Archive for the ‘Business Strategy’ Category

Innovation within the Enterprise:  GE


I heard Steve Liguori tell an amazing story about industrial innovation at GE the other day.  He was speaking at a Work-Bench event about disruptive innovation – something we’ve all heard a lot about.  And he had a new take on the subject in the context of rethinking how to run a big company.  How?  “Learn to beg,” advised Steve.  “Try disrupting your culture.”

The first step is a full-time person – a passionate advocate with consummate skills in marketing, persuasion – calling on key decision-makers, finding the ones with a big problem for GE customers and an open mind about how to solve it. That’s the begging part.

Steve at the time was Executive Director of Global Innovation and New Models at GE.  The problem he found was a seriously overweight jet engine part – the engine bracket – and as there are many of them, their weight has serious implications for fuel use.

Steve must have mastered the art of persuasion during the years when he headed marketing at blue-chip consumer goods companies.  I marvel at the heights to which he’s taken this to have done what he did.  He got GE management to agree to go outside the company to crowd source redesign of the jet engine bracket!

Collaborating with GrabCAD, a Cambridge startup, GE sent a challenge with heavy duty specs for blueprints to GrabCAD’s global community of more than a million engineers.  From this, GE received nearly 700 ideas, picked and tested the top ten thoroughly, and announced the winner – a design that cut the weight by 84 percent – from 4.48 lbs. to 0.72 lbs.  Who did it?    An engineering student in Jakarta with zero aerospace experience!

Imagine trusting GE’s brand for industrial innovation to engineers outside the company!  Imagine finding a solution beyond GE’s ability from a student in Indonesia.  It’s audacious!  It’s brave!  And I suspect crowd sourcing will be increasingly important in the future!

Brave New Business World!

“Build from what the customer wants to buy, not what you do well.”

“Always work backwards from where you want to be, not forward to where you want to go.”

“Successfully sell your offering before it is finalized – when it’s just barely useful – and get customer feedback.”

“You are in the relationship business. Build what customers think is worth having. The product is merely the method to build marketable relationships with customers.”

Marketing words of wisdom from serial entrepreneur Tony Grass, currently founder & President of a new kind of service that help clients find customers worth having – e-Market Intelligence – at last evening’s NYTECH event on “Long-Range Planning for the Successful Sale of a Company.”

Excellent insights were also provided by moderator, Paul Ellis, principal of the Paul Ellis Law Group, and co-founder of NYTECH, and his knowledgeable panelists, all focused on today’s new new exit environment and the importance of building towards an exit from the company’s early days in order to assure a smooth process when the time comes.

What factors build value in the last couple of years before exit? The two most important:
• Reputation, credentials, brand – the brand will be worth 30% of the exit value.
• Recurring revenue – based on distribution for product sales and on recurring need for services from delivering a unique bottom line advantage to B2B customers, “enjoyable value” to B2C customers.

I was especially struck by just how different today’s exit environment has become.

  • The traditional discounted cash flow (DCF) value is not that useful anymore because of accelerated change. Today a lot of value derives from possibilities a company’s assets can lead to in time – the future use potential.
  • Even the traditional structured auction is no longer typical because the same technology has different uses and values for different buyers. It’s all about the individual value proposition.

And because the environment is getting more and more complex, professional advisors have grown enormously in importance – investments bankers familiar with complexities of a company’s industry as well as accountants and attorneys specialized in specific areas of relevance. (Say goodbye to your husband’s best friend who’s a generalist lawyer!)
To begin at the beginning today means knowing the end game from the outset. As the Cheshire cat said to Alice, where you want to go depends a good deal on where you want to get to. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Innovation from Within: Google

The very name Google denotes innovation.  Thousands of engineers are at play at Google Labs, with a steady outflow of amazing experiments.  But what if innovation is about more than engineering?  What if it is also about the human dynamic of technology?  That’s where Abigail Posner comes in – not an engineer but a social anthropology practitioner who’s changing how Google innovates – in subtle ways.

Her major at Harvard, where she took honors, was social anthropology, the study of human culture and society.  It turned out to be right on for account planning at global agencies like Publicis and DDB. She joined Google in 2011 after a 16-year career in advertising and management consulting.  Her title is Head of Strategic Planning, Agency Development.  What’s planning?  Insight and strategy, she explains.

