Updated: Apr 11, 2019
I love hearing about the inspirational stories of entrepreneurs who stumbled across an unmet need or problem as they went about their day and then had the grit and determination to turn their idea into a multi-million or billion dollar business. I by no means consider myself an entrepreneur, but their stories inspire me. And we can learn valuable lessons from them, to deliver breakthrough innovation.
Warby Parker was founded by four business school friends who, after discovering you could buy (at the time) a ground-breaking iPhone for under $300, but it would cost $700 to replace their lost glasses. They bought affordable eyewear to the masses using a Direct to Consumer e-com business model and tooday that business is valued at $1Billion
Away which was created by Jen Rubio, a social media manager who, when hunting for a replacement suitcase couldn’t find a luggage brand that understood, and could survive the way, she and her friends liked to travel. So she built a lifestyle brand and a product that could and today an Away suitcase is just as likely to appear on a customers Instagram feed as the obligatory cocktail by the pool shot.
The first Soul Cycle was opened in New York City after Julie Rice, a talent manager, who moved from LA and wasn’t able to find an exercise class that met not only her physical needs but also her tribal and mental motivation needs. To Soul Cycle devotee’s, the brand represents so much more than a cardio bike class. Many call it a religion.
The list could go on…..and so could I!
The one thing these entrepreneurs have in common - through personal experience, they found an unpleasant experience, an unmet need or an unsolved problem and they designed a solution specifically for it.
So how does one, working for a large corporation, with a remit to ideate and commercialise breakthrough innovation take this learning and leverage it to create the next Warby Parker, the next Away, the next Soul Cycle for their organisation.
How does one UNLEASH THEIR INTRAPRENEUR……… by acting like an entrepreneur within a corporate entity?
1. Become your consumer to identify the REAL problems
Just as our entrepreneurs did, discover the opportunity through personal experience.
The difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is that you already have a strategic remit or scope. Through extensive research and strategic planning you know where the white space is, which occasions you can target, what the broad consumer needs are and what the potential size of prize is.
But if you want to develop breakthrough solutions that will truly resonate and stick like the above examples you need to go much deeper. You need to completely immerse yourself into your consumer's lives and the occasions you are targeting. Walk in their shoes and get inside their heads. You will not find your answers lying on the surface, in a focus group or an online survey. You need to live, breathe and observe to uncover the REAL problems and frustrations consumers are facing.
2. Collaborate closely with your consumers, suppliers & financiers to develop the RIGHT solutions
Entrepreneurs do not have an R&D team, a large research budget or an agency to help bring the ideas to life. They will scrape together a prototype or two, ask their friends what they think, iterate their designs and go back for more feedback….several times. Along the way, they will also share the prototypes with potential suppliers to see if the idea can physically be made and crunch the numbers with investors to ensure money can be made.
This fast and cyclical ‘ideate - prototype - iterate’ process ensures that the ideas evolve to become desirable to consumers, feasible for manufacturers and viable for investors…...before any significant investment is made.
So try putting a small, nimble and entrepreneurial team of experts together to design the solution before putting the mighty resources of the corporation behind the project. You will save a lot of time, money & bureaucracy.
3. Do not let the corporate machine dilute your idea — balance consumer-centricity with commercial reality right from the start.
You must ensure decisions are made with the consumer problem at the centre. Get the decision makers to also walk in your consumer's shoes and experience the problem themselves, to avoid any C-Suite bias creeping into the decision making process. Then keep the decision makers engaged along the journey.
You must also understand your financial & commercial parameters up front and work within those. A good idea that doesn’t make money quickly becomes a terrible idea. For every successful entrepreneurial story, there are many epic fails.
Even within the confines of the corporate world, it is possible to put your entrepreneurial hat on and make your mark on this world. And the plus side is, you only need to pitch your idea to the leadership team or board, versus to the hundreds of venture capitalists most of our featured entrepreneurs had to pitch to secure funding.
If you would like to hear more stories about entrepreneurs who have changed the way we live or consume then I highly recommend the How I Built This podcast by Guy Raz at NPR. It has become my Netflix of podcast binging. We also feature our favourite entrepreneurial stories on our Instagram page @viamarca
And if you would like to learn more about unleashing the intrapreneurs in your organisation and setting up the right processes to help them thrive, click here to see more on our Unleash your Intrapreneur training program or get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like this article? Join our mailing list so we can send new posts straight to your inbox. Click here to subscribe.