The stereotypical image of start-up world is trendy young hipster types putting in the long hours and changing the world. Then a quick game of beer pong before they ride home on their urban scooters. The stereotypical image of the corporate innovator is a little different; a day spent in jeans working in a building full of suits, also trying to change the world but battling against internal politics before jumping in their company car to drive home.
But corporate innovators have some great advantages over start ups which should be celebrated more.
Brand Awareness – Corporate innovators often have the benefit of brand awareness associated with a long established and trusted brand which could take start ups years to build. A great example of this is Hive the Smart Home proposition from British Gas. Hive does have its own separate branding, and tone of voice but Tom Guy, former Chief Product Officer at Hive speaks with an almost touching reverence about the British Gas brand thoroughly recognising what it allowed his team to achieve. He speaks particularly passionately about the trust that the public has in British Gas Engineers when they enter customers homes.
Existing Customers – Start-ups often have to grow their customer base from nothing, seeking out the early adopters who are already trying to solve the problem which has been identified. Corporate innovators likely already have access to a diverse customer base. This can be a great head-start when you want to learn more about customers problems and when you start running validation experiments.
Genuine Expertise – It can be difficult trying to navigate the complex landscape of internal politics with a network of people who have not signed up to the ‘fail fast’ mantra. Procurement teams and their timescales are notoriously difficult: ‘What do you mean you are going to build a website and then pull it down after two weeks?’ However, hidden within the corporate environment there will be genuine experts who will be keen to help. Existing R&D teams can be great for this; imagine you’ve been working on a piece of technology for the last five years and suddenly there is a chance it might be brought to market quickly. Wouldn’t you want to help?
Funding – Start-ups with strong growth potential will likely have venture capital backing but many, particularly in the early days will be boot strapped, i.e. self-funded. This can encourage creativity but is also limiting in the early stages of growth. Although less well funded than venture capital backed start-ups, corporate innovators with the right internal backing should have sufficient funding to succeed and do not have to take on the same level of personal risk should the venture fail.
Monolithic corporates are being disrupted more than ever but can embrace this change in a variety of ways. For example, invest in a number of start-ups; run a corporate accelerator or build a portfolio of corporate ventures. There is no one solution and they are not mutually exclusive but a bunch of enthused people, engaged around a common purpose is a great place to start. And that place can be in a start-up or within a corporate innovation team …. after all, the jeans and trainers dress-code is the same for both.
I'd love to hear more stories about the advantages of being a corporate innovator so please get in touch at Hello@freestyleinnovation.co.uk