You’re sitting in a meeting and you’ve got a great idea. You know it will have a huge impact on your company’s future. You also know that, if you mention it, it’ll either be rubbished, claimed by someone else or kicked into the long grass of feasibility studies and strategic assessments. So you decide to keep your mouth shut and pursue the idea yourself. Congratulations, you’re an undercover entrepreneur!
There are undercover entrepreneurs in every business. They’re the people who get things done in spite of the way their organisation usually works, rather than because of it; the ones who know opportunities will not wait for you to grasp them. But the thing about being an entrepreneur within a big company, just like an entrepreneur running a start-up, is that your ideas have to work. Just as a start-up has to deliver for its investors, you will only be forgiven for skipping the bureaucracy, if you show results.
So with that in mind, here are three techniques smart start-ups employ to give themselves the best chance of success:
Create the Minimum Viable Product. The old way of developing a new product or service was to spend months or even years in Research and Development, refining something until it met its defined use case perfectly, at which point it would be released to the market. However two things have happened since then. Firstly, the pace of technological development has accelerated, changing the nature of consumer expectations. Now, if you use the old approach to designing what your customers want, you’re lovingly polished creation will be obsolete by the time it’s finalised. Secondly, social media has turned the world into one giant focus group. Therefore, rather than spending time aiming for perfection, smart start-ups now create the most basic version possible of their product or service and send this out to be beta-tested by real users. Which then leads on to…
Test and Learn. Rather than assuming you know what your customers want, let them tell you. Once you’ve released your MVP, collect all the feedback you can from users and let it guide you on how your product or service develops. Then create your new and improved version and see what users think of that.
Pivot. Sometimes what the users like about a product or service isn’t what its creators had in mind. That is not a bad thing. It could give you an idea for another launch or, in more extreme cases, suggest an entirely new direction. Perhaps the most famous pivot is that of Twitter, which began as a podcasting company called Odeo. When Apple launched it’s own podcasting service, rendering Odeo irrelevant, the co-founders decided to develop the internal messaging service on the platform and launched Twitter instead.
The other important lesson that entrepreneurs quickly learn is to recognise what they’re not good at and to subsequently get the help they need. Copy the best VCs and find the right individuals who are more experienced to work on those elements you are less knowledgeable about, be it from either inside or outside the company.
Talk to everyone you can inside your organisation. Seek out the kindred spirits, the people who know how to get things done and remember, these may not necessarily be heads of department. Outside the company look for small, agile businesses that; match your mindset, can deliver what you want and understand the politics of the situation.
Because as any successful entrepreneur, undercover or otherwise, will tell you, in the end it’s not having a great idea that counts, it’s knowing how to make a great idea happen.