Google knew they needed her but could not define exactly in what ways, she reported at a recent Women Innovate Mobile event.  She had to use whatever processes it took to get political and emotional sponsorship and to build her practice.  And so progressing in her role became not about moving up but about moving out, spreading her impact in many directions, probing for feedback.  “And then they all help each other as opposed to doing only one thing well,” she said.

Her first job is to help clients – marketing agencies – develop ideas.  Her role is not to make sense of data but to help creatives come up with creative ideas that inspire people.  To do this means understanding the symbolic value of brands and products.  Her second responsibility is to develop insights using Google tools and anthropological research; her third is training.  She developed a course on insight development for internal marketers; then clients asked for it..

According to Abigail:  “Because people spend so much time with digital media, we need to get value to them.  It’s not about screens but points of contact and communication.  We need to leverage those.  We’re all social strategists.  Everything we do is social.  The social platform space is unlimited.  What does it mean to be social?  Mobile?  Search?  Everything will be social and mobile.  How can technology amplify this?  Are we getting that fulfilled?

“Place making, a fundamental insight of social anthropology, is an innate desire to make sense of places, to constantly remind us of who we are.  Cell phones allow us to make places like crazy.  We find information on a restaurant as we pass by.  Then we find a dish we like and photograph and share it.  All this creates value.  Being connected is an opportunity to leverage place making.

“Mobile phones allow us to tap into deep-seated needs and desires.  What’s new is the interest in understanding the human dynamic of technology.  How can we use this to elevate our lives?”

How might understanding the human dynamic of technology relate to product development?  Product development used to be largely engineering, she responds, with some usage research.  She hopes in time to have more input into product development.  What a thought:  products designed with the human dynamic as important as the technology or usage!  That sounds to me like the true basis for a great user experience.

How Fred Wilson Sees the Next Ten Years

By Eleanor Haas

Just yesterday, at the LeWeb conference in Paris, VC, blogger and thought leader Fred Wilson identified three megatrends that his VC firm uses as a framework for investing and four areas they’re watching. Things like mobile and big data are technologies that represent too small a lens when it comes to envisioning the big opportunities to come, he said. For him and his colleagues, it’s about adopting a behavioral and societal point of view.
The three trends are networks, unbundling and smartphones, and the four areas are Bitcoin, wellness, data leakage and trust/identity.

1. Networks
We’re very early in the transition from slow bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks. The hierarchies were solutions of the industrial world, but today they’re obsolete – just plain inefficient. Examples? Twitter replaces the slow-moving bureaucratic news organization that sits behind every newspaper. With Twitter, the crowd determines what’s news, and we get it instantly. YouTube replaces traditional video production. Again, the crowd determines what’s important – and quality rises to the top. SoundCloud disintermediates the music industry by enabling music creators to upload, record, promote and share their sounds to be found by the crowd.
We saw this happen first in media and entertainment, but now it’s happening with hotels (Airbnb), creative services (Kickstarter) and learning (Codecademy).

2. Unbundling.
Cost factors made it desirable to package and deliver products and services in bundles. Now technology makes it cost-effective to deliver focused services a la carte. Examples? Getting sports news from a different source than business news or classified ads. Finding free-standing services once bundled by banks – Lending Club and Funding Circle – asset management, education – where online classes are disrupting the traditional four-year university model – research – where technology enables researchers to collaborate freely as a network – and entertainment – where Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and VHX let us buy shows a la carte instead of having to subscribe to cable.

3. Smartphones
By carrying smartphone, we become always-on nodes in a network. Examples? Uber and Halo are disrupting taxi and limo services, rental cars and delivery businesses. Payment platforms, such as Venmo, Dwalla and Square are phone apps. Tinder is a dating app that leverages location as well as the phone.

Four Areas to Watch

Bitcoin, says Fred, is important as the transactional protocol for the Internet, not as currency. It provides a global peer-to-peer ledger and a technology-based architecture that entrepreneurs can and will build on so that payments, in time, will flow on the Internet like content and images, not controlled by any company.

Health and wellness platforms and tools, not healthcare, will be increasingly important ways to help people avoid the need for healthcare. Examples? Wearing devices that report physical activity and vital signs, a phone device that provides fertility information for women, gamified weight loss initiatives.

