6 Key Insights from 12 Killer Intrapreneurs
What I learned from one season of Intrapreneur Stories
Intrapreneurship is hard. It’s definitely challenging to go against the grain, to find that extra ‘oomph’, but it pays off even when your startup fails – you’ll have learned, truly innovated, and no doubt become addicted to intrapreneurship.
To wrap up season 1 of Intrapreneur Stories, I went back and reviewed every interview—and if you’re like me and find it excruciatingly painful to listen to your own voice, you know how cringeworthy the process can be. Yet the goal is clear: to summarize the key learnings for those of you who have—or haven’t—watched or listened to Intrapreneur Stories.
It’s selfishly been an incredible experience. From learning how and what content to use when interviewing (always work in progress of course) to getting to know how each individual speaks about such a new label in the corporate world.
Also, amongst hundreds of learnings, here’s one that surfaced from the get-go: Prep questions are totally unnecessary. A startup is a journey and who better than the intrapreneur to take us through their adventure.
The verdict: there are actionable insights that I want to share with you.
1. You don’t have to do it alone
People come first and foremost and not a single intrapreneur took the credit for the work, simply because it’s not the intrapreneurs’ job to do everything. That’s impossible. But it is the intrapreneurs job to:
“Build bridges to make sure that you can link your network within the company where you can bring the right people together. And in the end “having right” or “being right” are two different things, as I can have the best ideas in the world but that’s not what brings ideas into execution”
Kenny Henderyckx, The Park, Telenet
It becomes clear throughout the interviews that the more impact you have on people internally, the stronger the voice and story around your venture will be, and the greater the number of advocates you’ll have. Yet the challenge of finding intrapreneurs to join such a cause is quite different from finding entrepreneurs.
“The biggest challenge for intrapreneurs is to find motivated people who want to work their ass off […] because entrepreneurs have skin in the game”
Gil Nimmegeers, Belfius
2. The right team is hard to find
People do come first, but only the right people should be allowed in, as the journey to build your venture will require different skills at every stage. As much as having one core team proves powerful, the intrapreneur must consider that:
“Availability is not a competence. If you want to involve people from the inside, you need to consider who is best in class for a task and not who is available”
Stijn Van Avermaet, Van Hoecke
“Intrapreneurs are purpose driven, not for financial goals but for building something or having an impact, and appreciation for both the intrapreneur and entrepreneur is very important”
Christopher Waldner, Serial Intrapreneur
3. Test early and often– but don’t expect chicks to come out
MVP comes second in every interview and intrapreneurs can’t stress the power of early customer validation enough:
“Go quickly to the market. Test and validate the idea with real customers before development”
Seppe Van Sever, Luminus
In most interviews, this is what gets intrapreneurs fired up: testing solutions that aren’t market ready, something that wouldn’t normally happen within the corporate companies supporting these ventures. Both the intrapreneur and the corporate company clearly understand that this is where the magic happens. And of course, there is always a plan: it’s just different.
“Don’t build a 3-year plan, build a set of experiments you run over the course of a few weeks that gives you an ‘in’ into the playing fields to actually feel ‘well there’s something not right here’ or ‘wow this is a much bigger opportunity than I expected.’ Increase incrementally and don’t put all your eggs into one basket and wait for chicks to come out of them—it doesn’t happen like that”
Hugo Pinto, Smart Steps, Telefonica
“Good design makes a difference. There’s a very tricky balance between sharing things internally very early on (…) versus being late enough to actually show what the vision is and how it’s supposed to look as a final [product]”
Yulia Savitskaya, A Great Place to Work
I am biased towards design as I have experienced firsthand how a designed solution, which may even not be market ready, brings early concepts to life in a manner that both influences stakeholders and potential users, and shapes validation.
Yet, to my delight, one of the most interesting findings from reviewing the interviews was not only how design is a valuable tool but also how design thinking injects itself into the organization.
“What the intrapreneurship program has fueled as innovation into the company is how it has changed how people ask their questions”
Isabel Almiro do Vale, Syngenta
Empathetic design and testing multiple hypotheses are the cornerstones of venture building success, and having a team or company who embraces questioning is halfway to creating a successful product.
5. You’ll love the resources, but there’s a catch
Intrapreneurship comes with a set of advantages: marketing teams, financial backing, offices, and assets; an abundance of resources an entrepreneur can only dream of having from inception. But it comes with the cost of understanding that one is still attached to a delicate set of operational KPIs, and that it’s essential to:
“Make sure that everyone else in the company understands that you’ve got goals and other people have goals. Maybe not diverging goals, but they don’t quite understand your work process, so they want to bring you into a stage-gate process. So, it’s finding the compromise to work amongst a disruptive process and a stage-gate corporate managed process.”
Jason Stamm, Canvas, AB InBev
On the other hand, a venture should not hold back on allocating KPIs of its own, in addition to quantitative results.
“It’s important to measure the way you handled the startup and the evolution of the startup […] you could fail in the end but could have managed it in a really good way”
Pieter Dewulf, Parcify, BPost
This serves as a barometer to those leading the startup and ruthlessness in decision-making should definitely be considered here.
6. Labels don’t matter
Every single intrapreneur couldn’t hold back a sense of thrill when speaking about their ventures and couldn’t care less for labels. It’s contagious to see how every intrapreneur expressed such enthusiasm and willingness to do it all over again and to embrace new ventures with a clear belief that this is the best way for corporations to innovate.
“The label doesn’t really matter; it’s not any job title, you don’t see it on your business card, it’s not a LinkedIn profile. It’s a mindset, a skillset, and a behavior that is about being able to step away from the herd and has meaning to you and which you believe is the right thing”
Gib Bulloch, Author of ‘The Intrapreneur’, Accenture
Yet, Paul reminded us how perseverance is an essential ingredient to the thrill of intrapreneurship as there is only one constant: change.
“Intrapreneurship and Innovation are fundamentally connected by embracing and thriving on change. Realizing that we can always make things better, but that innovation and intrapreneurship bring the process and the structure to make all the craziness around us easier to manage. They are tools and a mindset to embrace change”
Paul Ellingstad, HP
An applause from me to our 12 intrapreneurs and these key insights that I hope have greatly contributed to your knowledge on intrapreneurship and the best practices of corporate venturing.
Finally, a deep and meaningful thank you to Stijn Van Avermaet, Pieter Dewulf, Christopher Waldner, Gil Nimmegeers, Seppe Van Sever, Isabel Almiro do Vale, Gib Bulloch, Jason Stamm, Yulia Savistakaya, Paul Ellingstad, Kenny Henderyckx and Hugo Pinto on behalf of Bundl, and me. You taught me how to be a better team player in my next venture. I hope we can work together again soon!