Two years ago, I packed my bags in Germany and left for Silicon Valley in pursuit of a new “intrapreneurship” opportunity after 20 years of living and breathing corporate culture. I was asked to start a new business unit within one of the world’s largest software companies.
Nurturing a startup within an established company comes with a fair share of hurdles. It demands just as much blood, sweat and tears as if you were starting your own business. Intrapreneurs require a different set of disciplines.
Here are five tips for those who decide to leave their comfort zone, quit a corporate role and start as an intrapreneur within a larger corporation.
1. Unlearn Corporate Habits and Think Startup
Be intentional about unlearning and changing specific behaviors, but not all of them. Moving from a corporate job to a startup role might seem like a complete U-turn but, truthfully, keeping some of what you learned from your corporate job will benefit you in the long run. The key is recognizing what you need to unlearn and what you keep.
Major corporate skills, such as ability to confidently engage with big enterprise customers, take a business to profitable growth or develop a solid strategy, carry over into the startup setting. Success in a startup also requires a clear vision and an almost obsessive focus on the customer, with the people being the No. 1 determinant of success.
I recently attended an executive program at Stanford where professor Robert Siegel said, “Bureaucracy is structure without purpose.” You have to be able to discern which corporate business processes serve your business and which do not and then cut out the ones that don’t — immediately. By the way, the interesting thing about this is that as an intrapreneur you can! The “wait and see” approach is definitely one of those corporate habits that has no place in this new world.
You will wear many hats during the course of one business day at a startup – from strategy to product to execution to sales. It’s just reality, and it’s extraordinary. Learn to embrace your many hats and not push back on them.
2. Don’t Fall in Love With Your Own Ideas
Many businesses fail because the creators are simply too much in love with their own ideas. There are countless stories of startups with amazing ideas offering products that are loaded with features and functions. However, the business with the most features and functions doesn’t necessarily win in the market. Test-driving different business models and pricing structures may be necessary before you get it right.
Your elevator pitch is key. Practice your elevator pitch to anyone and everyone who will listen. Do this so that you can get to the value and essence of your business, and be sure to internalize feedback (no matter how difficult it is to hear someone talk negatively).
Related Article: Get Ready for the Age of the Intrapreneur
3. Seeing Is Believing
There are many advantages to having a large corporation backing you. Among other things, you can take advantage of its brand power and its established go-to-market channels. But be clear about one thing: From the minute you launch your internal startup, you are on a clock. I am “genetically” an optimist, but I can tell you that if you cannot demonstrate tangible results quickly, you will fail and it will impact the team.
Even if you are successful by startup standards, your achievements will likely still be fairly small in comparison to the rest of the large company. So you need to have thick skin, and you should minimize bureaucracy and leverage your network to grow the business.
4. Choose Your Own Destiny and Learn to Fail Properly
In the beginning, your team is your business. All you have is an idea and a small team. Focus No. 1 is building your team with the right people. Do that before delivering content. You will be haunted for a long time if you reverse that order. I believe strongly in picking your own team, because you will be counting on every single team member to be CEOs in their own right with full accountability. You need people who share your passion, vision and values as you start to build the brand. Choosing your own team is not a luxury, it is a necessity if you want to realize your dreams.
Be sure to choose people who are resilient and resourceful. By the way, chances are you won’t get your offering right the first time. Edison is said to have gone through 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. The creator of Dyson vacuums went through more than 5,000 failed prototypes and spent his life savings before it finally worked.
Therefore, you should plan on failing. To make the failures absorbable, recognize that you will need multiple iterations before you get it right.
Related Article: Creating Value From Chaos: Defining and Encouraging Innovation
5. Stories (not Slides) Inspire
Of course, when founding a startup, you have to iterate and circulate your vision, strategy and business plan. And the plan has to be sound. An entrepreneur’s biggest enemy in building a startup is time. A speedy time to market could be the difference between life and death. The only thing that matters to the outside world is the impact your operation has on customers. Get your customers to talk about you and the benefits you gave them. Stories evoke empathy. Customers are the best advocates and influencers that you could ever have.
Get the results first, then communicate and spread the word.