Data leakage is Fred’s term for how we allow our own personal data to be open for spying by Google, Facebook and the government while we ourselves have no control over it.

Trust/identity, both of which are closely allied to the data leakage area are currently managed by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter. We give them access to all that we do online. In time, he predicts, there will be a protocol, just like http, that allows us to control our identity, trust and data.

So what areas are you watching? What mega trends seem to you to be significant indicators of what lies ahead?
(You can see the video of Fred’s keynote here. )

Extreme Customer Development

Staying ahead of the curve. That’s the challenge in the Innovation Economy, where knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation are at the center of the model, driving growth. It’s also the only possible basis for sustainable differentiation in a time of accelerated change – and commoditization. Without it, you’re just another me-too company. With it, you have a chance – if you play the rest of the cards right – to win big.

For start-ups, the No. 1 secret for this, according to Promod Haque, Senior Managing Partner, Norwest Venture Partners, is bringing product marketing and product development together from Day 1. It’s not that difficult to build anything, he said in an interview at a recent TiE event. The right engineer can do it. But does anyone care? Is the market large enough?

Even beyond this, the company needs a top sales person who can give the new business access to, say, 50 customers in three months in an effort to validate the product from the customer perspective –or pivot if, in the end, that’s what you learn is needed from customers.

The No. 2 Haque secret is to network your way to people who understand your industry, get to know them, not just meet them, build relationships, seek real feedback and take it seriously. Many people learn from their own mistakes but the smart ones learn from mistakes others make as well!

So, how does a penniless start-up compensate a strategic marketing person – and that’s what we’re talking about here, not marketing communications? Haque’s suggestion is to find the right consultant, put them on an advisory board and compensate them with options that vest at intervals.

If you’re familiar with Steve Blank’s customer development process, endorsed by Eric Ries as part of his lean start-up approach, you’ll notice striking parallels. Steve’s “4 epiphanies” of customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation and company building fit right in. But here’s the thing. The Haque approach is extreme customer development because it combines marketing and product development at the outset. Not something many engineers will be comfortable with – and some will fail as a result – but probably essential in today’s environment if you want to stay ahead of the curve.

Data Data Everywhere

Like the Ancient Mariner who had “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” we have data, data everywhere, but not the understanding we need about it.

What is it?

What does “big data” mean?  What defines it?  Wikipedia focuses on the volume and speed of data.  IBM talks about the 4 Vs – volume (size), velocity (how fast it moves), variety (how diverse the ways are that it’s put together), and veracity (the question of what to believe).  But that leaves out how complex it is and what you’re doing with it.  “Big data’ is more about how you think of the data and its use and the set of skills you have in place to do this.

That’s how it began – a recent panel discussion on Big Data in Healthcare, organized by NYC Health Business Leaders, introduced by Bunny Ellerin and skillfully moderated by Yin Ho, MD, MBA and CEO of Context Matters, Inc.  Other speakers were Charles Beever – Partner, Booz & Company;  Asaf Evenhaim, CEO, Crossix;  Greg Jackson, Chief Data Officer, Everyday Health, and Charlie Schick, Ph.D. – Director, Big Data Solutions, Healthcare and Life Sciences, IBM.

A few takeaways:

  • When we don’t know how to handle something, we give it a name, so we labeled the situation “big data,” but the words do not in fact describe what we mean. What we need to do is figure out is how to use data.  That’s the starting point for addressing the “big data” conundrum.  Data collection and creation follow the 4 Vs.  But the other side of the coin is how you use data and turn it into monetizable opportunities.  As the world becomes more digitized, data velocity becomes intense, and creating new ways to use data becomes critical.
  • “Big data’ means pulling multiple sources together and looking at the result.  In the old days, we looked at “small data.’  Volume and speed are not good examples.  The key is how we understand and go to the next level of how we analyze it.  Today we have better data competency, a better understanding of what data is supposed to tell us.
  • Combining data sets used to be difficult.  Today, automated systems make data collection easy.  The challenge becomes curation, selecting and combining data sets in ways that make sense. Yes and the data has to be accessible.  It’s not enough just to capture and store it.
  • Data is like oil.  Risky.  Hard to extract.  But, once refined, valuable. (Courtesy of Charlie Schick!)

