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In honor of our upcoming IO2022 Innovation Accelerated Summit, which is happening September 19th and 20th in Lincoln Nebraska. Thought it'd be nice to pull some of the best interviews and sessions from our IO2020 virtual event. So, over the next few weeks, check out some of our amazing speakers and grab a ticket for the upcoming event. We'd love to see you there. Tickets and more information can be found at And now back to the show. Inside Outside Innovation is a podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Steph Smith, / The Hustle / HubspotBrian Ardinger: We are excited to have Steph Smith here with the Hustle and Trends to talk about one of these amazing new trends that we're seeing. It's the whole move to remote work. Steph is the Head of Trends and Product Manager at the Hustle, which is a great newsletter, if you don't subscribe to that. Trends is their exclusive group. And I I've got to say it's, it's one of the best groups out there to talk about new things that are happening out there, new business leaders, things along those lines. She's got a new book out called Standing Out in 2020. Doing Content Right. And I know she's been doing a series of sessions on that. It's an eBook. You can check it out at She's been blogging for a ton of time. And she's also been in this world of remote work. Been a digital nomad for a while. So, with that, I'm going to just turn over to Steph. And we'll talk the trend of remote working. Steph Smith: Sweet. Thanks so much. That was a great intro, Brian. Today, I'm going to be talking about something that I care a lot about. I saw some other people in the chat mention that they've been working remotely for a long time. Two, I'm going to be talking about thinking past the office and designing what I call resilient, remote teams. And I do this in a little bit of a different way than I think most presentations on this topic are, which give you a lot of super, super concrete, like you must do this. I like to think of this more so as how do we think about what has changed? What does that mean? And what can we learn from this? So, I use three books and I'll get into that in a second to actually convey some of these points. But just quickly, I don't want to talk about myself very much. Brian gave me a great intro. All you need to know is that I have been working remotely for the last four or five years now. And I did that originally at a company called Top Tell, which was one of those kind of remote first companies built from the ground up to be remote. Now I work at a company called The Hustle and I've done some remote training for different companies. And in general, have been nomadding around for the last couple years as I work remotely. So that's enough about me. Let's talk about where we are in this world. As I mentioned before COVID there was a series of companies I'd say only a couple dozen of scale that were built up to be remote. From the ground up, they said, you know what, we're never going to have any offices. Or if we do, we're going to be remote first. Companies like Zapier Basecamp, Web Flow. All these companies were built from the ground up to facilitate positive remote working environment. Now, as we all know, you saw this kind of trend, the slow trickle of people that were searching for remote work overtime. This is Google trends from 2004 to present. Then as we all know, 2020. crazy year. We see this big spike and we're all remote, whether we want to be or not. And this includes huge companies like Google, Cora, Coinbase. Shopify that at least are either going to be remote for several, several years or in some cases like Shopify have just claimed that they are now remote first from here forward. The question then becomes with all of these companies with now millions, if not billions of people that are kind of thrown into this new environment, what happens. What happens to these organizations that weren't built from the ground up? Like Zapier, Base Camp, or Buffer. Some of the questions that I have here, allude to what I'll be talking about in this presentation. So how does remote work or the shift influence how people interact with one another? How does it influence the social fabric or culture of the company? How does this change how potentially leaders should or can operate at these organizations?And in general, this all brings me back to the title of this presentation. How do we build resilient teams? And resiliency in this case means teams that thrive in the environment that they're put in, right. It doesn't feel like they're kind of pushing against walls. It doesn't feel like there's friction to achieve certain things.It feels like they're put in an environment where they're put in a place to succeed by nature, by the nature of the environment that they're in. So, as I said, this presentation is really based on three books that I've read and, and I think are excellent. It's Give and Take, Algorithms to Live By and The Four Tendencies.And I like using books like this to really frame these conversations because these books are actually not based on remote work at all. They're based on human psychology. They're based on how people interact in given situations or environments. And then I just layer on a question. Is this still true with remote work or how does this change as people go from an in-person environment to remote. And so, we'll talk specifically about how giving and taking behavior may change with remote work. We'll talk about how we can design systems. So, using something From Algorithms to Live By, Game Theory. How do we incentivize people to actually act in their best interest? Because they don't always do that on their own. And how do we in general make remote work sustainable. And then I'll talk about the potential archetype of remote worker using this four tendencies framework. To preface the three books and the three things that we'll talk about, I want to jump back to summarize where we are.So, we as a society had a majority of people working in offices. And now we have a majority of people working remotely. And I like to kind of facetiously say that when you work in an office, you work in a box. And that box is predefined for you. And even though it's a little facetious in terms of the analogy, a lot of that is true in the sense that you have a lot of things, whether it's, you know, where you're physically working, how you're working exactly, when you're working. A lot of that is super predefined for you. And for some people that's actually better. Some people that's worse. I'm not trying to ascertain whether one is better or worse, but the idea is that before you had a lot of things mapped out for you, right? And now when you're working remotely, the way, the analogy that I like to give is that box is kind of like stripped clean.So, you get rid of the walls, you get rid of exactly when, how you work. And now a lot of people are left to figure out how to build their own box. And what I see a lot of people doing, whether it's individuals or companies is they basically do this Control C Control V where they basically say, you know, we had all these things, these processes, these systems, these frameworks that worked in our office. So, let's just take all those and let's paste them into our new environment. And that can work. But what I think we have a unique opportunity to do is in fact, rethink the box. So, build our new box from the ground up. So instead of just copying everything and saying, oh, this worked there. It should work here. Let's just rethink what are the things that we should operate by in this new environment? How do we rebuild our box? And something more important than that is instead of giving our employees a new box saying, hey, this is your box. Please take it. And again, abide by these rules or operations or logistics. Let's actually just give them the tools to build their own box. And this kind of summarizes part of what I'm, I'm getting to at least to preface three examples is, is a quote from Amir. Who's a CEO of Doist one of those kind of remote first and companies. And he says, basically, remote. Isn't just a different way to work. It's a different way to live. We have to acknowledge that we're kind of blurring these lines and people, you know, experience isolation, anxiety, depression. And in general, we need to figure out ways in systems to resolve this new, almost more complex issue where you have people, people's work and their lives just meshing into this continuous system.All right. So, what are the cornerstones of remote work? I mentioned this because this bleeds into some of the examples. So remote work overall, at least prior to COVID, when people weren't forced into it, really prioritized three things over three other things. Meaning output trumped input, which meant that didn't matter exactly how many hours you were working or exactly what you did to get to the impact that you're driving for a company.What mattered was the impact, the output. Similarly, remote work tended to favor autonomy over administration. Again, this idea that didn't matter exactly how you got from Point A to Point B. You had the autonomy to figure that out. And similarly, flexibility over rigidity. So, let's keep these cornerstones in mind throughout the presentation. And consider that even those cornerstones sound kind of resoundingly positive, all of us at face value are like, yes, I love being graded on my output. I love being graded or given the autonomy to figure out how I deliver that output. And I love being given flexibility. But let's just keep those in mind and consider that they're not always strictly positive. All right, so let's dive into the first example in the book, Give and Take. Obviously, these books are very in depth and I only covered one small sliver of them in this presentation. But the key takeaway from Give and Take is that Adam Grant, he's a professor at Wharton, amazing writer as well. He talks about three different types of individuals. So, Givers, Takers, and Matchers. All you need to know about them for the purpose of this presentation is that givers basically believe in this world as a positive sum game. Meaning they believe in mutually beneficial situations. They're willing to give without expecting anything in return. Takers are kind of the opposite of that. They think zero sum game. I'm sure you can imagine or conceptualize people in your life that you've encountered that really are trying to get ahead at the expense of other people.Now matchers fall somewhere in the middle. They basically believe, or kind of function off of this idea of reciprocity and fairness. All right. So with that in mind, the question or sorry, before I even get to the question, something I want to mention is that the whole premise of Adam Grant's book is a little surprising in that most people would expect that given Takers and Matchers and Takers in particular, their approach to life in terms of kind of utilizing other people to get ahead or prioritizing their own growth over other people, you would expect those people to be the most successful.Now, interestingly enough, he found that Givers were both at the very top of the spectrum of success, and the very bottom. You can notice two different types of Givers here. One is selfless. One is, is otherish. All you need to know here is that Otherish Givers are Givers but have found a way to prioritize their own needs.So really interesting that Givers not only elevate other people, but they are actually the most successful on their own. So, this is kind of a summary or a quote from Adams, which basically says they succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of others around them. You'll see that the difference lies in how Giver success creates value instead of just claiming it.So, in general, I think the obvious takeaway here is that we want more Givers at our organizations. Now the question becomes, and this will be a repetitive question throughout, is this the same with remote work. Or how does this change with remote work? Some of the sections here are based on actual data sources.This one, not so much. This is me more hypothesizing. And what I've come to in terms of my many years leading teams, interacting with teams, being individual contributors on teams is that because if we remember the cornerstones of remote work, we prioritize output. We prioritize impact. That which in remote, all that matters is that impact, right?Are you delivering value? Are you worth your salary? Are you hitting your KPIs. In person when you're in an office? All that stuff matters. But it's also weighed against certain unspoken things, unspoken rules, like the amount of time you're spending in the office. Whether you're on time for things, whether you stay late to help another employee in general, everyone knows who the team players are in an office.That's not always true when you work remotely. I think if you've worked remotely over the last couple months, especially if you were in an office before, you can probably resonate with this idea. In remote, there's a couple thing, other things that I want to know. This idea of staying on longer to, you know, as a Giver, let's say you're helping other people.That's super difficult to quantify because when you're working remotely again, our work life and our lifeline blend together. So, it's actually hard, if I were to ask anyone on this call, how many hours did you spend this week working remotely? I think a lot of people would struggle to actually quantify that.So then layering on, am I working extra? Am I not working enough? It's really hard to kind of parse that out. Additionally, if you support someone. Let's say I have a friend and her name is Sally at work. And she says, Hey Steph, can you help me with this project? And it actually takes like, you know, five hours out of my day.I end up helping her. All of that work for better or for worse is hidden online. Sally knows about it. But everyone else at work, didn't see me stay late to help Sally. They didn't see the output of that work. They didn't see the Giving behavior. And so, in addition to this, KPIs in general, when you work remotely by nature of trying to ascertain that output of people, tends to be more individual. You even hear people use terms like manager of one when they're working remotely.And in general, the idea that I'm trying to get across here is that by nature, when you're working remotely, because there are so much emphasis on output and impact, which has many positives, basically takes away the recognition that you typically get in an in-person environment of these Givers, and what happens is these Givers end up burning out, they become more of those selfless givers that you saw at the tail end. Instead of the Otherish givers that were the most successful individual. And something I want to call out here is that regardless of intentions, morals, or values, and what I'm saying here is it doesn't matter if someone's a good person or bad person. That's not what I'm trying to ascertain. Bad incentive structures result in bad behavior, no matter how good of a person you think you are. So, what's the takeaway here? Again, I'm trying to go through this quickly, so I won't go through everything. But the idea here is that you still won't have a water cooler. In the office, which almost acted like, you know, animals in the wild. There's like a certain hierarchy and there's a kingdom and, and it kind of regulates things, right. You just subtly, but it does. You don't have that anymore with remote, or at least it's not created without intentionality. And so, there are a couple quick things that you can do. The first thing is just ask your team very simply who helped you this week? Who did you work with? Where did you put in extra hours? Where did someone else put in extra hours for you? You must ask this because it will not be surfaced as naturally as in the office. The second thing is build KPIs to incentivize teamwork. This is a little harder to do because again, when you work remotely, you're trying to ascertain output. But think about how you can do this to incentivize teamwork. So, you're not kind of encouraging people to act more as Takers versus Givers. And then finally create an environment where you're not just recognizing good behavior or giving behavior, but you're actually rewarding it.So, some companies like GitLab have actually started things like micro bonuses, where in addition to the bonus structures or the compensation structures that you get from your boss, other people around you can actually reward you based on your giving behavior. Because that's really important. You're not just recognizing it in like kind of shout outs or things like that, but you're actually rewarding this behavior. So, you're incentivizing people to continue doing it. The final thing I want to call out is that you can do as much as you can once you have people at an organization to incentivize giving behavior. But you can also kind of integrate this into your hiring process. Which means bringing in people who are more naturally Givers.So, Adam Grant mentions in his book. This is directly from Give and Take where he, during the hiring process asks this question, can you give me the names of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved? And the idea here is that people who are Givers tend to mention either people at the same level as them or below them in terms of the people that they've helped.And it's a natural response. Of course, this is again, not quite scientific versus Takers, tend to mention people that are above them. That they've helped, because again, there's this nature of people who are Takers, trying to get ahead and using things like status to get ahead. So, something to keep in mind as well as you're hiring.So, the second example that I want to go through is from Algorithms to Live By. Again, excellent book. This is a book where basically they take principles from software development or software engineering and use it to help us think through problems that are outside of that scope. So, things like Cashing Theory or Kneeling or making intractable problems tractable.The one that I want to talk about today is Game Theory. So, in Game Theory, I'm not going to go into depth, but it's this idea that within a game, there are certain rules. And within those rules, they incentivize people to act a certain way. And once a game is predefined, you tend to get to this equilibrium where all the players individually are acting their own best interest.But sometimes the kind of aggregate of those actions actually may result in outcomes that are worse for everyone. Again, depending on the rules that were set for that game. And this equilibrium that I'm specifically talking about is called the Nash Equilibrium. And it's this idea again, there's this kind of long definition and talks about a stable state.The idea here is the Nash Equilibrium is within an environment within a game. It's the outcome or the optimal state, where there's no incentive for any individual to deviate. Now, this may not sound super actionable. So let me give you a precise example of what I'm talking about. So, with remote work, a lot of remote first companies tend to go with unlimited vacation.And I think this is something that probably more companies will end up moving towards as well. But something you keep in mind here is the Nash Equilibrium of unlimited vacation approaches, zero days. And the reason for this it's a little counterintuitive because you think unlimited vacation sounds amazing. Sounds like a great perk. Well, what happens with unlimited vacation is that people look to be perceived as more loyal, more committed, more dedicated than their peers. And therefore, they look to take just slightly less vacation than their peers. And what happens is a cascading effect, which approaches zero.This is actual data from Buffer's Data Remote Report from 2019, where you can see in blue, the amount of vacation offered, and then in orange, the amount of vacation that was actually taken. So, you can see around 30, 35% of people had unlimited vacation. And if you look at how that's actually distributed, most of the people who had unlimited vacation took anywhere from no vacation to two weeks’ vacation. Versus the people who had, you know, six weeks, five weeks, four weeks were likely to actually take that amount of vacation.So, what is my point here? Well, in Game Theory is this idea where basically you have a game and then those rules are set for the game. And then you just see what behaviors actually emerge from those given set of rules. Well, I think with remote work, we have to be a lot more intentional about not just kind of throwing rules out there, again, kind of redefining our box and, and not just taking a box that already exists. And you can do that through Mechanism Design, which is kind of flipping that script and saying, what are the behaviors that we actually want and what rules do we need to establish to actually generate those behaviors? So kind of again, reversing the question and figuring out what behaviors you want to incentivize. And then figuring out what rules need to be in place to actually achieve that.As I mentioned, the box has changed, the game has changed. So, here's a couple examples of things that people struggle with from the same report, when they're working remotely. It's things like unplugging, loneliness, distractions, culture, and communication. If you were to ask the same question to people who are working in an, in an office, these would not be the case, which shows us the game has changed. The problems have changed. The things that we're solving for have changed and therefore you must come up with rules or incentives so that people act in their own best interest. So again, you're thinking backwards. You're asking the question, what are the KPIs that you need to actively design to encourage people to, for example, have a work life balance outside of just the freedom to define their own. And this is really important because it sounds counterintuitive to say a I'm actually going to define more rules. Because flexibility sounds like a great perk or sounds like a great thing to have. But actually, you can help your employees in certain situations to actually help them again, this idea of building their own box.Something I want to call out here is again, is Wall Street, which is again, the most like capitalist type environment there is, has mandatory off hours. So that brokers don't push themselves to their Nash Equilibrium, which would be the sleepless equilibrium, where they're constantly trading. So, you have to think backwards and figure out how to design an environment that people succeed in.Quick couple examples before we move on to the third example. The third book are things like a minimum vacation policy, mandatory days that they must take off, allowing people to take back their calendars and actually block off significant parts so that they're not encountering what people call Calendar Tetris. I like this example from Keith, I don't know Keith personally, and this was pre COVID.But basically, he decided to close his office on Friday. Simple things like this, where he basically said it's a mandatory weekend. You are not allowed to work, even though it seems strange in a digital environment. And I'm giving you 50 bucks to go eat at your favorite restaurant. So, think about how you are intentionally designing systems for your employees.Finally, third example that I'll breeze through is the Four Tendencies. And I'll caveat this example with this quote directly from Gretchen Rubin, the author that says the happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren't those from a particular tendency, but rather the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build lives that work for them.So, what is the Four Tendencies? It's this idea that there as it sounds like four tendencies. Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel. Now these two highlighted in green are not highlighted, because they're the best. As Gretchen said in that quote, it's just that they're they are the most common. Now the Four Tendencies is basically a two-by-two framework, which identifies how people respond to expectations or accountability.So, do they readily meet outer expectations? Do they readily meet inner expectations? Do they resist both of them or do they kind of fluctuate towards or air towards one or the other? So, I personally am a Questioner. I resist outer expectations and I meet inner expectations. To give a quick example, if I wanted to get fit, having a gym buddy as an outer expectation expecting me to show up that actually wouldn't help me. And that actually is something that I've tried to do throughout my life. Hasn't worked. Meanwhile, something like actually understanding the science behind why I should be fit or kind of convincing myself that my identity, or I want to be the type of person who, you know, respects their health. That works for me. So as a Questioner, I meet inner expectations. I resist outer expectations.Now I did a poll on Twitter a while ago, got around 400 votes from people who had been working remotely again, pre COVID. And it was interesting to see that the most popular tendencies among this again, non-scientific poll were Questioners and Rebels, and I thought, huh, that's interesting.If you remember questioners and obligers for the most common in the overall population with remote workers, or at least those who sought out remote work. Where questioners and rebels with the, the familiarity or the common thread here is that they both resist outer expectations. I thought that was really interesting.And I think that relates to this idea that there's a level of self-selection or misalignment with outer expectations of society, of people trying to at least identify their own work norms, identify their own vision or how they can actually build something, build their own box. And this isn't again, mean that they're more successful or less successful.It's just perhaps that they actively sought out this type of environment. Now, what's the takeaway here. This is a brief section compared to the other two, but it's the idea that people actually respond differently to inner and outer accountability. We used to have everyone in an office and that didn't necessarily work with everyone.Now we have everyone remote that doesn't necessarily work for everyone. So, I think the idea here is that leaders need to actually learn past, just the high level this person is good at these skills. This person is good at these skills. This is my top player. This is my, you know, less valuable player. And more so think about how to tailor their leadership stylers to figure out how to motivate their employees. Whether they're in a remote environment or not. But especially if you're in a remote environment, how do you incentivize, if we just quickly go back, how do you incentivize Upholders and Obligers when Questioners and Rebels tend to naturally seek out this environment?And on the flip side, if you're in an office, how do you naturally incentivize Questioners and Rebels so that they're motivated when Upholders and Obligers may more naturally fit into those traditional environments. So just something to consider. Right. This is the final slide I have, and I know we're running out of times, but the idea here is just, again, there are certain things or certain ways that humans tend to interact in, in an person environment.And they don't necessarily act the same ways in a remote environment. And in particular, they may not even act in ways that benefit themselves all the time. So, we must as leaders, if you're leading a team, if you're leading a company, It's good to consider some of these things and figure out A: How do I encourage Giving through discovering, hiring, promoting, and acknowledging and rewarding as I said before Givers. How do I select incentives or develop the right systems so that we're using Mechanism Design and not just throwing people into a game and hoping that they choose the best outcomes that are best for them or best for everyone?And then finally, how do we actually learn about our people past the face value in terms of their skills and figure out how to harness their unique strengths, whether they're in an in-person environment or a remote environment. If you want to find me, or if you have questions, happy to answer them now, but you're also welcome to email me or DM me on Twitter and that is it.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  Also don't miss IO2022 - Innovation Accelerated in Sept, 2022.
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Courtney Powell, COO and Managing Partner at 500 Global. Courtney and I talk about investing in emerging markets, the differences between startup and corporate innovation, and the current market dynamics that startups and corporate should be paying attention to.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started. Interview Transcript with Courtney Powell, COO and Managing Partner at 500 GlobalBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Courtney Powell. She is COO and Managing Partner of 500 Global. Welcome to the show. Courtney Powell: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here Brian. Brian Ardinger: In a certain way, it's coming back to our original roots of the Inside Outside podcast. Where the original podcast episodes were an inside look at startups outside the valley. And we thought, hey, what better way to have a conversation around that then inviting you to talk about what's going on at 500 Global. Because for those who may not be familiar with 500 Global's $2.7 billion under assets and management. You've invested in probably 2,000 to 3,000 startups around the world. And 45 Unicorns have come out of that, in nine different countries. So, you've definitely been on the forefront of looking at what entrepreneurship is outside the valley. Can you talk about your journey into this innovation space from entrepreneur to corporate innovator to venture capital? Courtney Powell: You kind of mentioned a little bit about 500's history in terms of starting in the Valley, but then pretty quickly deciding to invest worldwide. So, I actually came to know 500 pretty early into my own entrepreneurial journey.So, in 2010, I was based in Austin, Texas. And I had already actually been a part of a really early startup that had done well. But I joined when I was 19. So, one of the first employees with the two other gentlemen who started it. I kind of watched firsthand as that company went from literally being, I remember it so clearly in my mind, it was like a yellow legal pad that they were describing the technology on that they wanted to do. The company was called Boundless Network and they were trying to create automated group buying software for corporations who wanted to buy pens and koozies. And drive down the cost by having this kind of group buy system. So I saw really up close what it was like to go from this legal pad to raise what I think amounted to, you know, more than $50 million ultimately.And the company then got acquired down the road by Zazzle's. I saw this journey and right away knew that this was my calling. I wanted to start companies. And so about five years after I started working at Boundless in 2010, I launched my own company, which at the time was really early in marketing automation consulting.So, I was doing Salesforce implementation, also marketing automation consulting. That taught me a lot about what it was like to run my own company and particular consulting firm, which you know, has a lot of challenges. A few years into that, I was struck with an idea for my first tech startup. And that was around helping consumers when they had problems with big companies like Time Warner Cable, or Airlines, or, you know, Telecoms or all these other companies.So long story short, I started the company in Austin. And in Austin, the venture network at that time was very small. It's still relatively small, but very, very small then. And I remember feeling like, okay, I don't really know how to get plugged in to the network here. I am a female, a young mother trying to raise capital. I'm the only woman in the room and, you know, in 99% of the cases. And somebody told me about 500. So, 500 had just started, you know, they were a year, I guess, into existence. And I made my way to the Valley. Applied to the accelerator. Got into one of their early accelerators. And that was really my first introduction to the world of Silicon Valley. And having received investment from 500. After that, I then ran that company for a few years before shutting it down. And then got into building consumer real estate tech.And I eventually became CEO of another company called Agent Pronto. Which is still up and running. Ultimately it got acquired by Fidelity. And then after my time at Agent Pronto, I joined Keller Williams. And I joined Keller Williams, not as a real estate agent or at the brokerage level, but at the parent company level. Where I focused not just on building out consumer tech initially, but eventually got into corporate dev.And began helping them to diligence companies, look at investment opportunities, and long story short decided that, you know, I wanted to move it to venture someday and see the other side of the table and eventually made my way to 500. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. I want to dive into 500 and what you're doing now. And can you talk a little bit about the strategy that 500 has employed to uncover high value opportunities in under-invested markets?Courtney Powell: Yeah. So, you know, as I mentioned, it was really two things that 500, I like to say, got right. One was this idea of diversification. You know, especially when 500 started in 2010, the idea of investing in a 100, 200, 300, 400 companies a year was very, very new and controversial. Diversification was really important.And then as I mentioned, also investing outside of the Valley. Even when 500 was looking for example, to move the office from Mountain View to San Francisco in 2013, that was still odd. Let alone the idea of, you know, investing today in over 80 countries. That really just came from the belief that we knew that there was talent everywhere. And really, it was just a matter of being able to pair that talent and those opportunities with capital. And I would also say the practices that maybe were commonplace in Silicon Valley, that in other countries and other regions, weren't yet as mature as what we were used to in the Valley. So that combination of both the investment practices. The friendliness toward founders. The standardized terms. You know, the combination of really wanting to not just provide capital, but also make sure that we were bringing founder friendliness, standardized terms, to these other regions and just trying to, you know, meet these founders who were creating incredible ideas and definitely had the skillset to be able to take things forward. That was really the spark and the ethos that has built 500 into what it is today. Brian Ardinger: It's interesting. You talked about some of the positive benefits that the Valley brings as far as when it comes to venture, and that. Can you talk to maybe some of the bad habits that venture capital in Silicon Valley, you try to avoid when going into different markets?I think about some of the things of over-indexing, for example, as you have to be a Stanford grad or things along those lines that you typically hear about. How do you avoid some of the habits or bad habits or traps that venture capital in the valley is known for? Courtney Powell: I mean, I think it's definitely well-known that venture capital as a whole has a diversity problem. I think of that problem, not just in terms of the demographic diversity, but also the geographic diversity as well. So, I think with 500, in particular from the beginning, there was a focus on a couple of different things. Number one, having been built by operators and people who didn't have the Stanford background necessarily. I think made the firm keenly aware that there were many other people out there who maybe had a non-traditional path who wasn't the 20-year-old Stanford male.And so right away was really actively looking to not only invest in founders who were diverse, but hire teams, investment decision makers who were diverse. So today, I mean, I know there are very few funds and firms led by females. I think we have been really open with our own diversity stats and our own commitment with regard to investing in underrepresented founders.And as I said, also, geographically. I think this is a huge opportunity, as well. So, I do think that you see today is still only just a few percentage points of VC actually being invested into women. I think that's such an interesting stat because around the world, even in the Middle East, for example, where people often think that, of course there couldn't be like a huge amount of deal flow of female founders, almost 30% of our portfolio is female founded. In the Middle East. 30%. So, this isn't a pipeline problem. It's not a pipeline problem in the U S. It's not a pipeline problem anywhere else in the world. It is really the intent, and I think the makeup of the teams who are making investment decisions. Brian Ardinger: So how do you go about identifying talent and how is it different across cultures, across languages and that? Are there things that specifically you look for? Courtney Powell: That's an interesting question. And I think it varies a lot. It has varied over time, as our firm has evolved from starting as an accelerator to today investing multiple stages. All the way from pre-seed to pre-IPO. You look for very different skillsets. But at the end of the day, what has been really critical for 500, is a commitment to, you know, the original ethos backing these founders all around the world. All around the various underrepresented communities. And I think also, you know, the belief that we have that's core, is we say that our mission statement is uplifting people and economies around the world through entrepreneurship. And what we mean by that is we want people who believe that investing is actually the best way to advance societies. To advance individuals as well. So, you know, we want to make sure that we're doing that in a way that is contributing to the development of these ecosystems. And it's done in a sustainable way. And I don't mean sustainable in this sense. You know, more of like the ESG mindset. But more like we want to be contributing to communities where we're hiring people who are going to be long-term in a community. Who are going to bring skillsets back to that community, that they are local to? We really try to avoid the fly in fly out model.And in these ecosystems, we say that we are both hyper-local and global. And that's really true. We're building, you know, long-term teams on the ground. And of course, keeping connected back to our kind of home base in Silicon Valley. But we really believe that we can contribute to an ecosystem in that way. Brian Ardinger: You talk a lot about the diversity in the companies and the people that you invest in. What are some of the opportunities that you're seeing in emerging markets, whether it's region specific or sector specific? What are you seeing out there?Courtney Powell: This year in particular, I've spent a lot of time in the, in the middle east and Africa and Pakistan, which has been really fascinating. And the key lesson that I've learned at my time at 500 is that founders are the same every where.Like the energy, the creativity, this need to kind of bring to life some value or some product, you know, that is inside of you. That energy is the same whether you're talking to somebody in Cairo or, you know, in Iowa, or in Silicon Valley, it doesn't matter. I think some of the trends that we're seeing definitely a huge boom in FinTech. But I'll qualify that and say that the types of FinTech plays that are exciting in emerging markets are very different in some sense than what you might see today coming from the Valley. So, a huge emphasis on financial inclusion. So, if we just take Pakistan for a moment. 230 million people in Pakistan. Less than 300,000 people have ever made an investment in the stock market. So that tells you, you know, the gap that exists. Or I was in Senegal recently. And Senegal, the population size is escaping me. I think it's about 30 million. But less than 30,000 people have salaried jobs. So, the ability to create really infrastructure level products for financial inclusion, to bring people out from the shadow banking world and into a more traditional and hopefully better system, I think is really incredible.Brian Ardinger: We talked earlier about you had a chance to spend some time in the corporate innovation space as well. I'd love to get your insights on how corporate innovation compares to some of the things that you're seeing in startup innovation. What's similar what's different? Courtney Powell: It's very interesting to me now to reflect back on my time in corporate development and corporate innovation, because today I'm often asked to do that at the government level. Where we'll come in and work, you know, with these governments around the world who are trying to take on actually a very similar mandate, right? How do we incorporate this innovation into our own workforce? But at the same time, you know, there's also some startups that we're looking to back. And, you know, I think what I took away from my time in corporate innovation, there's a lot of room to create misaligned incentives. What I hear and have seen is oftentimes we have corporations who are trying to either buy an innovation and become innovative by osmosis. Or by innovation and quell it immediately and create an exclusive product for themselves. Right. And both of those things I think are very, very difficult to do. But I've also seen it work well where both parties are very upfront about what they can bring to the table. And the guardrails are really set up front. In order to either A: Allow innovation to continue to flourish or B: Know exactly where in the value chain they're expected to build into. You know when they're acquiring these companies. We get asked a lot of time as 500 to help corporations create these programs for themselves, run accelerators, this type of thing. And I've seen some of that be successful as well. But again, it really has to be about understanding what those incentives need to be and, you know, making sure all parties are really aware of what the opportunities are. So, I think it's tricky and I see it now much differently, you know, as the other side of the table, I think. I still think, you know, you've got great examples of companies out there who get it right. And build teams and let them run. And give them the mandate and the support needed to really, you know, find some innovative ways to bring themselves into the digital world. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. I don't know if it's similar type of dynamics in a startup realm around how difficult it is to create a billion-dollar company from scratch. I think it's probably similar odds for corporations oftentimes to think and become an innovative company. Courtney Powell: I think that's a great way to put it. And you know, I actually think one of the best examples of corporate innovation that we've ever seen is probably not one that we think of as corporate innovation, which is Amazon.Amazon building their core business of course their online retailers and platforms but having given teams within Amazon the freedom to experiment with something on like AWS who today is driving like the biggest profit center of the company. But again, that's less of an initiative and more, just a result of a culture that it's okay to fail. That's really, I think the innovative characteristic that a lot of the programs that, you know, I think have evolved maybe could use more of. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. Obviously, we're living in very uncertain times. Current market dynamics are changing, especially in the United States where you're hearing a lot of venture capital firms saying, you know, buckle up for downturns and recessions and everything around that. What is your take on the current market dynamics? What are you seeing both inside or outside the Valley? Courtney Powell: You know, I've been asked this question a lot in emerging markets, because I think people are really looking to understand the U S position right now. I think generally speaking from my vantage point, it will be difficult to curb the volatility unless inflation is dealt with much more aggressively than what it has been in recent months and even years. Now, I think in terms of how it's affecting the startup ecosystems around the world I am definitely seeing a slowdown at the later stage and that's across markets. You know, whether it's the US or the Middle East, or I'm hearing less about East Asia, but certainly already in Europe as well. Those later stage rounds, I mean, you had the market, you had Tiger, SoftBank, people kind of flooding these big, late-stage rounds who now are suffering in the public markets. And therefore, they don't have as much cash to cross over with. I think that's a real consideration for later stage investors.We're seeing less of it in the seed stages. However, I think that people are pretty spooked. Founders are spooked. So, I think so many people are telling their own portfolios to really just kind of buckle down. And we're starting to see founders just try and close these rounds as quickly as possible.And you know, it's a great opportunity to focus on, you know, on one side of the table, on your unit economics. And if you have the war chest right now, then it's a great time to deploy it. So, I think there will be people who come out ahead of this downturn. Certainly, it's a great time to deploy capital. And I think we all hope that whatever this is over quickly. But in any case, the arc of history is still heading toward technology just leveling every single industry. So, I think there's still a lot of upside to be had. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: We are definitely living in interesting times, and I really do appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to tell us a little bit about what you're seeing out there. Courtney, if people want to find out more about yourself or about 500, what's the best way to do that? Courtney Powell: For myself, you can follow me on Twitter @CourtneyPowell and same on LinkedIn. And with 500, you can check us out at or follow us @500globalVC on Twitter. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Courtney, thanks again for being on the show. Really appreciate it. And looking forward to continuing the conversation. Courtney Powell: Thanks so much Brian. Take care.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  Also don't miss IO2022 - Innovation Accelerated in Sept, 2022.
On this week's Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Susan Golden, Author of the new book Stage (Not Age). Susan and I talk about the $22 trillion market opportunity in the emerging longevity economy from education to workforce to healthcare and housing. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Susan Golden, author of Stage (Not Age): How to Understand and Serve People Over 60, The Fastest Growing, Most Dynamic Market in the World. Welcome to the show, Susan. Susan Golden: Thank you so much for having me.Brian Ardinger: To give a little background. You've got a lot of experience in this particular space. You teach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. You're a Mentor at Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator. And a thought partner with Pivotal Ventures on their Caregiving Innovation Initiatives. I think the first question I'd like to ask is what drew you to this topic and exploring this $22 trillion market opportunity called the longevity economy.Susan Golden: Great question. I have a background in public health and then went into venture capital in life sciences and health services. And I actually took a career break, which is part of what the book is about. That many people are going be taking career breaks if they're living 100 year lives. And went back to school. And Stanford had just started a new program called the Distinguished Careers Institute, for people anywhere from their fifties to their eighties, come back and rethink what they want to do with the next chapters of their life. Because they're living much longer. And nobody should be thinking about retirement in their sixties because they have another 30 or 40 years to go.And I learned about longevity at Stanford. There's a wonderful center on longevity that is thinking about how do you plan for the 100 year life. And it's very dynamic and it's not just about the typical impression that most people have, that all older adults are elderly, declining, frail need a whole variety of services.Some will, and most of us will need something at some point in the end of our lives. But most people are going to be living very vibrant lives well into their eighties. And this has created a whole new economy that most people just don't know about. And particularly investors and innovators don't know about it.Traditionally, if I asked my venture capital friends, why aren't you investing in this? They would say, oh, this is about senior housing and fall prevention and medication management. And that's a piece of it, but there is now, as you said, a $22 trillion worldwide market right here in the United States.Right now, it's estimated to be about $8.6 trillion. As over 10,000 people are turning 65 every day and they're going to be living long lives. And over a third to a half of children being born today can expect to live to their 100s. And this longevity economy now includes all their spending, the stimulating new jobs that are being created for their products and services.And companies are beginning to rethink their longevity strategy. Not just for products and services, and how could they have a multi-generational. But also, how to have a workforce that's multi-generational. And how to take advantage of that. And most people don't realize that people over 50 have most of the wealth. They're responsible for 56% of consumer spending and 83% of wealth in the United States. So this is a gigantic market opportunity, gigantic innovation opportunity, and a great need to support healthy aging as our population is going to grow in this category. Brian Ardinger: So, with the fact that it is growing and there's this massive opportunity, what are the biggest misconceptions out there? Why do you think more people aren't exploring this at this point?Susan Golden: I don't think they fully understand the vibrancy that most older adults are in. And that they're in multiple stages. And they tend to lump all older adults in one category. All people 65 and older, or whatever demarcation one takes 70, 75 when there's great diversity in aging. And I think we should be thinking about ageless people. But more and what I argue for in the book about stage, some companies have done this well. They recognize what stage of life somebody is in. So, they may be in a re-purposing stage or transitioning out of one career to another. They may want continuous learning and educational opportunities as I, and all my colleagues who've done the DCI program at Stanford were in. To refocus what we want to do next and what are our life priorities. But there's other traditional consumer facing industries that people haven't thought how to reinvent them for people with longer lives and how to support their health span. And this includes housing alternatives and home modifications, fashion and accessories, education as we mentioned, entertainment, travel, you can think of that just virtually every consumer opportunity that is going to have a burgeoning longevity customer that needs to be understood. And so, understanding what stage somebody is in, will give you a much broader perspective about their needs. There may be a caregiving stage even. Brian Ardinger: In the book you talk about, you have five kinds of key stages. Can you walk through what those stages are? And what's important about them. Susan Golden: So, I came up with the concept of 18 life stages that could be divided into five quarters of life. And I know that's funky math. But people traditionally think about life in three stages, which is your education, your working stage, and then your retirement stage. And now I think we have to think much more broadly.So, I think about the first stage of life as sort of your growth stage. And when you're launching and you're first and beginning to experiment. And in your second quarter, you have different stages where you're doing continuous learning. You're developing some financial security. You might be caregiving, parenting, optimizing health. And then the third and fourth stages I think are what might be considered new. Which is, I call them the Renaissance Stage where you're reinventing what you're doing. You're repurposing, you're relaunching. You may be transitioning, may have a portfolio of things that you're doing as I do. You might be an entrepreneur or an “olderpreneur” as people often say. And then the later stages are maybe where some people think about more about their legacy planning for end of life. But people are living to 100. So, I put in a fifth quarter because we just don't know what that whole new paradigm is going to look like. And how people are going to be using those extra years. Brian Ardinger: Well, a lot of it has been driven by other parts of the economy as well, whether it's technology or healthcare and that that's literally changing the way we live. What are some of the trends or things that you've seen that are allowing folks to be more productive as they age? Susan Golden: Well, technology is certainly making a great change in the way we age and for the better. Technology services, anywhere from being able to access transportation more easily. It may not be wanting to drive yourself, but there's lots of transportation services and easy ways to get access to it. Uber, Lyft even have special programs to help you get to medical appointments and interface with medical system. We have delivery of virtually everything you can possibly think of. You can do online banking, but interestingly, not all older adults are digitally literate and that's another innovation opportunity. Other countries have national programs to make sure all older adults have active digital literacy training every single year, not just one, but multiple times. That's where we're seeing it. Tech in the home. We're going to see a lot of healthcare, not just during the pandemic, but continue to be telehealth services. People are thinking about remote health in the home going forward. And then working from home is creating all sorts of opportunities for older adults. Giving them enormous flexibility. We see tech really supporting caregivers. This is a whole new need because there are 48 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. And that's some of the work I do as a thought partner to Pivotal Ventures. They're actually supporting an entire accelerator through Techstars, just devoted for innovations to support unpaid caregivers in the United States. So, we're seeing an uptick and definitely more interest in this area. But most people, I would say most innovators and investors have not fully appreciated the enormous opportunities.Brian Ardinger: Well, and that's what I like about this book. It not only lays out in granular details, some of the opportunities that you're talking about, but it really is for entrepreneurs. It outlines a number of different market opportunities. It gives the lay of the land and a call to action for entrepreneurs to start tackling some of these types of problems and that, that are out there. Having said that, what are some of the opportunities that you're seeing startups get into and maybe what opportunities are being missed. Susan Golden: When people are coming into this industry, it's so big and so many different verticals you can focus on. It's better to focus on one and then expand. So sometimes I feel like companies are trying to solve every problem. And that can happen over time if you create a fabulous platform. But definitely focusing on a particular need, don't create a product that you think somebody will want to find out what the needs are.And I really advocate for multi-generational teams. I think as companies have a multi-generation workforce which is going to be inevitable as people are going to have 60-year career spans with caregiving breaks, optimally at different times of their lives. But learning what somebody needs, the mantra and the industry is designed with not for. So don't guess what an older adult will want, bring them into the conversation early on. And then companies that are, and entrepreneurs that have designed a product that's just for older adults and it calls out it's for you older person. And we could say that the stereotype there is big beige and boring is not the way to go. Is to create a product that might have still features that support an older adult’s needs, but could potentially be a multi-generational product. And an example of that is OXO Kitchen Utensils. I don't know if you've ever purchased them, but they're very much designed to be easy on the hands. Great dexterity, compatibility. And they're good for young and old. And they're not sold at it's a multi-generational product. It's not sold just for older adults. It's not sold just for younger people. But too often marketers targeted the 18- to 34-year-old category. And if you broaden your perspective and think about older adults in a very vibrant, and different stages of their life, you will have a much larger market to address.Brian Ardinger: And I think you're seeing that in the marketing sense as well. Like you said, seems like most marketers always target that younger demographic. And some of the things that you're talking about, it's not even the age, it's a specific problem set. Which could, like you said, span different ages as the person grows and adapts. Talk a little bit about some of the products or services that you've seen or some of the trends that are most exciting to you. Susan Golden: The ones that are really catching my attention is new housing alternatives. Traditionally people thought everybody wanted to go to a senior retirement community, assisted living facility. And over 90% of adults want to age in what they call age in place. But their current home may not be ideal for them. It may have many steps. It may be too big. They may feel isolated. So, there are some new interesting housing companies, basically housing alternatives. And one is an example that came out of the Techstars Accelerator two years ago called Upside Home.And they rent apartments in buildings that are, multi-generational. Not just for old people. They fully furnish it so that it's compatible for an older adult. And this might be somebody who wants to spend three to six months in Florida or may want to get rid of their larger home. And it's no longer appropriate and have all the concierge type of products and services that come with apartment living, but they also have all the features that an older adult might need, including having access to caregiving as needed, transportation, food delivery. So, it's a really exciting new model that includes a variety of products. So, they started sort of like in one area and expanded to create a platform that provides now health services to those who live in their apartment complexes as well, which is really exciting. Home modification itself is a whole burgeoning industry. If people want to stay in their home. And so that it enables them to live longer and better and in a healthy way. That's one whole industry. And we're also seeing this in clothing and fashion. Whereas people let's say are active bike riders, but their current configuration of pockets and their clothing might not be ideal for their range of motion or if they have a rotator cuff issue. But you know, you could redesign it so that it meets the needs of an older adult. And that's just some of the things we're beginning to see as people look at a whole range of things. But education would be another whole burgeoning industry. I see a lot of great companies starting up as a way to help people find productive ways of staying engaged from a learning, but also contributing their talents.So older adults, teaching older adults. Older adults teaching younger. These are some really vibrant ways of creating community while somebody is aging in place to support them and make them feel very purposeful and connected. Which we know that social isolation, is one of the greatest risks of aging in your own home. And you have to stay connected in a purposeful way. And then helping older adults find work. Most older adults do want to work longer. They may not want to work in the same position for as many hours. They might want flexibility, but so to younger adults we're finding. And so, as a need very much so to help older adults get matched, where they can contribute and benefit society with all their talent and expertise and wisdom.Brian Ardinger: That's a great point. And we briefly talked about the fact that the workforce itself is changing, whether it's remote work or that. How do you see the corporate environment changing because of workforce and an age group that will be in the workforce for much longer? Susan Golden: I think companies that will do well, having a multi-generational workforce, will do so because they will have continuous learning opportunities for their entire workforce. Upskilling will be critical because things are changing so rapidly. There's a lot of companies right now that are offering wonderful “returnship” programs for people who do take care of giving breaks in particular, both men and women who may have been out anywhere from two years and more.And give them an opportunity to come back to the company they worked with. Retool, upskill, and then they're offered an opportunity to decide if they want to take a permanent position. And these are 16-week paid returnships. And this is happening in a lot of progressive forward-thinking companies.Companies are also providing upskilling just in terms of being financially literate. You cannot have successful aging if you've not planned for a longer life. And the financial services companies have done a particularly great job in this area. Not only for their clientele, Merrill Lynch is one company that I've written about that hired a financial gerontologists to help redesign their wealth management products. But also, to support their own employee. And have them planning for a much longer life.So, companies that do it, not just for the customer, but do it for their employees are the ones that are really going to distinguish themselves and utilize their multi-generational workforce to continue to modify products and services going forward that can benefit all sectors of the economy. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. So, if I'm an entrepreneur out here listening to this broadcast, what are some of the resources or places to get more up to speed on this topic and others?Susan Golden: I would say, look at the book. And the book and in the appendix has a long list of accelerators, incubators, articles to read, and to familiarize yourself with all the design challenges, the industry newsletters, podcasts. It's a nascent industry, but it's still, most people don't know about it. So, I put in a long appendix with different resources. And check out the different accelerators like Tech Stars. ARP has an innovation lab, so you can see some of the companies that have been developed through these accelerators and launched. And get a flavor of where some of the needs are. But we don't know all the needs yet. This is new, old age is new. We don't know what everybody is going to need because there's going to be such diversity in aging. But we do know there's just a paucity of products and services to support healthy aging. And so that all people can live long lives with dignity and purpose. Brian Ardinger: We talked a little bit about the U S market and that. But are there other markets, obviously you hear about Japan and their aging population. Are there any insights that we can gain from looking at other countries and what they're doing when it comes to the population? Susan Golden: Yeah, I mean, some of the societies that have aged faster have a delayed retirement ages from mandatory retirement to much later. And I think that's a good practice. There's a lot of up-skilling that's going on in other countries. And the one that I mentioned earlier, digital literacy. Denmark does that. Israel does that. It's part of the fabric of respecting and integrating older adults into society. So, we can learn a lot from other countries. Singapore has a whole incubator around how to develop products and services to support longevity. And we have some very excellent programs happening on a state level. But we do not yet have national policies that fully support healthy aging, including paid family care leave acts because we need that people will need to take breaks for caregiving.There are 48 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. And many of them are women. And many of them have to take time off from their careers and then retool. Integrating that into a national strategy will be key to support healthy aging. Brian Ardinger: Well, Susan, I appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share this new opportunity. It's going to be exciting times for sure. A lot of challenges, a lot of opportunities out there for folks to take a stab at. If people want to find out more about yourself or about the book Stage, Not Age, what's the best way to do that?Susan Golden: The website for the book is and I welcome speaking and learning about any new opportunities that people may have.Brian Ardinger: Well, Susan, thank you again for coming on the podcast here. Super excited to see where this goes and looking forward to continuing the conversation. Susan Golden: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you for having me.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Monica Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox and Author of Rethink Creativity. Monica and I talk about some of the obstacles and opportunities around creativity. And how individuals and companies can benefit from enhancing their curiosity, creativity, and courage. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Monica Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox and Author of Rethink CreativityBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Monica Kang. She is Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox and Author of Rethink Creativity. And also has a children's book called Have You Seen My Friends? So welcome to the show Monica.Monica Kang: Thank you for having me. Brian Ardinger: One of the things that we do in our Inside Outside community is ask our audience out there, who should we be talking to? And what are some of the interesting things that you're seeing out there? And somebody said, hey, you should talk to Monica. I think the first question I want to ask is probably a softball for you, but why does creativity matter. And why does it matter more today than ever before?Monica Kang: I'll start with maybe the notion of, I feel creativity is one of the words that we don't realize how much of a jargon it is. Because we use it so much. We say like, oh, you're creative. You're not creative. Or like, that was creative. That was innovative. We put in our marketing materials. We put in our campaigns. We put it in how we describe things.But if you really break it down, like, do people really understand or live the value that what it is. I think that was part of the reason why when you go back to why it's so important to talk about this is actually because of that. Because we use it all the time, but so many people don't realize the root and the nuances. And hence, don't realize this is jargon, that we're just keep throwing it around without the full intention. And so, I first fell into it because of that very situation. I was originally in nuclear weapons security. Government work. Wanted to be a diplomat all my life. That having grown up in DC and in the States, as well as in Korea and worked in Europe. And, you know, hey, I'm not comfortable with science and math. So, this sounds like the perfect path. And like, I love people and building relations. And so, I was good with a lot of things, but like creativity, wasn't really a thing that I would describe I was good at. Even though now looking back, I realize I had. And only until when I find myself really getting depressed and stuck in a dream job where I realized that I was finding myself literally crying to work, feeling upset, not knowing what to do in a job that I fell in love with. And I'm like, what is wrong with me? Like I'm solving a very important mission. Mission-driven. Preventing bad guys from having nuclear weapons. We're working in the government. It's really hard to get into this industry too. And yet feeling stuck. And what helped me gave the courage of, you know, walking to work instead of taking the bus to work. Getting curious about all these different surroundings. And realizing how one life decision can make a huge difference. Because now I felt so curious in the office got even more energetic. Even though the work description hasn't changed at all. It got me curious about understanding about, well, what happened. And people did ask me like Monica, whatever you're doing, you seem happier. And that's where I realized creativity was one of the key elements.I didn't know back then, but it was the mindset of simply doing something different. Finding the courage to take different things. Try different things. Ask different questions. Even organizing my process of the project differently because as I looked at the traffic in the fourth street every day, I'm like am I creating traffic in the way I do things unconsciously. Just like how there's always traffic here. Like at this time? What do I need to do differently? And getting curious about it. And that's where I learned that comment that I started the beginning. That question of creativity, innovation. There's so much history and research behind it. That I had no idea. And because we throw around the word and use it so much, that I misunderstood what it meant.And I didn't know that it was for everyone. I didn't know that something that we can all do more. And regardless of where we are, it expressed differently. And I think it's even more needed now because of the pandemic. Brian Ardinger: Oftentimes I think the perception of creativity is it's some kind of magic. Or it's something that other people do. Or, you know, some, other people can possess that, but I can't do that. So, this idea of creativity not being magic. That being every day and available to anybody to possess or use, talk about how you identified that little nugget and what are some of the tactical things that you do to bring out that magic. Monica Kang: So, I love that you said it. Because immediately one book that I'm remembering, it's about daily habits. And I was mindful because I'm like, wow. So, all these creative, innovative historical people around the world, like they had to work hard to be a better writer. What, like, they didn't just magically write that book. And like became a best seller. And like, no, they had to write every day. The musicians had to write music every day. And I'm like, wait, if that's how it is.Like I wonder in the traditional non art industry, how they do creative. Of course, same thing. I think of new ideas every day. They had to try new things every day. Get rejected every day. And I'm like, oh my gosh. I mean, even the story of how WD40 product came about. Are you familiar with the WD40 products? So, it's that spray, right. You know why that name is called WD40. Brian Ardinger: I do not. Monica Kang: The reason why they named WD40 for that product was not a coincidence. It means water displacement, right? 40. Which indicates that it took 40 times to perfect that formula. Brian Ardinger: Ah. I hadn't heard that story. Monica Kang: How often are we willing to try 40 times. Hear 40 nos. Before we get to that yes. Not a lot. And I think that brings a weight. Hence to that question of what can we do every day, is that it's building the routine. As I learned about these daily routines of all these famous people of what they've had to do every day. Learning about stories like WD40, that how many attempts that people had to try.And my day-to-day activity, that means that I need to just make it a routine of constant learning and trying new things. And so, one activity I always share as a recommendation is like, what's a five minute time that you can always block to do something different. Or to do something intentionally differently.So maybe it's that, okay, if you always commute somewhere, could you try a different commute, maybe at least two or three times when you're not in a rush hour. Maybe you take a different path. Maybe it's that you take the same commute, but you'll listen to different music. Or maybe you'll listen to different podcasts. Maybe you're going to listen to this one time and then another podcast. Maybe it's that you actually take a silent ride sometimes. Just like Pink. Even though that looks like a naive, like how is that going to make me more creative? By making that simple decision, you're letting your mind wander in different ways. And explore different things. Which gets into the practice of thinking differently. Which is the essence of creativity to get to innovation and all these new ideas.So, to get to that WD40 product, they probably had to do a lot of that, somewhat unorthodox, like somewhat unexpected things that led to that 40th idea and innovation. And so, the key of those different elements is that you have to make it a habit. And it has to also be celebrated and enjoyable, but that's why I shared the tip with like, find a routine in your day.That you can do easily. That it doesn't feel like I don't have time to do that. I don't have time. Think about your exercise. Think about your sleep hours. Hopefully everyone's sleeping well. Sleep routine, like things. When it's built-in routine, it's a little bit easier, but then you can commit and see the change over time.Brian Ardinger: I use a similar technique called Scheduling Your Senses. So, each week you think about what sense do I want to focus on? So, this week I'm going to focus on taste. And I'm going to really focus, you know, a particular time period on what I'm tasting. How does that make me feel? And so, each week you pick a different sense that you want to do, and, you know, it comes down to, like you said, changing your environment. And getting you out of the normal rut that you have. You mentioned one of the obstacles to creativity is this idea of fear. And you know, when you think about WD40, having to try 40 times. You know, I'm sure they didn't go into it saying, hey, we're going to fail 40 times. Or going in with the mindset of I'm scared that I'm going to have to try this 40 different times to get to a solution. Talk about fear and the role of creativity. And how we can overcome that fear. Because I think that's one of the major barriers to creativity. Monica Kang: I think fear is unavoidable. But I think some of the mis-notion we have is that everything always has to be fearful. And I think that's where we miss the chance to celebrate what that growth stage looks like.The act of doing something different, sometimes doesn't always have to be fearful. Me listening to a different podcast, not a fearful thing. But I'm learning new insights. Me focusing on different senses might not be fearful. As it gets to certain decision-making of like, oh, because now I focused on the taste, I realized the way we're cooking right now in this kitchen is actually not good.And I need to tell my boss about it. If the customers are unhappy. That's where the fear encourages decision is. And so, I think when we asked that question, I think we see innovation, creativity in this box of like, okay, we got to think of this new idea, and we have to present it. But actually, even before we get to that stage of fear, there's all these other elements that we built resilience and skills of thinking differently that got us there.And so, the tip that I often share is like first recognize that being creative is you got to pass the fear bridge. But when you're there, remember that, hey actually even the parts to get there, there was a lot of courage into that. And you might not have realized. It might just not have looked as scary as that bridge you're about to cross, that looks really scary. But it wasn't as easy as you thought. And actually, that street that you look back, if you turn around and literally look back at those moments, that became not as scary, because you actually built resilience. There's hemisphere of how much you can experiment has grown so much that it becomes less scary. And in fact, when you cross this bridge, now I'm going to have to tell my chef and my boss about this big, scary decision. Now, the next time you need to do that, it's no longer being as scary. So, our horizon of what we feel we can continue to do will change and evolve, which I think is the part that is so fun to realize that creativity innovation mindset, just like our physical health and muscle is not a static thing. It's going to continue to evolve. Right. Just because I exercise every day, doesn't mean that I'm healthy and I'm done. I can be even healthier. I can be more cautious and same thing with my creative thinking muscle. And think those are the nuances that we miss. Brian Ardinger: I like where you're going. You know, it's almost about how do you reframe the journey from if you think about a particular project and you think about this big project is going to make or break my career. Versus approaching it from the standpoint of like, hey, I'm going to try and experiment. Or I'm going to do this side project. And positioning it in such a way that it frames it differently so that the things that you do learn and that when you do fall down, which are inevitably going to happen. It changes the way you perceive that falling down as part of the journey rather than the journey and the outcome of the journey. Monica Kang: And one thing, Brian, if I can piggyback on that. I share this actually my book Rethink Creativity as well. That, you know, the thousand shades of fear, because one thing that I think is also key is just because I might not be scared of a certain decision, does that mean another person will feel the same way. And I think that's what's actually part of the fear. We need to talk more. And especially as leaders, many of those who's probably listening. You might actually already be here and listening to this episode because you're already pre actually pretty good with it. You're like, no, I've got a good handle of fear. What might be actually harder is actually encouraging your different people. Encouraging your different colleagues. Noticing that like wait, checking ourselves to let when that person says that that's a scary decision, am I actually empathizing and sitting with them. Or coming from the nose up and say, look, yeah, no, don't worry friend. You're going to be fine. That's not scary. And amplifying actually how we feel. And so, fear comes in different shapes, sizes, different times. Actually, the very thing that I might not be scared with one person could be the very thing I'm scared with another person or in another situation. And so it's ever changing.And so, by us having aware. Having fear simply means that we have the alertness. There's a reason why as human beings, we survive, right? We were fearful of the weather conditions. The animals attacking us. Got to protect ourselves. That's actually how we were able to thrive and still exist as an, you know, a being. So, fear isn't just always a bad thing. It's helping try to kick in to protect you. So, look out for these different cues. And I think especially as leaders, it's so key that we don't just simplify. Get rid of your fear. And like stop being fearful. Can we take the time to process it? We need to actually acknowledge all of that and actually ourselves too. Brian Ardinger: So, let's dig into that a little bit, you know. How do you design this creative workplace or workplace for all? You know, how does diversity affect creativity and how are you seeing some companies tackling that problem from an organizational perspective versus the individual perspective?Monica Kang: Well, let's first start with diversity. I think I'm really excited about going back to your very first question. Why so timely to be more creative. And I think the time is even better. We are now seeing more research. People are more aware. People want to learn. More honestly, as somebody who's specializing creative workplace building, it is an exciting time because more people are wanting to have those conversations and say help. I do want to do this. I don't know how. And so, I want to know that this is really timely because no matter what stage you are as a leader, wanting to do this. That you making a commitment and taking one step at a time is part of the thing that will help change the company. So even if that simple decision is that we're going to start doing some one-on-ones. Or we're going to start doing some team building activities at the very beginning and check-in. Actually, that might be the change in itself. That might actually be the kind of activity that your people are missing to feel the courage, to speak up. To feel psychological safety. Which is very key to ignite and creativity and opening up people's mind and feeling that what they can bring up. But if I come into the meeting room and I feel like, okay, Brian's going to be a little upset if I bring this up. Then it's one idea that I don't share. It's one problem. And Brian might be like, well, Monica might frown next time I share this, and he doesn't share one thing. Guess what? We're going to actually see, not only business consequences, but a lot of people, of course, who's going to be impacted because we stopped sharing.And so even that simple decision of like opening up could feel simple. Everyone is testing out right now. So, this good time, this is another example of the fear stopping you. Start with what you're comfortable with, which might be that simply, maybe let's read this article and talk about it. Or, hey, I learned this cool thing from this podcast that Brian and Monica were talking about. I'm inspired. Let's try this out. That could be the starting point. It doesn't always have to be like this big, humongous thing. That's going to lead to culture organization changing. So that's actually the very first tip I share with leaders to make it tangible relatable. And then two, as a result to know that this is a marathon. Yes, we want results as soon as possible for order something. I wanted to get the delivery, right. There was time and effort put in to make that process happen. And I love Simon Sinek's video, where he talks about the intensity versus consistency. He talks about the people development in the workplace. And the beautiful analogy he shares about is our brushing our tooth. If you asked me like, you know, what's the perfect formula to brush the tooth in life versus not to like prevent your mouth from having cavities. Like, I will not know the answer because, you know, maybe I skipped one day. Maybe I skipped three days. Like with that impact, is that the cause like, maybe, but we won't know. But it's the consistent that I brush my teeth every day that I keep my teeth healthy. Same thing on organizations. It's the simple moments of like, let's turn off their phones. Hey, Brian, how are you really doing. Like, oh, Monica actually, this is how I feel now that we've connected. We now open up. You know, Brian, I know we're done with the meeting, but I have this really