Someone who wants to start a business inside of an already existing and successful business, an intrapreneur, may expect it to be easier than a classic startup because there is an existing infrastructure to leverage. But just as certain things are already in place, there are also other factors that the classic startup entrepreneur doesn’t have to confront. Twice I have been an intrapreneur inside of public companies, first with CRM vendor Onyx Software in 1999 when we built a business for one of the first subscription CRM solutions (many would call this a cloud service today) for small and medium businesses, and then in 2003 at Microsoft with the Motion business architecture methodology and tools whose success led to the 2008 Harvard Business Review article “The Next Revolution in Productivity” and the book Rethink.
Having gone through this twice, I have seen some patterns, and here is what have to say to the aspiring intrapreneur – coming up with a great idea is the easiest part of the journey. Here’s what else you need (and some of these apply to basic entrepreneurs, but not all):
1. Business case. You need to illustrate that you actually understand how to execute (competition, risks, funding model, timing, etc.)
2. Luck. No matter how great your idea is and how perfect the timing, you need luck around every corner.
3. Outside advocate. Especially if you are not a senior executive in your organization, it can’t just be you banging on the side of a garbage can lid to make this work. When your senior executives hear enthusiasm for the idea from the outside from someone they know and trust that makes it credible and real for them. So figure out who they listen to and figure out how to get to them. Jonathan Roberts from Ignition gave me this tip, and it remains some of the best guidance I have ever gotten.
4. Inside advocate. You need an executive sponsor to give you air cover when someone tries to shoot you down, which will happen.
5. Fast scale. If you have an idea that will generate $5 million in the first year, that’s pretty exciting to many businesses, but it has to be a LOT bigger than that for a big public company to get excited about it.
6. Fit. How does it fit into the existing momentum, models, and culture of the organization today? Does it require a different skill set to build it? A different target market to sell to? Might it pose a threat to business partners? The more disruptive the idea, the more compelling the business case has to be.
7. Evidence. As you pitch the idea inside and outside, PowerPoint slides alone won’t cut it. It is much harder to shoot down an idea when there is hard evidence to back it up (revenue, cost cutting, increased customer satisfaction, etc.)
8. Political awareness. It is a simple reality that big companies are political and not everything that goes on is based on sound business fundamentals. When you see something happen that doesn’t make sense in terms of the progress of your idea, be very careful before you make your next move, you are probably into the political waters and you need to be sure you know who your friends and enemies are.
9. Funding. Getting people excited about an idea is an important step, but funding is the language of genuine support in business.
10. Patience. Big organizations aren’t very agile, so you need to set your expectations for a long journey of ups and downs.
In my two cases, it was much harder than I expected, and there were all sorts of surprises and setbacks, but success made it all worthwhile. Good luck! You are going to need it.
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