How do you differentiate signal from noise?

The volume today is too great to eyeball data and find meaning.  We need different tools.  The kinds of questions we ask about the data haven’t changed.  According to Asaf Evenhaim, what’s new is our ability to process the ne volume of data.  Visualizations can make the difference.  They help us see patterns that show relationships, i.e., the signal within the noise.

With big data, it’s all noise until you find the signal, said Greg Jackson.   All of it has value.  What you have to do is to discern the hypothesis in order to find the signal.  Research used to start with a hypothesis; now we start with data and that drives the hypothesis,

How important is domain knowledge?

Domain expertise is crucial to get value from data – to understand the business and have the ability to manipulate the data

Are There Too Many Startups?

That was a question put to Albert Wenger, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures (USV), after his remarks last week at the BMW I Born Electric event.  Might this be a fad – like doing a band in the 70s? No, no and no, says Wenger.  We’re at the beginning of a transformation as big as the one from agriculture to industrial, he explained.  We need a lot of experimentation.  Even failures have social benefits in terms of the experience gained in taking risks, making decisions, etc.  This can benefit both large and small companies.

And today’s startups have a higher potential for life expectancy.  A lot of historical investing was binary, win-lose.  Now a small team with low capital expenditures can keep on going even if the business is not really hitting.

A significant outcome of seeing startups from the long-term perspective of sweeping transformation is USV’s “thesis-driven investing” – putting more emphasis on the principles of large-scale change than on traditional investing criteria, like market size, competitive situation, etc. No. 1 among these principles is the insight that networks will replace old hierarchies, with the unbundling of traditional services – single purpose services replacing all-in-one traditional newspapers, for example.  Classified ads went to Craig’s List.  Commentary went to blogs.  Breaking news went to Twitter.  People can find the other pieces just one click away, with no need for a single source.  All the companies in USVs investment portfolio exemplify this – among them, Lending Club, Pollenware and Edmodo, two in finance, one in education.  But no sector will escape.  Healthcare and government are just down the line..

In transportation, Wenger sees cars doing three things:  delivering transportation on demand, self-expression and fun and alone time.  Transportation, in turn, can mean delivering my body from point to point or solving an information problem.  Startups like Buzz Car and GetAround are examples of early peer networks that make it unnecessary to control your own car or where it goes.  Online shopping and delivery services can replace the need to get information by going to the grocery store.

Of course, as one audience member commented, industries under siege go to the government for help.  The hotel industry is opposing Airnb’s travel guides to staying in people’s apartments with regulations against renting out spare rooms.  The Taxi & Limousine Commission got a cease-and-desist against Uber, NYC’s on-demand car service. So then we have the inaugural peer network summit in San Francisco.  The battle is engaged:  yesterday vs. tomorrow!

First cousin to the notion of too many startups is the meme that social media are all frivolous.  But social is also becoming the enabling glue for how ideas are shared and funded. Hierarchical research journals and funding processes (NIH) are beginning to lose ground to innovations like Mendeley, a peer-network blog for sharing scientific research, and Kickstarter and others, which are extending their scope to research.  A huge flowering of research can be expected as a result.

Even Bigger than the Internet

The cloud is changing everything.  The change is even bigger than the change we saw from the Internet.  It will change how every business operates.  That’s what a cloud computing expert told me – Roger Krakoff, founder and managing partner of Cloud Computing Partners, a venture capital firm that invests exclusively in cloud computing.  I didn’t get it.  How could this be?  Then I had a second conversation with Roger.

An HBR Analytic Services white paper gave me the core of a cloud computing definition I like:  “enables access through the Internet to a shared pool of computing resources (hardware, software, etc.) that can be tapped on demand and configured and scaled up or down as needed.”  But it stops there.  Thanks to Roger I could now add “by any computing device.”  That was the missing link.  It’s the mobile implications that make cloud computing transformational – not merely evolutionary.   Aha!

But then came an e-mail exchange and Roger’s P.S. “better to think of cloud computing as dial-tone or electric power.  It is there when you need it.  Pay by the unit and it just works.”  Bingo!  The cloud is the new utility – like electrical power or water or the Internet!  One source of its power to transform businesses is what happens when it handles business transactions.  And this is already happening in a really big way. 

