Intrapreneur Stories #0: Koen Delvaux
Featuring former Innovation Manager at Proximus, Founder of Proximus Move.
Welcome to the first of our brand new Intrapreneur Stories, where we will showcase inspiring intrapreneurs, or ‘inside entrepreneurs’, from around the world. In this series, we’ll bring real experiences from real intrapreneurs to the corporate venturing table, and help you find out how they apply their learnings to daily corporate life. Our first story comes to us from Proximus Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Koen Delvaux, a few weeks before his departure from the company. After finding success in a corporate environment, and then in the telco world after founding Mobile Vikings, Koen moved into the intrapreneurial roles of Innovation Manager at Proximus and Founder of Proximus Move. He gave us some learnings and advice gained from 2.5 years of this innovative way of working.
Tell us a bit about your background.
Koen Delvaux: At the beginning of my career, I also worked in a corporate environment at Siemens, and I learned there how you can innovate in big companies. Afterwards, I went to smaller companies and I founded a few of my own startups, and then I went back to the big corporate life to see how we can take the lessons from startups and apply them to the big companies.
How did you get started at Proximus?
KD: Well, actually that’s quite funny. I was working as a consultant and I was doing the same type of job for a lot of companies — I was teaching them how to innovate — and I said, “Well, there’s something missing here. Each time I come and work with such a company, I can make the plan, but I can never execute it. I have to move on to the next assignment before the plan is finished.”
I was looking for a big company that would want to hire me and that would want to have me as part of the company so that I could make real change. Proximus contacted me with just that, and that’s how I ended up there.
Why did you choose to be an intrapreneur vs an entrepreneur?
KD: I did entrepreneurial things outside of the corporate world, but the problem is scaling.
“When you set up something new and you can’t scale it, you’ll never make it very big.”
The advantage that I have when I work in a big company is that I can set up new things, and once you get the right formula and once they start hitting off, then you can put them into an industrialization process that you can scale up. That’s one of the big advantages of being an intrapreneur to me. This way of working is a sort of innovation in itself.
Biggest learnings from being an intrapreneur ?
KD: It’s important to create a separate budget for innovation, including HR, so that it’s possible for departments to collaborate on innovation projects without having to freeload or give away their teams. We actually had a separate governing structure with a separate budget for our innovation projects, and this makes sure that we can launch projects without needing the agreement of all of the departments involved.
What piece of advice would you give to your past self?
KD: A piece of advice for myself as an entrepreneur? I would want to dare a little bit more. Most of the time before you take big decisions, you tend to be in doubt a bit, you tend to say, “Ah, should I do this, should I not do this, it’s a risk, what will other people think of it?”
That’s bullshit. Just do it and go for it.
Because if you act upon something, you’re already miles ahead of people who are still in the thinking phase and into the deliberation phase.
What’s your innovation fuel?
KD: What fuels me is to see all of these people that work on our projects and really come to life. That, I think, is the best reward you can get as an intrapreneur.
Your future goals and dreams as an intrapreneur?
KD: I don’t want to be rich. If I would want to be rich I would do something else. But I do have a dream of re-inventing the world of work. I think that today, what we do in companies is not what we should be doing to make the world a better place. New models can be introduced to make sure that what we do as companies is much more effective for society and for the employees of these companies. I dream of playing a role in that.
What skills would you say are most important for an intrapreneur?
KD: I think that having an open and curious mindset is the most important ‘skill’ you can have.
What makes a successful intrapreneur to you?
KD: To me, a successful intrapreneur is someone who changes the status quo. Because corporates, by definition, are built to maintain a certain status quo. They are implementation machines for a certain business process. As an intrapreneur, you want to change that process. So, I think, how you can measure achievement is in how you can change the status quo.
Who inspires you most?
KD: The temptation is of course to mention people like Elon Musk or Casey Neistat (since I’m a recent vlogger). But the one who inspires me most is actually Isaac Newton. He was the first one who was really not a scientist specialized in one discipline, but who was actually in a lot of different disciplines, and that’s something you need to be a real intrapreneur.
Specialization is over. That task is going to the computers, that task is going to algorithms. So the only skills you can bring to the table are the skills that you have by being a generalist and knowing a little bit of everything, and seeing the combination in it. And it’s when you do that that you can really see where you can change a company.
What is the one essential tool that you always have with you?
KD: Well, most people’s most essential tool will be their smart phone, but to me the part of the smartphone that’s most essential is the camera. Why the camera? Not only because I’m vlogging, but because it’s a tool that can create transparency. And when you want to innovate, transparency is the most important thing. If you tell things like they are, and you show things like they are, it’s much easier to make decisions that are difficult for a company. The fact that we now have cameras that can tell stories and can show transparency from within a company to the outside is a very important thing.
So, if there’s one recommendation I can make to people working in companies, make sure you always have a camera with you. Make sure you do as much storytelling as you can, from real things happening inside of your company. It will make sure that the distance between your customer and your employees will become smaller. And thanks to that fact that the distance will become smaller, you will become a better company.
What are your next steps?
KD: I’ll continue to work on digital transformation. I see that as, at this moment, the best force to change things in a company — to transform companies, digital disruption is the best instrument you have. I want to develop that framework. Once we get this change momentum moving, we can help and teach people to work in a digital way. In the end, I’d like to inject the model that I’m working on into an office or agency so that it can be carried out in a bigger context. But I have some other options to think about before then…