(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from the book, Corporate Explorer Fieldbook: How to Build New Ventures in Established Companies, by Andrew Binns and Eugene Ivanov)
Corporate Explorers face the daunting task of sorting through dozens of ideas on how to create the next blockbuster business. Ideas are easy to come by, but which are the most promising and which truly align with both the Corporate Explorer’s passion and with the ambitions of the corporation? No matter how good the idea, you can only make progress when you can persuade others that you have identified an opportunity worth pursuing and motivate them to commit resources to enable you to get started. Although corporations get a bad rap for failing to back good ideas, this challenge is the same for entrepreneurs. Ideas can fail not because they are not worth backing, but because an entrepreneur or Corporate Explorer lacks the ability to persuade others to follow them. But once you’ve screened an opportunity and made the decision of where to explore, how can you get the stakeholder support needed to make progress?
It starts with understanding the ambition of the Corporate Explorer. Corporate Explorers often underappreciate the fact that the quality of their commitment to the venture is a critical factor that stakeholders use when deciding whether to fund an idea. Venture capital firms often invest in a leadership team, not in a specific idea, and whether we recognize it or not, it is no different inside corporations. The management wants to see commitment to sustain the venture for the long haul, with evidence that the Corporate Explorer will commit time and reputation to making it a success.
The opportunity story should describe an explorer’s personal passion for vanquishing the enemy. Explain the excitement about working in a new or emerging market sector, or developing a wholly new technology, product, or service. Connect with personal experience of the challenge that the venture will solve? What personal experience in the life of the Corporate Explorer or that of a family member or friend drives the commitment? At Deloitte, Balaji Bondili explains how creating Deloitte Pixel was partly a response to solving his own career crisis caused by the endless travel associated with the consultant’s lifestyle. A few years earlier, he had been part of a crowd-sourced effort to provide humanitarian relief to the Asian Tsunami victims. Now, he wondered whether the same approach could help solve the problem of recruiting high-quality technical talent to solve problems for corporations. These experiences helped connect his sponsors to his idea and experience his passion for the project in human terms.
What is the ambition of the company? My colleagues talk about the value of a clear ambition that gives Corporate Explorers the “license to explore.” The opportunity story needs to link back to this ambition to provide the strategic rationale for investment: why will backing this idea help realize the company’s objectives?
What is the threat? Anyone familiar with superhero stories knows that just as all problems seem to be resolved and we are headed to a happy ending, a threat re-emerges and places the future in jeopardy. This “oh no, he’s not dead after all” moment adds a sense of reality and makes the final resolution of the story easier to believe. A good opportunity story can do the same by highlighting the consequences of inaction. This is the point to highlight the early warning signs of disruption that should provide the imperative for action. For example, “If we do not act, these are the players that are already starting to make moves in the same space, and could prove disruptive to our core business in the future.” The challenge is to persuade stakeholders that the market changes are important or threatening enough to justify diverting funds from its current business to exploring a fundamentally new one.
The logical case of the opportunity screener is added to the story to answer the questions of size, market need, and potential competitors. The opportunity screener is a way to quickly assess whether what they see as a possibility has the potential to be worth additional work.
There are three killer questions to screen an opportunity:
- Is there sufficient opportunity to make it worth pursuing?
- Is the end user experiencing “hair on fire” pain, sufficient to motivate them?
- Do you have an ownable claim to being the provider of a delightful solution?
The opportunity screener and story complete the case. It helps if the story brings these two components together in a memorable way. Here are three ways to do this:
- Personal anecdote – There is nothing as powerful as the authenticity of the first-hand anecdote. When Corporate Explorer Yoky Matsuoka at Panasonic talks about her innovation, an AI-enabled concierge service for working parents, she talks about her own life as a mother of four that she pursued in tandem with a career at Nest, Apple, Google, and Panasonic.
- Analogy – Connecting an innovation with something that people already know is a great way of grounding a concept into reality. Robin Chase, the co-founder of Zipcar, pitched his idea of a car-sharing service, which at that point did not exist, by drawing a parallel to how people feel about getting cash out of an automated teller machine. He said Zipcar was “like an ATM, but with wheels when you want them.”1
- Image – Krisztian Kurtisz of Cherrisk presented a single Power- Point chart to explain why it was so important for UNIQA to act.
The story of the idea and the opportunity screener provide powerful tools for the Corporate Explorer to think through the logic and appeal of an idea, to objectively screen and sort multiple ideas, and to pitch the opportunity represented by the idea to key organizational stakeholders.
Adapted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Corporate Explorer Fieldbook: How to Build New Ventures in Established Companies by Andrew Binns and Eugene Ivanov. Copyright © 2023 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold. For more information and to order, visit: https://www.thecorporateexplorer.com/book.
This excerpt is adapted from Chapter 5, co-authored by George Glackin.