Learn about the difference between innovating at a startup vs. a big company.
- Entrepreneurship: it's not just for startups anymore. Nearly every large company has felt the sting of startups that have come seemingly out of nowhere and changed the game. Often with limited resources and small teams, these entrepreneurial companies develop models that are more nimble, creative, and ultimately more attractive to customers. Airbnb did it to hotels, Uber did it to taxis, and Amazon has out-innovated everyone from booksellers to software companies to grocery stores.
So it's no wonder that the world's biggest brands are trying to change, to become more like startups. Some like Deutsche Telecom have formal accelerator programs providing employees with time, training, and resources to collaborate. Over 65 companies, including AT&T, Capital One, and Coca-Cola have established innovation labs in Silicon Valley, often far away from headquarters, to research, build, or buy cutting edge technologies. Still others have permitted small and loosely structured skunk work teams based on the original World War II Skunk Works project at Lockheed.
These teams research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation. Big companies want to facilitate intrapreneurship, with an I, not an E, a bottoms up approach to identifying and developing massive new opportunities. There's no one blueprint, but there is plenty of activity. If you've worked in a startup, you'll see see some similarities. You'll likely be working alone or with a small team. You'll have a BHAG, a big, hairy, audacious goal, that goes well beyond business as usual.
You might even be given space that looks and feels like a startup loft or garage, complete with exposed brick and free snacks if you're lucky. But don't be fooled. No matter how much you're told to be entrepreneurial, if you work in a big company there will be some differences. Funding and oversight will be different, as you're wholly owned by the corporation. You won't have to pitch dozens of venture capital investors in order to get the money you need to build your business, but you also will have nowhere to go if your company leadership doesn't approve your ideas.
Your business won't need to just make financial sense, it probably needs to align with the strategic vision of the larger organization. Once you prove to yourself that there's a big opportunity, you'll have to navigate the political web of your company to build support. On the other hand, you might have some pretty helpful resources that startups wish for like built-in audience, distribution channels, or manufacturing infrastructure. When I worked with Netflix many years ago, we worried about threats like Blockbuster and Walmart.
These companies were much larger than Netflix at that time and enjoyed all kinds of advantages relative to Netflix. And yet both failed to stop the startup despite their attempts to innovate and compete. It's not enough to be bigger and to have more resources. To be a successful entrepreneur within a large organization, you often need to fight the larger corporate culture and protect your nascent business from business as usual.
- Finding your idea
- Creating an MVP
- Gaining support from leaders
- Pivoting vs. staying the course
- Intrapreneurship case studies