On May 17th, IBM released the following stats about its enterprise SmartCloud services customers:   one million enterprise application users working on the IBM Cloud.  More than $100 billion in commerce transactions a year in the cloud.  4.5 million daily client transactions conducted through the IBM Cloud.  And that’s just one major vendor of cloud services! 

What’s more it’s just the beginning.  TopCoder, the world’s largest open innovation community, with 400,000 developers is moving to the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise.  From this we can expect an exponential increase in innovation, as these developers support the organizations for which they work with the entire innovation process – from ideation, software engineering and analytics to implementation, testing and support.

At YouTube ( I found the moving story of how the cloud has transformed the Bari fishing industry – and made life better for the fishermen and their families with a new business model.  Until recently, the fishermen caught too many fish.  They exceeded market demand, Thanks to cloud computing, they can now communicate how many fish they are catching in real time and a virtual market can sell the fish before the boats dock.  Now they catch only as many fish as the market consumes, their income is up 25 percent and the time to market is down 70 percent.  Wow!  That’s innovation that matters!

What Difference Does it Make?

By Eleanor Haas

What differences does it make?  That’s the first question for every entrepreneur and innovator.  

The country – and the world for that matter – is buzzing with new start ups.  Most of them will fail of course and it won't matter because most really don’t makd a difference for anyone.

How does your product differentiate itself?  That’s what the investor will ask – because being different from other products that serve similar purposes is fundamental to being marketable.

But isn’t it time for new companies and new products to make a difference as well as differentiate?  We live in a time when every product category is already saturated with options.  That’s why branding has become hot.  Creating a distinctive image in the minds of customers is the sine qua non of differentiation.  Now some entrepreneurs and innovators are adding an important new dimension to differentiating.  They are creating new ways to improve the quality of life.

Arshad Chowdhury did that to create Cleargears, a startup that promises to make a difference for employees of any company sufficiently enlightened to deploy it.  What it delivers is a system for real-time performance review by everyone of everyone.   Unlike the traditional process – and that hasn’t changed for years – where performance review occurs in huge chunks once a year from the narrow perspective of people at the top, Clearview delivers ongoing feedback in bite-sized chunks from the 360-degree perspective of everyone you work with – anonymously. The vision of Arshad and his early customers alike is that companies can perform better if they help everyone on the team perform better as well

Sandy Heck, MD, is making a difference with Reach Bionics, a start up that is developing technology to help paraplegics wirelessly control electronic devices by activating vestigial muscles around the ears.  

Michael Huerta and his partners at BrightPath Energy are making a difference by applying their skills in providing capital and deal infrastructure to the renewable energy sector.  One of their first projects is, an angel-stage product company that solves cost and logistical problems for remote electricity – such as post-disaster, rural areas, the battlefield, or anywhere the grid is limited – with a truly portable generator that uses solar power. 

When I’m lucky enough to discover start ups like these, I hear Stevie Wonder’s lyrics echo in my head: “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

It Takes Two To Tango!

A classic mistake for start-ups is to ask one name to fly solo. It’s usually the product name. Since entrepreneurs have to be obsessed with their product to start a business, that’s probably to be expected. But then how can you be sure you’re talking about the company when it has the same name as the product? Which brand promise do you want to imply or express?

Apple Computer owes its name to a small apple farm where Steve Jobs spent time each year with friends in the mid-70s. And it was the name of both the product and the company until the Lisa, Mac and other new products came along. That’s the typical pattern for start-ups. It was also a long time ago in terms of today’s marketplace.

Today you need all the brand power you can get to claim and hold a place in customer minds, and you need this the minute you start marketing.

Products can be treated as brands – given proprietary names and a brand platform as the backbone of marketing communications efforts. Or they can be given descriptive names and associated with a brand. But they’re missing out if they are denied the halo effect of a corporate brand.

The corporate brand is the face of a business strategy – what the company wants to be known for. In time, it becomes the organizing principle that simplifies the complexity of multiple products and the umbrella that facilitates new product acceptance.

The cost need be no greater for two than for one if you do it right – and you’ll build a far stronger foundation for ongoing sales and profits with both.