged developers. But on average, people are more savvy about elements of software and simple code. People are more willing to build things if they have simple tools available.
The good news is that startups (including us at Draftbit) are building these tools to make it possible for everyone to create. Tools that make it possible to design, prototype, launch, and grow things like websites, apps, stores, and internal tools can now be built visually and in the cloud, without engineers. These same projects would traditionally have required teams of engineers and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create, now take a few people and hundreds of dollars to launch.
I want to highlight some of my favorite tools in this space that organizations can start using today to build and iterate without engineers.
- Webflow - Build advanced websites and ecommerce visually. Start with a template or build from scratch.
- Carrd - Build simple one-page sites and landing pages in minutes. Very simple and powerful.
- Airtable - A tool to build and display data visually. Imagine if Excel and Relational Databases had a child – that's what Airtable is! Very powerful.
- Retool – Build internal web apps with your existing data. Simple and powerful.
- Zapier – Connect cloud services together with logic and routing to build basic applications.
- Draftbit – Build mobile apps visually. We're in beta right now, and we'd love to have you try it.
A Faster Future
By embracing the trends and adopting some new tools, innovation groups and innovative people can build new products and businesses, regardless of their organization size. Take note, because if your organization isnt working in this fashion, other orgs are and they're already building.
Photo by Victoria Messina/1871