question I want to ask you. Can I bring this up? I feel would really appreciate cause you just shared about, you know, how you feel. Now, okay. Brian, he's already right now, you're listening, but like he already stood up and like, oh, tell me more Monica. Right? The body language already brings up unconsciously. And I think he shares how it's the consistency that's key. And so again, the second tip I recommend for everyone is that no matter what, or the house solution you have for your culture and people development, the key is the consistency. Not just a one-time retreat of hurray and we're done. But what's the everyday routines that you want to embed.And so, when you even do a retreat or innovation workshop, or you invite a speaker, the question that I hope you always ask yourself, if this is what you're really committing to and what to do, because I know what you do, that's why you're listening to this episode. Think of something that you can do consistently.That is low hanging fruit. That is budget friendly, you know, got to be realistic, right? I'm not saying that you have to spend a lot of money, budget friendly. Implementable as well. And you might be surprised even in that five-minute activity in simply having rows of like no phones in the meeting. Log off. Something like that. So those are kind of tangible places I recommend.Brian Ardinger: That makes great sense. The last topic I want to talk about is the world of work is changing. Obviously. You've been in this space for pre pandemic and now through pandemic. What are some of the trends and things that you're seeing? What are some of the best practices, especially as we kind of move into this new hybrid environment that you're seeing when it comes to creativity.Monica Kang: So many, a particular point I want to highlight is actually generational. And I want to say this because when we see us wanting to express more creatively and we feel we can't. We like to figure out the cost. Right. And our consciousness is that, oh, it's because they're young. Oh, it's because they haven't worked in the company long enough.Oh, it's because they don't get my industry. There's always a, because of. I want to give the courage to recognize that instead of channeling that voice of why don't they get it the way I do. I wonder why they feel that way. I wonder why they say they don't want to get back to the office?I wonder why they say that? I feel fine. I can share all my ideas. I wonder why they say they don't feel comfortable sharing ideas? We got this fancy new office. We're doing all these breakout sessions. Instead of saying like, why are they not. Reframe that to I wonder why. And focus on the lens of listening and wanting to understand.Maybe they're going to share some stuff that you realize, whoa, like we were not ready for it. We don't know how to solve it. And that's okay too. It's not about always needed to have immediately all the answers, but let's problem solve this together. Thank you for sharing that. I had no idea that's how you feel.And part of this is them wanting to be acknowledged or appreciated and heard. And hey, ask them what they think is the best idea. They might actually have a really good idea that we completely missed out. And Brian to your question of what's changing is that more people are wanting to now finally try this. Which has always been important before. But not doing the consequence. Great resignation and even more has been greater. I think it's great that we're finally, hopefully seeing more workplaces where we make this the norm. That, of course we should understand what people want. And of course, this is hard because everyone wants something different. And sometimes we say what we want, but we don't really maybe need it.I might say I want ice cream, but maybe I shouldn't have ice cream today. Cause I already had my chocolate earlier. Right. Like we're people. It's going to be messy. But that's part of the beauty of it. Of feeling like we can bring out all our different insights. And sometimes the choice is that because we feel safe sometimes, I don't want to share out. And might just be like, okay, I just want to do work and that's it.And that's okay too. And I think part of it's like, what's the choice that you're going to make each day as a leader. As a creator. And as an innovator in your workplaces. Even if you're not in leadership for those who's listening like Monica, Brian, that's great, but what if I'm not a leader. You start with setting your boundaries. And where you want to start planting the seeds of where you can do this. So, I hope that gives an encouragement of a starting point. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: This has been fantastic. And I appreciate you giving these tactical tips that anybody within the organization can start making progress when it comes to creativity and innovation. So, I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. If people want to find out more about yourself or your books or your company, what's the best way to do that?Monica Kang: Find me in any of the platforms. I'm on most of the social media platforms, but you know, connect with me on LinkedIn at Monica H Kang. K A N G. And then also follow us at InnovatorsBox. I also recommend the book as well. I think you'll enjoy it. And if you go actually to my book's website, for both of them, we have a lot of free worksheets and tools. Also because of our mission to make creativity, culture, and leadership accessible, we have a lot of free resources and tools. Including some of these topics. So, if you can't find it just simply email me, let me know. And also in some tools in Korean and other languages as well, because we want to make this globally accessible. So, we also make music as well, because not everyone's a reader or workshop person. You can find us at InnovatorsBox studios, where we create music to inspire creativity. Brian Ardinger: Thanks, Monica. I really do appreciate you coming on the show and look forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder and CEO of Appsmith. Abhisek and I talk about the rise of no-code tools and some of the misconceptions and opportunities that no-code can bring to startups and enterprises alike. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is a podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder and CEO of AppsmithBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Abhishek Nayak. He is the CEO and Co-founder of a company called Appsmith. Welcome to the show. Abhishek Nayak: Thanks Brian. Really excited to be here. Brian Ardinger: I heard about Appsmith as we talk more and more about this no-code low-code space, that's developing in the startup and in the enterprise world. And Appsmith is an open-source framework that makes it easy to build and maintain internal custom business tools. No code for the enterprise if I'm correct. Abhishek Nayak: Yeah, exactly. Think of us like WordPress, but for building internal user facing applications. Brian Ardinger: I'd love to dig into how this got started, this rise of no-code technologies and that. Making it easier for the non-traditional technical person to build and create faster and that. So maybe let's take a step back and tell us a little bit of your journey of how you became a founder and specifically around, how did you decide to build a no-code app platform? Abhishek Nayak: Been an entrepreneur for a better part of the previous decade. Appsmith is actually my third startup. My first startup was in the space of offline logistics. We were doing cash and delivery. So, we had around 150 plus people. Lots of custom software built internally to manage them. And to run the business. My second startup was in the space of AI, where we were trying to automate customer support. And we used to have 10 plus customers and use to automate support requests for them. That again, we were building a lot of custom applications to train the data. Look at how a particular board or a particular model is performing. And just run all sorts of experiments and processes. That was my second startup. And all of these startups, I had the same co-founder and CTO Arpit Mohan.  And he actually got sick and tired of building all these tools. Our second startup didn't work that well. Our first one got acquired. Second one didn't work that well, and we had to shut it. But he actually started tinkering with the idea of building UI builder but for backend entrepreneurs. Because he was a backend engineer and he really disliked dealing with HTML/CSS. So, he started working on this side project. And this is why he was working at a different job.And during this period, when he was working on a different job, I was working as an EIR at Excel partners. So, I was an entrepreneur in residence where my job was to meet new startups, talk to them about how to run their business. And just understand if it makes sense for Excel to invest in it. While at the same time, I was also looking at other ideas that I could start out with.Now I couldn't find anything interesting. But I was helping my friend Arpit figure out if his idea for an open-source project had any legs. And during that process of helping him out, I started interviewing some of these startups that I was meeting on everyday basis. And I realized that almost every single startup had this problem. That they need to build a lot of custom business applications, maybe to run customer support or expose some data to the sales team. Have a way for the marketing team to maybe generate coupons. Or maybe look up some customer data.And they never had engineering bandwidth to build what they needed. And that was a problem, right? That's when I started telling Arpit, hey, maybe this can actually be a business. Maybe you just don't need to think of it as a side project. Maybe we should start a business together and do this like a startup.That's how it actually got started. It was my co-founder's idea because he hated HTML CSS. And then we started working together to build this out as a company. We also have a third co-founder Nikhil who heads product. And he again has been an engineer for a really long time. But he's a front-end engineer and he was just sick and tired of doing the same thing over and over again.So even though he has skills in HTML CSS, and he loves working on front end, he just disliked the repetitive nature that these internal apps generally have. And that's why he was excited about this idea. Brian Ardinger: I love the story. Because you often hear entrepreneurs’ stories start with a pain or an itch that they have to scratch. And it sounds like that's exactly where you guys started. And it seems like the timing was perfect for this type of new tool. Because it's getting easier and cheaper to use multiple different tools and open APIs, et cetera, to make it easier to build and scale and test and try things than ever before. Talk a little bit about the early traction you got when you started the company and some of the early things you learned.Abhishek Nayak: So, the first six months of app Smith was just building the product out. And we actually started pitching it to users and convincing them to use it. But nobody actually converted. Nobody wanted to use it. And that's when we began to question is the product quality low? Do we not have enough features or what's happening here?When we started digging in deeper, we just realized that the standard style developers have for a product like this is really high. And we just had to go back and improve the quality. And add a lot more features to the product. For it to be ready. So, after our first launch which failed, you know, we had this pivotal moment where we had to decide, should we start building this for a different audience. Because developers don't seem to like this. Or should we just continue to follow our vision and get this right?So, I'm glad that we actually decided to continue following a vision, but just improve the quality and add lot more features. Because when he lost a year later, you know, one and a half years have gone by, since we actually started, it instantly took off. Like within the first week, I remember we had about 30 plus teams using us.And the only thing that we had done was write a blog post announcing that this is live. We did not actually do any sort of sales or any sort of cold outreach to get the users. And we honestly weren't putting in that much effort because we launched, expecting completely failure. Because that's what we had experienced, you know, like a year ago when we had tried to launch. But this time we were pleasantly taken aback by the reaction the market had.And that's when we realized that a product like this just takes a lot longer to build versus a SaaS product. And the quality that developers expect is just a lot higher versus today, we have around 5,000 plus companies that use us every month. And tens of thousands of people who use us every day. That's a different story today.Brian Ardinger: When you were going through the process of determining which features to add, or which ones to improve, how did you work with customers or how did you determine what to build in that environment? Abhishek Nayak: So, most of the early features that was very much decided by my co-founders because they had been engineers for a really long time. And we really just relied on their intuition to decide what should be built. And this is where I think we broke a lot of start-up rules. When a customer asked us to build this feature, if my co-founders disagreed, we would not build it. And what that led to was the product ended up being simple enough for most users. And the base features that my co-founders were sure were important, actually turned out to be quite successful. And the product ended up not being so bloated. Today of course it's a different story because now we do listen to customers a lot more and we actually end up executing it. But in those early days, it was so important to just stay focused on what we were sure they would use. I think the most amount of waste occurs in a startup is when you build something that nobody uses, and nobody wants. So, by just being hyper focused on the vision that my co-founders had said, we actually ended up getting to a product, which a lot of people really like. And it was high quality. Brian Ardinger: Then of course, having co-founders that were in that customer segment and really understood because they were themselves customers. Or trying to scratch that itch. Probably helped immensely. So, let's talk about no code itself and sometimes it gets a bad rap. Especially in the enterprise. You see a lot of startups using it as they're testing or building out new things as a way to grow and scale and meet their own customer demand. What are some of the misconceptions about no-code that you've run in to?Abhishek Nayak: The first one is that no code is only for business users. In my experience, the fastest adopters of tools like Zapier, Bubble, Backflow, were actually developers. They love automating work that they do not like. So I don't think no code as we know, put developers out of jobs. Instead, developers love it. And they'll actually be able to focus on more custom and more complicated tasks. The second misconception about no code is the fact that you cannot build complicated things. I actually don't think that's true. What I believe is 80% of the software that the world needs is actually fairly straightforward. You need a simple, but something that works all the time. So no code is really good for that. But I also see the fact that no code products like Bubble, Zapier, or Indi Nomad. They actually have evolved so much that you can actually build really complicated things on those. It's still very early days for most no-code products. Therefore, when you look at them, you might think, okay, these can only be used for building simple tools.I cannot build something sophisticated on them. But the fact is all of these tools are going to evolve. And they're just going to get much better achieving complicated tasks. And at some point in time, you're not going to have full-time developers or professional developers working on these kind of applications, which can be completed by no code, because it's just going to be a waste of their time.Brian Ardinger: So, talk a little bit about some of the applications that you see are driving no-code today, and maybe some applications you see being on the forefront tomorrow. Abhishek Nayak: With Appsmith, we see that the most common applications are generally applications with dealing with customer date. So it could be, you're looking at customer data or you're trying to do a customer support workflow, or you're trying to do a sales and marketing workflow. Most no code and low code apps that are built today, generally tend to be very close to serving our customer. Because those are the highest priorities for any entrepreneurial, small to medium sized business. But those are the commonest use cases. In case of Appsmith, we see customer support as a huge use case for us. I am personally a big user of Zapier. And what I find is Zapier is great when you have to just do some of these quick and dirty sales and marketing workflows. Maybe I want every time there's a customer, who's signing up from a company with more than a thousand employees, I want to get personally notified on my slack. Or, you know, anytime there's a customer, who's at risk of churning out, I want to be notified on Slack. For some of those things I found it incredibly easy to use Zapier for. And it has an immediate revenue impact because if I go act on those deals or act on those customers that are about to churn out, I can either rescue that revenue or I can generate more revenue. I think those are probably the commonest use cases.Now over time, I do think there'll be more adjusted use cases, which are not linked with revenue to come about where you might be doing something let's say for HR or for internal financial processes. Some of those things. But as of today, I believe anything that's any process that's close to customer will probably be the first one that's used by users.Brian Ardinger: Do you see a big difference between developing no-code internal tools versus no-code consumer-based tools or front facing types of technologies? Abhishek Nayak: Yes, I do. There are quite a few differences when it comes to building customer facing tools, using no code. These generally tend to be less data heavy. And there are a lot more focused on visual design and look and feel and UI. Versus when it comes to internal facing applications, they tend to be more data heavy. And they tend to be more security oriented as well. So, you're going to have rule-based access control, SSO. Some of these features which are necessary when you're building like a internal tool. Versus when you're building something that's customer facing, you're not going to focus that much on security. Because it probably doesn't deal with that much sensitivity. Brian Ardinger: The last topic I want to talk about is this role of community. I know that Appsmith's done a really good job of building an active community. You've got a Discord page, and a number of folks that follow that on a regular basis. Can you talk about how you built community as part of your startup? And how important is that to continuing to build a business. Abhishek Nayak: Community has been very essential for the success of Appsmith. But the way the community grew was, they basically first needed support for using Appsmith. So, they started joining our Discord because they needed help using the product. And over time, the number of users and our Discord grew so much that even when we were sleeping and there was a question, another community member would go on and answer it. So, the shared love that people have in our Discord community is the love for the product. And that's what binds people together. And over time we've seen people create like different language communities. As well as there are freelancers and entrepreneurs who build apps for other companies using Appsmith. They've actually started talking to each other and helping each other out. So we are still in the very early days, but I believe like for you to start with the community, there needs to be a shared common interest or a shared love for a product. I think it's really difficult if there is no common interest and all you have a product, which is actually not love. If you focus on the product first, it's possible to get a community going. Brian Ardinger: If people want to get involved in the no-code movement and that, are there particular resources or things they should turn to, to learn a little bit more about what's going on in the space? Abhishek Nayak: The biggest set of resources are really available on YouTube. Because low-code, and no-code tend to be easier to understand and use when you watch a video. So, I would just highly recommend, you know, looking up YouTube tutorials instead of reading an article about it. Some of these tools just sound very complicated when you're reading an article about it. But when you actually see somebody build something using it, it just clicks a lot quicker. That's the way I learned how to use Zapier and Indi Nomad. And that was a lot easier, than this reading of blog posts. Third, just highly recommend just looking at these YouTube tutorials. Brian Ardinger: I highly agree with you on that. And quite frankly, just learning and playing with the tools themselves. A lot of them are not necessarily self-explanatory, but if you get in and you have a use case scenario, a lot of them, you can figure out yourself, even if you're not a developer. Abhishek Nayak: Exactly. And there's always some YouTuber who's addressed that particular use case before. I'm not really found it to be the case that you can't figure it out after seeing what YouTubers were doing.Brian Ardinger: So, Abhishek, if people want to find out more about yourself or more about Appsmith, what's the best way to do that?Abhishek Nayak: So, the best way to find out about Appsmith is go to And we also have a YouTube channel that gets a lot of hits. So, if you want to just see the product before signing up. You should just check out our YouTube channel. And I'm on Twitter. You can just find me by searching, for Abhishek Nayak. You should be able to find me there. Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Really do appreciate your time. And love hearing about all the new things that are going on in the world of innovation. And I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation.Abhishek Nayak: Thank you so much, Brian, for having me. I loved this conversation.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Andrew Gazdecki, Founder of MicroAcquire and Author of the new book Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold My SaaS Startup. Andrew, and I talk about his entrepreneurial journey building MicroAcquire, and some of the insights he's seeing when it comes to buying and selling startups.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week. We'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world. Accelerating change and its certainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses.Interview Transcript with Andrew Gazdecki, Founder of MicroAcquire Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Andrew Gazdecki who is the founder of MicroAcquire. And Author of the new book Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold My SaaS Startup. Welcome Andrew. Andrew Gazdecki: Thanks so much for having me, Brian. I'm excited. Brian Ardinger: I've got my MicroAcquire socks on. So, thank you for that. I'm super excited to have you on to talk about the craziness that is the startup world. And you've had a front row seat for a number of years as a multi-founder. And now with MicroAcquire, let's talk about what MicroAcquire is and how you got into the business of helping startups sell to other folks.Andrew Gazdecki: MicroAcquire, for those who aren't familiar with it, is the largest startup acquisition marketplace in the world today. We have about 150,000 buyers registered. We've helped over six hundred startups to get acquired that combined acquisition total is 400 million at this point. Almost half a billion. We don't charge any fees. So, you can sell your business on MicroAcquire completely free.So, I started that business, candidly, as a side project. I just felt that needed to exist. I'd previously gone through two acquisitions, and it was just a mess. Everything from finding the buyers to, there's so much education today on how to grow your business. How to learn sales. How to recruit. And how to fundraise. But then there's nothing on the exit. Which is arguably the most important part of the founder's journey.And when I sold my first business, which we can talk about, if you'd like, it was a business called Business Apps. Spelled BiznessApps, and kind of the light bulb moment went on when I sold it. I just got a ton of emails and texts from friends that we're also running startups and they were like, how'd you get acquired?Like, how did you find the buyer? What was the process like? It was like hieroglyphics everyone. Including myself when I went through the process. So, what we're really trying to do at MicroAcquire is democratize startup acquisitions and just make the process easier and more transparent for founders. And also, buyers.Brian Ardinger: So, talk a little bit about the types of startups that are being bought and sold on the platform. And how has that maybe changed since when you first launched? Andrew Gazdecki: Well, when we first launched, lots of small startups, you know ranging from, we would sell business, and we still do today, but 5k startups, mostly side projects. And since then, we've really expanded, I guess, up market. So, our largest acquisition is just under $10 million. We have buyers on the platform now that can facilitate acquisitions in the hundreds of millions if the value is there. Yeah, just started with humble beginnings just because I felt this was something that was so needed for the startup ecosystem. Because the other routes to sell your business, unless you're most founders think like Google shows up with a check and hey, you did it. Like you won the lottery. There's this saying most startups are bought, not sold and that's just not true. You know, you really need to sell your business. And so, the other routes were expensive, borderline highway robbery, and that's, that was really kind of like the main purpose of me launching MicroAcquire to really give another option for founders of this other business. And if you're curious about the other options, you can hire an investment banker. They're going to charge a big fee. If your startup is too small for an investment bank, because most investment banks will only work with you if your business is of a certain size. And you know, maybe you can get like eight, nine figure exit. And I had previously worked with an investment bank. And their minimum fee was $800,000 for a successful transaction. The short story there, we got a few offers, but the fee was just, I still had gas in the tank, so I kept going. But it showed me, and I remember telling the bankers, I was like, you guys have the coolest job in the world. I do all this work. And then at the end, you come in and get, you know, a nice payday. So that always kind of stuck with me. And then I stumbled on to business brokers. Business brokers, if your business is doing let's say less than you know 5 million in revenue. You can work with a business broker. They will typically charge 10 to 15% commission to sell your business. So, 10% to 15%. So that's like a small angel round. So, I just saw it. Okay. Business brokers don't do too much. You know, what would happen if we removed the middleman? And we let buyers and sellers connect directly. And we help businesses ranging from SaaS companies. That's kind of our sole focus. But we also sell a lot of e-commerce businesses. Communities. Some crypto companies. Direct to consumer. Newsletters. We like to say, we want to be the marketplace for profitable startups. So that's mainly our focus is startups that have traction. So, we don't list startups that are pre revenue. Content websites. Affiliate websites. Again, mostly focusing on businesses that have, you know, a lot of growth upside. Having a blast running it at the same time, too. Brian Ardinger: I'm hearing more and more about people using the platform, startup founders, maybe looking to buy a side project or a side hustle versus building something from scratch. Are you seeing that trend happening? Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah. Like one story that comes to mind is, there's builders and there's scalers. Where a lot of people love to build a business. They love to think of a new idea and bring something to life. And I think fallen, in both those buckets. Builders and scalers. And so people build these wonderful businesses, but they maybe build it to a certain point where they'd like to move on to something else.Maybe they built it to a few million in revenue and now they're, you know, mostly managing. When they'd really like to be building. And so MicroAcquire is a great outlet for them to meet buyers within like hours. Like the fastest acquisition on my group, where I was within, quite literally hours. Those are obviously outliers. Brian Ardinger: What are you seeing when it comes to valuation trends and things along those lines? How's the market changed or what shifts are you seeing? Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, good question. It really depends on the business. So, a good business will always trade at really good multiples. SaaS trades at high multiples and e-commerce. Newsletters communities also trade lower than, you know, a typical SaaS business.So, there's so much variability. And when I get asked questions like I have a SaaS company, it's doing a million revenue. What's it worth. That's kind of akin to asking what a car is worth. You know, like, is there a 500,000 miles on it? Does it need a new transmission? Do you have a good team in place? What is your churn? What is the quality of your customers? And then other little things like when you go to sell your business, do you have an understanding of kind of what your business is worth? And on MicroAcquire, we have two different things that we do to help with valuations. One is we have a directory within MicroAcquire where you can hire someone to get a real valuation done.I highly recommend that. And then we also have a tool called MicroMRR. And you should go to and you connect your Stripe billing. And we'll actually give you a data-driven valuation based on what we're seeing from acquisitions happening in the market. So, acquisitions are a moving target. I'd say maybe there could be a slowdown coming.I know the public markets for trading believe like 22X, and then they dropped down to 12X and this is April. Those might climb back. But the last year was absolutely borderline bonkers in terms of. It was record numbers in terms of private equity activity. Just MNA activity in general. So, it's a good time to sell your business if you're looking to. Brian Ardinger: I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you came to create MicroAcquire. I mean, I know early on you even did some interesting marketing. Went viral. You had the Russ Hanneman character from Silicon Valley TV show, do a little viral stuff on Twitter. Talking about MicroAquire and that. Can you talk a little bit about your idea of how you got it started and the execution to get MicroAcquire off the ground?Andrew Gazdecki: Honest answer is, so I like to work within a frame. I'm not a big fan of like mental frameworks. That, you know, maybe other people put forth. But so, I'm always thinking of what worked five years ago or what worked 10 years ago does not work today. And so that's why you'll see, I'm always trying to market in a way that doesn't feel like marketing. But it also adds value and maybe even makes you laugh and stuff like that.A lot of startups today think that their main competitor is XYZ company. But it's really the 500,000 startups out there. So, you're competing for consumer attention. I'm a big believer in that. And so, we focus a lot on brand-building. Just sharing MicroAcquire story. Kind of everything. So, when I first launched it, I was working probably like 4:00 AM to like midnight. And the only way, so going back to kind of like how I think about and what I recommend founders think about when they first launch a startup is this won't come as a surprise. But find something you're passionate about. So, and then also find something that you have a unique insight into. So, I made a bet that entrepreneurship through acquisition was going to be a trend. And that was just through me going through two different acquisitions. And I was actually looking to buy a SaaS company. And I couldn't find anything that was specific to SaaS. I didn't like working with brokers. I wanted to speak directly to the founder because it's a very relationship type transaction. And it's not just here's the keys. You know, I want to know about the founder. I want to know why are they looking to sell? And so, I kind of just created what I feel acquisition should be. And I kind of built MicroAcquire in a way that thinking back on Bizness Apps is a 10 million a year revenue company. What would it take for me to list on a marketplace? So, we implemented things like privacy ability to connect. Financial metrics. You give buyer a good, healthy snapshot into the view of your business. To get it off the ground, I mean, a lot of podcasts. A lot of cold emails. Hanging out on live chat, 24 7. And I don't recommend this to founders, but again, going back to my previous point is before I launched MicroAcquire, I wrote down, what customer do I want to serve?And I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. I love startups. And kind of a startup nerd. I love looking at new businesses. And I built this company. And so when I work on it kind of feels like a video game. It's not work. And if you can put yourself in that situation with some unique insights into a market. It's a customer that you love. And then unique insights kind of fall in line with what I describe as founder market fit. So why you. So, I think of why now. Why you. As probably the two most important things. I had a deep conviction that acquisitions are going to be increasing. And that proved to be right. So that was a non-obvious bet to a lot of people, but obvious to me. That became obvious over time. But when you're able to build a startup in a way that you enjoy playing, running, whatever you want to describe it. More than your favorite video game. You kind of want, cause it's really hard to compete against a founder that where it feels like work.My best analogy there is if you, I see a lot of founders creating startups around what I'd call like opportunistic opportunities. Where, you know, it's a good idea, but maybe you build a CRM for dentists. But you hate dentists. And a big part of building a startup is talking to customers all the time. I'm a big believer that your customers have path to product market fit. They have a better roadmap than you do. And so, you need to be able to talk to these customers and enjoy these conversations and really listen to them. Otherwise, there's someone out there who's going to love those conversations and it's just going to be really hard to compete. But it all kind of revolves around happiness. Where the founders that I think go the distance really enjoy what they do day in day out.And that's not to say it's super easy. Like just cause it's fun, it's easy. Like a video game. Just because it's fun doesn't mean it's easy. I think that's kind of the key that a lot of the founders should be thinking about is, is this a business I could run for a decade? If so, why? And kind of dip your toes in the water.Like when I launched my group, I didn't have grandiose visions for it. I just wanted to help other founders get acquired without these huge commissions. And then as the business grew, it became pretty obvious that the market opportunity was fairly large. Yeah, basically kind of grew forth. I knew this was something that the startup community needed, and I just worked.I was doing customer support. Vetting the listings. Writing the newsletters. Managing the product. Going on podcasts like this. Social media content. In a weird way, and now I have a team that helps me with all that stuff, but in a weird way, I kind of look back and I miss those days. Brian Ardinger: Well, it's never really been a better time to be an entrepreneur because you have a lot of these new No-code tools. And ways to spin up experiments. And like you said, dip your toe in the water. And you have access to a lot more information. You know, I think 10 to 15 years ago, the whole VC world was not very transparent. But now, you know, you can read blogs and books and figure out that particular path if you're an entrepreneur. It sounds like you're trying to do the same thing for on the acquisition side. Breathe some life into what that path looks like and that. So, let's talk a little bit about the book you just wrote, Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold my SaaS Startup. What can people expect to find in it? And why did you write the book? Andrew Gazdecki: I started BiznessApps again, spoke B I Z N E S S apps. My mom, this is kind of a funny footnote, but everyone called it BizApps. So, I ended up chasing down owner of the domain, BizApps. When your mom calls your business BizApp, and you don't have the domain, you got to go get it.But I started that business when I was 21 in college. And also going back to unique insights. I had a previous business that helped mobile developers connect to businesses. So, I saw businesses posting the same job requirement over and over and over. And I thought, whoa, they're paying like 50K to 100K for like a project like this?What if I just built a template and the functionality isn't really changed too much. But we just changed the content. Imagery. Which speeds up mobile app creation. Makes it more affordable. There's do yourself website builders at the time. And I thought, what about a do yourself mobile app builder for small businesses?So, the book is just kind of my story. I just journaled through the whole experience because it was very strange and surreal. I was 21 when I launched it. Just to give you kind of an idea of like the growth of it. And it was a right place, right time business. I got completely lucky. The iPhone had just come out. Android wasn't even there. Blackberry was still in the mix. We almost made a Blackberry app. I'm glad we didn't. But it's just my candid experience building that company, from idea all the way to the invested. So, it's not a book of here's how to build a startup. It's more of a book of here's how I built a startup with mistakes. Everything from when I thought of the idea to when I sold the business and everything in between. Brian Ardinger: Can you highlight some of the best or worst advice that you got on that journey.Andrew Gazdecki: I was so young. So, I was 23, 24, and I personally didn't grow up with too much means if you will. And so, I remember there's a specific situation. We needed a marketing hire. And I was handling most of the marketing. And the salary ranges, now I'm two years out of college and they were in like the 150K, 200K range.And I'm like, what am I going to pay someone that. Like you really need, one of my favorite quotes is, you know, talent wins games, but teamwork when championships. It's a Michael Jordan quote. So, I think, you know, hiring smarter people than me, was probably my biggest mistake. Also, a funny story. This is a true story. We had a period where we were again, because we didn't hire a really good marketer that could track in our paid ad spend and stuff like that. We were spending over a hundred thousand a month on Google ads. The business grew from zero to let's call it 7 million in the first five years. So it was just, everything was just kind of like, don't touch anything. We don't know what's working. But it's working. And it was so profitable. And our customer payback period was like 33 days. And for the first two years, our margins were about 90%. So, it was just extremely profitable. But when we finally hired someone to do analysis on how profitable is this pay-per-click ad campaign, we concluded basically we were burning about 90,000 out of that a hundred thousand. So, we call that era blowing up Ferrari's every month. So, every month we were blowing $90,000 because we weren't properly attributing our marketing spend to customer acquisition. And blowing up a Ferrari every month probably would have been cooler. Maybe not that would have hurt my heart because I'm a big car fan. But and I share all of that. I share the ups and the downs. And I think it's just a candid story of just what it's like to build a startup. Mistakes and wins included. Brian Ardinger: So, looking at the world today, what are some of the resources that you would recommend that startup founders be checking out or paying attention to?Andrew Gazdecki: I get a lot of really good insight just talking to other startup founders. I'm not a big podcast listener. I read a lot. Like this was kind of some books I'm reading and there's my book on top, like Play Bigger. It's a book about brand-building. From Impossible to Inevitable, that's a great book on how to build a SaaS company end to end. It goes over marketing, building a sales team, just written by Jason Lampkin and Aaron Ross from Predictable Revenue.And then a Tuned In, which is basically how to listen to customers. You know, you can talk to customers. But how do you really listen and get the insights you need? So, I always say that customers have a way better roadmap to product market fit than you. You just need to talk to them and listen. So, I could give you a number of different books, but I'm an avid reader. That's kind of where I get a lot, but I will say you definitely learn the most when you launch a startup. When you kind of just, you can read all the books in the world, but when you finally launch a startup, that's when the real learning begins.And also like you kind of get in a situation of, I launched a startup. Okay, now I really need to figure out marketing. And so now you're very motivated to figure out marketing and apply some of the concepts that's right, that you might read in some of these books. Brian Ardinger: That's great advice. And I encourage anybody who's even thinking about it. The tools and the resources are out there to try things nowadays that maybe you couldn't have tried in the past. Even if you fail, you've probably leveled up your skills and game considerably than if you just read about it. So, encourage is that as well. My last question is what are you most excited about working on the next three to six months? Andrew Gazdecki: I'd say just helping startups and founders get acquired. We have a goal to help a thousand startups, get acquired this year. So far, we're on track for that. We average about 100 a month. So, we'll probably beat that goal. And what's interesting about startups and you start something, and it goes really slow, but stick with it. And then kind of takes off because we've done more acquisitions this year alone than we did in the first two years of being in business.So, what gets me excited is just helping founders. And we're building tooling to help acquisitions. To really streamline them and really educate founders on what is due diligence. What are the legal steps? How do I transfer assets? How do I do technical due diligence on code if I'm looking to acquire a business? How does escrow work? What are common deal terms? So, if you go to MicroAcquire, click resources at the top. You can literally learn how to acquire a 100-million-dollar business. We have so much content. And that's just kind of like something I felt was so needed because it's such an opaque topic that not too many people write about. So, I definitely recommend checking that out. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Andrew, I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. And sharing these stories and giving us some insights and access to some of these resources. I think it's very valuable. I really do appreciate your time. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about MicroAcquire or the book, what's the best way to do that?Andrew Gazdecki: Definitely check out It's free to sign up. You can browse the startups. And then as a seller if you're looking to sell your business also completely free. You can list your startup. And instantly meet buyers. Sometimes within hours of going live. We do vet all listings. So, we have a process where we work. And we make sure that you are prepared when you go live on MicroAcquire. But follow me on Twitter, @agazdecki if you can spell that. Or just add me on LinkedIn.Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, thank you again for being on the show. And looking forward to staying connected. Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah. Thanks for having me.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Rachel Kuhr Conn, Founder and CEO of Productable. Rachel and I talk about the pitfalls and challenges facing corporate innovation and some of the processes and practices that companies can use to level up their innovation efforts. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Rachel Kuhr Conn, Founder and CEO of ProductableBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Rachel Kuhr Conn. She's the Founder and CEO of Productable, where she is turning the innovation process into software. Welcome to the show, Rachel. Rachel Kuhr Conn: Thanks so much Brian. It's a pleasure to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show. I'm surprised we haven't had you on earlier. We have a number of mutual friends that have crossed paths. And we just only got introduced to recently. So, I'm glad to have you on the show. You've recently started a company called Productable, focused on the space of innovation and how do you create more repeatable processes and things along those lines. You've just landed a deal with the US Air Force to expediate the innovations process at the national defense area. How did you get involved in this innovation space to begin with? And then we'll talk about how did you develop Productable. Rachel Kuhr Conn: Really excited to finally connect after all of the different people we have in common. So, a little bit of my backstory is I was a bright eyed, bushy tailed engineer, thinking that I was going to change the world with amazing products. And dreaming of all the impact I was going to make. And my research area in school was actually around predictive analytics for innovation success. And so, there's actually a lot of data around personality type, team dynamics, methodologies that you can look at and actually predict what should be used and what the team dynamics should be to drive the best outcome.So, in school, I was like, oh my gosh, industry must be amazing at solving problems. Like I just can't wait. And instead, I went into large corporation after a large corporation and just couldn't believe how politics and silos and just corporate bull crap for lack of better term, ruined every single opportunity I thought I had to ever make something awesome.And so just personally, I got really, really tired of the amazing capacity that all these large organizations have. And I just could never quite create the thing that made it to the finish line. And so got involved in the venture capital world. Saw how things work differently. Got really inspired by it. And essentially started building our platform and what we call the Productable Way, which leverages VC mindset and built it more into a corporate friendly approach, if you will. Brian Ardinger: And you worked with Mark Cuban companies, and some other folks, to build out this philosophy or build out this methodology. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Rachel Kuhr Conn: So, I got so frustrated in the corporate world. I actually cold emailed Mark Cuban while watching a bunch of Shark Tank. Cause I was like, they say yes to a lot of things that I think my boss would have said no to. And so, I just had to figure out, figure out what the difference was. And in the venture world, it's okay to take a lot of bets. You're supposed to build a whole portfolio of bets. And you understand that the outcome of a few is going to be big enough to pay for the losses of the others, and then some. It creates this incredible culture of risk-taking and experimentation. And having the room to do that in corporates really is what's required to help large organizations overcome the disruption curves that are ahead. You know, you always have something that's eating these large organizations. And so, you really have to have a way of managing, how do you actually take a lot of bets on new ways of solving these problems and in overcoming these things to actually be able to succeed. Brian Ardinger: Well, I'm curious to talk a little bit more about how you came about creating Productable. So, you know, there are a lot of idea management, idea capture, innovation software platforms out there. So, a lot of people kind of taking a swing at this over the last 20 years. What made you want to try to tackle this marketplace? Rachel Kuhr Conn: For one, it was from the pain point. If one of those had solved the problem, I feel like I would've just run with it. I didn't really necessarily feel the need to be a founder. It was actually the pain that I couldn't go into corporate innovation yet again and face the same problems. And so, something about those tools just wasn't doing it for me. It wasn't solving that problem that you end up with ideas on a shelf.And so, there's a lot of great idea management platforms that start to build that early stage of top of the funnel kind of solutions. But how do you actually move solutions through mid-stage and late stage of the funnel? And that's really where Productable comes of help. Brian Ardinger: Well and that's one of the interesting insights is I think a lot of people think that a tool will solve the problem, but really a tool is just a tool. And what really makes this thing work as far as innovation within big companies, it's a culture of innovation. And its processes and that that are around the intake of an idea. So maybe talk about how does process play a role in the actual software itself? Rachel Kuhr Conn: Yeah, absolutely. And so, it's a hundred percent culture where just a means to help support all of those things. And one of the big things is the company has to be willing to really invest in innovation. And if you're not putting your money where your mouth is, you're not going to get the outcomes. And so Productable is really a three-pronged approach. It's portfolio, progress, and people. And so what those three elements are, Portfolio Management is really about establishing and evangelizing a solid strategy that people understand. Making it so that you invest wisely in innovation, so that you're not throwing good money after bad. And you're making it really easy to expedite decision-making across the whole process. Then I'm going to actually switch to People Management. So that's more of like the top-down strategy if you will. People Empowerment is about honing the innovator skill so that you can actually empower projects to go through the right methodologies and tools and ensure you're involving the right subject matter experts. So, it's a little more of the ideal, if I was building a product, and building a company, these are some of the tools and processes I might. And then you would have to actually sync those together and that's our Progress Management. So, progress management, is like the way that a venture capitalist might get an update from a startup. And actually, here's our barriers. Here's our wins. Here's our asks. Here's how everything's actually going. Rubber meets the road. It's that kind of reporting so that when you're dealing with all the corporate stuff, that's preventing you from doing anything. It's how you actually manage all of those barriers and work through those pieces. So essentially that top down, bottom up and that syncing are those three pieces that we use to leverage in our software to help people innovate. Brian Ardinger: Well, I think it's interesting. A lot of companies struggle first out of the gate, just defining what innovation is. And trying to come up with that innovation thesis. You know, do they focus on core optimization types of innovations. Or do they go for the transformational stuff? And what does that even look like? Some people only think of innovation as one side of that bucket. Which it's not. So, talk about like how your clients and that use Productable or the approaches that you use to understand how to create that innovation thesis. And how to place bets across the different horizons of innovation.Rachel Kuhr Conn: Well, that's a great question. And I would say we're very agnostic. So, we don't care if you're doing a core innovation or a disruptive innovation. But what we're going to do is be able to show you the math. So, if you're doing disruptive innovation and you're wanting to put all of your eggs in one basket or two and you're essentially say, yeah, we're going to do these two really disruptive ideas. You're going to see that whether you invest in two ideas or you decide to invest in 20, the math is still going to be true. That if you're going after a disrupting idea is probably like a 10% chance it's going to work out. And so, as long as you're okay with that, and you're doing two bets, great. That's your expectation. But maybe you should be going after 20 bets if you want disruptive. And in a core, it might be 90% success rate. And so, there's a lot of great data around success rates that corporates really miss. And so, it's being mindful of taking that risk tolerance at the leadership level and setting that standard of this is what a bet looks like. This is the check size. This is essentially what we expect our decision criteria to be. Our traction metrics. The same way a VC would. And then making it really visible essentially, so that when it's time to make a decision, they can decide if something fits in their portfolio or not. And then they can actually get the metrics to see how it's going. Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk about how people are using it now. So, give me some examples. Or some people or places that are taking advantage of your software. Rachel Kuhr Conn: Sure. So, we're working with the Air Force right now. We work with the Vice Chief's Office, the number two of the air force. And a lot of the DAF, Department of Air Force leadership. And the Air Force is a 700,000-person organization. There are, I mean, just hundreds of people involved in innovation. And it's really interesting at a large corporation, you tend to have a head of innovation and a group that works under them. And the Air Force is much, much more complex than that. I don't have a very straightforward answer of how it's all going. But the short answer is we're starting to look at how can we leverage portfolio management within the Air Force. And how can we build an ecosystem of portfolios to ensure that we actually have the right funds and system to ensure that ideas can go from idea to mid late stage and not fall into the valley of death along the way. Brian Ardinger: What kind of differences are you seeing between like maybe public facing companies or like private companies. Versus like the government sector. Do they treat innovation differently or what are you seeing from the differences? Rachel Kuhr Conn: I never thought corporate seems so simple. A 700,000-person organization turns out, I don't know if you've ever heard the rule of threes and tens. Things tend to get more complicated with three people, 10 people, 300 people, a thousand people, three, you know, so forth. And so, when you think about 700,000 people organizations, it's just what is a single approval at a large corporation is actually takes you to a different business unit that then manages the process that does that approval. That takes you to another business unit that manages. So actually, putting your arms around any sort of portfolio decision is so complicated. And it's so needed to be able to solve that in such a large organization compared to a small corporate, if you will.Brian Ardinger: And I imagine the stakes are different, depending on the specific ideas and that. Like, obviously if you're doing innovation in and around things that could kill people, or, have a significant different effect versus you know, the new color of a new product that you come out with. I'd imagine the stakes are slightly different as well. Rachel Kuhr Conn: Well, the interesting thing about the Air Force is that it's actually, I think it's 94 bases and every single base works like a city. And I didn't realize this until I worked with the Air Force either. So, the Air Force, like the pilots, if you will, are part of the scene, but to support those pilots, you have to have a base where there's hospitals, hotels, restaurants, education, gas, like literally gyms. Everything you can imagine has to be on base.And so, the Air Force is actually in charge of having every single one of those kinds of businesses within the Air Force organization. So actually, the kinds of things that we're helping are everything from childcare, gym apps. Yes, there are some more serious ones too. But I would say there's a surprising amount of comparables to industry of solving those kinds of problems.Brian Ardinger: That's quite interesting. So, talk a little bit about some of the trends that you're seeing in the space of innovation. Or what are you excited about? Rachel Kuhr Conn: I think that people are really starting to see the need for portfolio innovation. Pre COVID there was a lot of, I'm talking about the corporate space. It was a little more okay to spend a lot of money and just see what would happen with it.And so, I had a lot of connections that were in corporate innovation, they would get to try a lot of stuff. And then it was okay not to know what was going to happen next. Then all of a sudden COVID cut those budgets. And people got stuck. And they had to figure out what to do next. And I think we're, you know, everything was really held back.But now I think we're in a really interesting space where people really want to innovate. They want to do something different. And they're saying, how can we make sure that we're going to drive real outcomes? And so I'm actually really excited for this new market that we're in. That I feel like there's a little more responsible. And also, proactive and engaged and really curious to see what they can do.Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing the similar obstacles and problems being faced. Or is it different. Like has the mindset changed? Like when we talk about innovation, you know I think, and disruption specifically pre COVID, a lot of folks kind of understood it intellectually. But didn't really get it until everybody's lives had to change overnight. Are you seeing differences of how people approach innovation based on the world changes and that? Or what's different from that perspective?Rachel Kuhr Conn: I think it's COVID, but I also think it's maturity of innovation in general. We've seen a lot of large corporations that have invested in, ahead of innovation. Where then the outcomes didn't quite reach the executive leadership expectation. And it's funny, I don't know how much people talk about this stuff, but I hear about it all the time. People get the job of head of innovation and then they try to get a certain amount of money to move their idea forward. For a specific idea, let's say. And then leadership says, great show your progress, and then we'll give you more money. And it's a trap. Because you need a lot of bets to succeed at innovation. And so, then there's like this problem that innovation leaders are put in this place where they're getting asked to prove success on something that is really a bet. And it gets really confusing. And all of a sudden, their neck is on the line for success. It generally doesn't end well unless they got lucky. And so, there's been like this two to three year rotation that happens over and over again. People are getting tired of it. Having enough after working at a few large companies, seeing the same thing over and over. Company is seeing that same person go through and not getting what they need, that they know something has to be different.Brian Ardinger: Is there a way to prep management on that particular process from the standpoint, like you understand when you're betting from an LPs perspective, like in a venture fund, that you're not necessarily getting those returns, and you know, for 10 plus years. So that that's a much longer timeframe when you put that money in. Is there a way to prepare management for that more of a venture-based model? Rachel Kuhr Conn: We actually wrote an Ebook on that. So, I can share a link. I'm happy to share the Ebook on that, but yes. That's the biggest problem that we've actually seen. And we wrote all about it because yes, you need to get leadership in the mindset of they're really comfortable with index funds and mutual funds. Look at their retirement portfolios. They play this game all the time. They would never put all of their money in one stock. Why would they do that with their corporate money. So, it's really a mindset shift that we have to help drive. Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing companies get better? Or what are some of the things that seem to be working that people are adopting?Rachel Kuhr Conn: We're seeing companies get better at it. One we're seeing them care more. And being mindful of it. And starting to put all the pieces together. And having more fruitful conversations. What happens after the theater? What happens after the demo day? How do we actually make this into something? Why does it always fail? Because you can't really get away with that stuff much longer. And so, the conversations are getting more real. I don't think people see the solutions yet, but I'm excited to see how Productable can help and really shift the industry of making that much easier for everybody. Brian Ardinger: Curious to get your take on this concept of inside outside innovation. So, a lot of corporates are interested in trying to come up with innovations within their four walls and that. But there's another set of corporates that are looking outside to startups and investing in startups and things along those lines. What's your take when it comes to betting on innovation, either inside or outside of the walls.Rachel Kuhr Conn: Both are so important. You know, it's really interesting. I've worked in internal innovation and external innovation. The funny thing is they both kind of require each other and they don't really talk about it. And so, when you're doing external innovation, it's really easy to get excited about a startup and then go force it on a business unit and tell them that they should go pilot this product. And the business units kind of like, Hey, we didn't even need this. What's going on?And then it's really easy for somebody in a business unit to come up with a cool idea, but then they don't get any of the resources to do it. There's a little bit of this magic of empowering people within the company to act like intrepreneurs if you will. And allowing them to leverage external startups and external technology, and actually allow them to partner together to really be able to build something that's a little bit of a mix of internal and external. And depending on the solution, maybe it's a little more one or the other, but it's kind of a funny thing to me that they often get so separated. Brian Ardinger: One of the things that we've seen that's been helpful is to get our employees actually involved in the startup scene. Just from being part of it, you know, going to demo days, going and mentoring at accelerators and that. If nothing else, it provides them that access to see how other startup folks with brand new ideas with no business models, how they move and interact. Versus how they would do it if they were inside their own walls. And I think exposure to the startup ecosystem, so to speak, can do a lot, not just like in finding actual innovations and that, but in the tool sets, mindset, skillset arena. Rachel Kuhr Conn: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean getting from zero to one, if you will, is, is really important. How do we actually go from what we're used to as everyday business and actually start thinking of more exploratory ways? How do we start thinking about growth and getting that mindset in? And it's a really hard dance to figure out of how long do you let that soak in and then start to create some of those other methods and ways of actually turning that into deeper transactions. And your company has to be ready for those. And so, I feel like it's a little bit of learning to crawl and then walk and run, if you will. Brian Ardinger: Are there particular resources that people should be following in the world of innovation? How do you stay up to date with all the stuff that's going on? Rachel Kuhr Conn: I don't have a great answer for that one. I have a lot of people that I talked to. A lot of consultants and great thinkers that I try to involve in my day to day. But we do have a blog and we do have eBooks and things that we're creating on our end to try and spread that knowledge as much as possible. I like to think that it's helpful and help drives all of that. But it is really hard to figure all of this out. I've been in this space for a long time, really trying to figure out what is expert look like. And it was really, really hard to get to the bottom of finding a lot of these pieces. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: If people want to find out more about yourself or about productive, but what's the best way to do that? Rachel Kuhr Conn: Sure, they can go to That's B E product and I'm on Twitter. I guess that's probably the easiest way to do it. Design K U H R is my Twitter name and really excited to chat with anybody and see whatever they like to talk about. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Rachel, thanks for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Very excited to finally meet you and have a chance to talk more. Love to stay in touch and keep you in mind for further conversations about the world of innovation.Rachel Kuhr Conn: Perfect. This was awesome. Thank you so much for having me. And I can't wait to listen and hear more about what people have to say.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Kapil Kane, Director of Innovation at Intel China, and Co-founder of the corporate accelerator GrowthX. Kapil and I talk about his journey from his early product development days at Apple working on the first touchscreen, to today where he runs Intel's award-winning accelerator. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat to what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Kapil Kane, Director of Innovation at Intel ChinaBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Kapil Kane. He is the Director of Innovation at Intel China, and co-founder of the GrowthX Corporate Innovation Accelerator. Welcome to the show. Kapil Kane: Thanks Brian. Glad to be here. Brian Ardinger: You are calling in from Shanghai right now in the midst of a pandemic lockdown. Let's talk a little bit about your journey into the world of innovation. Kapil Kane: I was doing my PhD at Stanford when I dropped out of the program to join Apple, to build the touchscreen. The very first task, I remember I was an intern at the time. And I was the very first engineer to actually make a drawing of the touch screen. Like a revision 0 0 1.And my journey started from there. Although the touchscreen project failed. We had to hand it over to this other team, that was working on a secret project, which turned out to be the iPhone. But my last project at Apple was iPad. So, I came around full circle. And then I left Apple and joined Intel to actually create a tablet version of Classmate PC, which was inspired by one laptop per child from MIT Media Lab, which is to create an affordable education computing device for the emerging market or for the less fortunate as it was envisioned. And then on, you know, I got into this role of Innovation Director at Intel China. And so that's my journey. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Tell us a little bit about how you got to China. And how you got to cofound this corporate innovation accelerator called GrowthX. Kapil Kane: Coming to China was with Apple. This is when we were developing the very first Mac Book Air. And at the time, if some of you guys remember, it was called a Unibody. That means it was carved out of a solid block of metal. Whereas everything before that was sheet metal, and hundreds of parts joined together.So, it was a completely new way of manufacturing a product. And so, we were designing the product as well as designing the manufacturing process at the same time. So, we thought it would be better to have some of the designers move to China so that we can do both designing product and process at the same time. And so, I volunteered. As a, so I was one of the first three product designers to move from Cupertino to China. And I've been here ever since. Brian Ardinger: Let's fast forward to today, you're running this thing called GrowthX. How did the idea of a corporate innovation accelerator start and then give us some insight into what's going on with GrowthX?Kapil Kane: Intel has this amazing culture of innovation. And it's something that I can think of it like the Google's 15% thing. Where we encourage our employees to spend a percentage of their time on things they believe is important for our future. And so, we have lots of this cool innovation that has been created in the labs.And around 2005, that's when I took over the innovation at Intel China. We saw that there's lots of cool things happening in the labs, but we couldn't find those things being commercialized. Not lending into the market. When I took over this role, this role was created because until that point, there was lots of different efforts of innovation, like very vibrant culture. Even to the date, there's a very vibrant culture of innovation. And we thought we needed some streamlining.And so that's when they created this position to streamline all the different innovation activities at Intel China. And we have around 10,000 people here in China. So, it's by no means small offsite operation. It's a pretty huge operation. Brian Ardinger: Kind of a little bit different than a lot of companies. A lot of companies we hear about the fact that most of the core is not that innovative. And so, they created an accelerator kind of program. Or a lab to kickstart that. But where at Intel, it seems like the reverse it's like you had to kind of harness or extra harness some of the activity. Kapil Kane: Exactly. And also, the concept of accelerator is, is quite different. Like if you look at the other corporates who are building accelerators, they are accelerating outside startups with the hope that they will get to know what they're doing. They may be able to acquire them or partner with them. But for me, I didn't even know what an accelerator was when I took over this role. And in my very first week, I happened to be in a round table conference at American Chamber of Commerce. And the guy sitting next to me happened to be running China's very first startup accelerator, Chinaaccelerator. The guy, William Bao Bean. He's a legend in China.And I just happened to ask him what he does. And he explained to me the concept of accelerator. And I thought, you know, maybe I can replicate this right inside of Intel because we are so much creativity. We just need to give them the tools to turn those cool innovations into viable businesses. And that's where the idea for accelerator came along.And that was the, the birth of GrowthX, where we started up as accelerators. We pick the teams. We make them believe they are actual startups. We have the CEO, CTO, CMO, and we bring them in a batch of cohort. And we have business sprints. We have around eight sprints focusing on different aspects of business. We have mentors.We have entrepreneurs in residence. And we run this outside of Intel from a coworking space. So, it's just like any startup accelerator. Just the thing is that all the startups are internal projects. And we've been running this for six years now. Brian Ardinger: Let's talk a little bit about some of the differences or similarities that you've seen between entrepreneurs in the outside versus intrepreneurship. And are there key skillsets, mindsets, tool sets that are similar or different.Kapil Kane: I think what we are seeing, and it may be different for different companies. For us, most of those innovators will come to our accelerator. They are techies. You know, they get very excited about the technology. And they have no real background in business. So, we spend a lot of time and effort to make them understand that it's not about, can you build it, but should you build it? That's where we focused on changing their mindset. If we change their mindset, like, you know, typically they're of this mindset that I will build something, then I will show it to the customers. Or they think that customers won't even look at us. If I don't have some finished product to show to them. And this is where we turn it on its head and tell them that you don't need anything. You just need a sketch. You need a questionnaire. And you're not trying to sell something. You're trying to understand the challenges. So, think of it that way as you engage with your potential customers is don't be ashamed or embarrassed, that you're not in the show. You are simply, think of it as if you're co-designing with them. Or trying to collectively solve the challenges.So that's the biggest challenge we have. I think technically they're amazing, is this business mindset that we're trying to cultivate. Not just business mindset. The, the lean startup kind of a methodology, you know, is like build, measure, learn, do an MVP. Test it. Learn, iterate. So that's one big change. I say, because like outside entrepreneurs, founders, I see they're more, I mean, again, you know, there's all flavors of entrepreneurs. But our guys are always very tech focused, and they don't understand about the fundraising and stuff. Although I have seen they're very, very good at tapping into the resources to move their ideas forward.And even to the point that they sometimes feel like getting into our accelerator, and doing all the sprints is like homework, just to get to the seed money, seed funding, to build something. But in their head, they are still, you know, that's what they want. But they have to go through all the motions of the accelerator as something like, you know, they had to do in order to move their idea forward.So, I still believe that's entrepreneurship, but it's in a different way. Because they still want to move their ideas forward. Right. So, I used to really get frustrated in the beginning. But now I think, you know, in the end, their goal is the same. It's just, they have a different idea of how to get to the goal.Brian Ardinger: Can you talk a little bit about how you go about identifying which people or companies, so to speak, to get into the accelerator? What's your evaluation process to identify who might be successful at this? Kapil Kane: So, I think that's a very good question. And it took us some time to figure it out. There are a few things. The ideas, they aligned strategically to where Intel wants to go. That's one thing. Second thing we also realized is we are good at accelerating adjacent innovations. That means building something on top of something that exists, rather than this breakthrough moonshots. There are two reasons. Just because we are in China and our employees, they interact a lot with our customers who are based in China, right? Like all the electronics are made in China. So typically, they come up, their innovation ideas are about how can we empower our customers. They're more customer centric. They're more something that, you know, hey, we have this product. If we tweak it this way, I can open up a completely new market segment, which can bring us millions of dollars. Rather than saying, hey, let's invent a new chip. Or let's invent a completely new manufacturing process. So that's the second thing. The third thing we look at is like a founder accelerator fit is, are these guys coachable? And can we really help them in the short period of time of like four months. And the way we do that is before we do the intake, into the accelerator, we have only five slots per batch. And we do two batches a year. And we get anywhere from 30 to 60 applications. And we'll shortlist of about 15 to 20 and bring those teams into the bootcamp.And during the bootcamp, we help them build their business case. And help pitch their business case in a very short time. And during this bootcamp, we also challenge our founders to go, and actually talk to the customers. Make cold calls. Or do a survey, right. And that tells us if these guys are really willing to get out of the building or not.And we also see if they've incorporated the advice from the coaches into their final pitch or not. So, we also make our evaluation based on that. So, it's like, you know, the kind of innovation. The strategic fit to Intel and the founder accelerator fit as well. Brian Ardinger: Are only teams coming into the accelerator or do they have to have a team, or can an individual founder apply? Kapil Kane: Individuals can come in, but once they get into the accelerator on the very first sprint, their assignment is to resource their team with, you know, CEO, CTO, and CMO at the minimum. Brian Ardinger: And that allows them to have enough people to actually run experiments and create something to move it forward. Kapil Kane: Yeah. And also, the skill, you know, because typically like I said, if a founder is a very bright technologists, he may not really understand everything on the business side. So, we encourage them to get people from the sales and marketing groups to join in.And we also give them enough budget to hire interns and MBA intern for example, to act as a CMO. And also, you know to hire tech talents as well for that short period of time to work on their ideas, so that they can focus on the business side of the things. Brian Ardinger: So, I'd like to talk a little bit about the balance between this inside innovation versus outside innovation. So, companies that come through GrowthX are they expected potentially to spin out into a startup outside of the company? Are they been brought back in these technologies? Talk a little bit about this inside outside balance. Kapil Kane: So, 90% of the companies are inside. We have only been able to spin out one company so far. After activating around 60. Okay. So very, very small ratio. So mostly you can think of them as internal teams coming to the accelerator to de-risk their business plans, to bring back to the business units. Having said that we have accelerated external startups as well. And by that it's not to invest and take an equity in them. But to work with them on identifying a business opportunity for Intel and going to market together.So basically, startups who are building on top of our core technologists, who are working in a field that we are never been to. So, this is a way we could test the market at the same time. We can help the startups as well by providing them with the technology, all our resources and jointly see if we can and like, you know, break new grounds together. So, we have done that, and we had some successes there. But our main focus is accelerating internal innovations and trying to line them into the market. Brian Ardinger: That brings up a great question that is always asked, especially in the corporate environment, is like, how do you measure success? Because a lot of times corporates have a different way to measure outcomes because they're working with existing business models, existing optimization. Versus in a startup environment where a lot of it is unknown. So how do you go about measuring success? Kapil Kane: The two ways we measure success. One is the business impact. That means what's the real revenue created from the projects that we accelerated. So, these are direct like revenue numbers. This is X million dollars created from this project. Second is the revenue potential that those projects create. So that's on the business side of things. The second way we measure it is people impact. Impact on people. How we are helping people grow. And we actually ran a study where we tracked the people who went to our accelerators for two years. And we saw that on an average, we have anywhere from 1.5 to 6 times accelerated career growth for the people who have gone through the accelerator. So, it could mean two things. There is no causation, right? There's a correlation. It could be one thing that are we are attracting good people. Our second could be that we are upscaling people. Which is both good because we know like if we had to do something really cool and innovative, we know who these people to count on. Right. And the second thing is it's good to upskill people. So those are the two ways we measure our success. Brian Ardinger: And I think a lot of corporates have a tough time finding those curious restless entrepreneurs within their own companies. And this might be a great way to help figure that out. Obviously, a lot of startups don't make it. You know, the number of ideas that you think are going to make it, there's a large portion that fall by the wayside. How do you deal with failure? Or what happens to the teams and that, that don't get to where they were hoping to get at the very beginning? Kapil Kane: That's the win-win part of intrepreneurship versus entrepreneurship. When you are an entrepreneur, you have your day job. Your paycheck. No matter what you do, but the payoff is also limited. Right? I think one of the great things about intrepreneurship and especially, let's say for the GrowthX are those who are not successful, they simply go back to what they were doing before. But if they are successful also, they typically go back to a day job. They will hand it over to the business units to take it forward.So, for them, their goal is to come up with new ideas and bring those new ideas to the market. So that's the kind of people we have. We have people who have been through our accelerator three times, four times. And try to bring lots of ideas to the market. Some people have maybe succeeded once in three times. Some people have multiple projects that have been successful. But the trend we have seen is people coming in. Getting their idea to the next level. Going back, coming up with more ideas.Brian Ardinger: Awesome. So, you've been in the trenches in Asia, looking at kind of what's hot. What's next? What are some of the trends that you're seeing that you're excited about? Kapil Kane: Oh, man. I'm not really like a trend kind of a guy. But I see a lot of noise in metaverse. I see, you know, like this digital transformation is also pretty big here because there are lots of SOEs here who are trying to digitalize. Retail, new retail is a huge buzz in China. So, those are kind of the buzz things. There's also like a lot of deep technology initiatives in China, especially zero carbon. Space tech is also picking up. Yeah. So, I'm excited more about like a long-term sustainable things. Rather than the short term, shiny things. The bigger problems.They are the bigger problems. You know, but I think the China is definitely taking the long-term approach, right. With their five-year plans. With the policies, aligning the whole industry in that direction. Some of them may fail. Some of them will succeed. But at least we see like a huge effort going in those directions.Like for example, in the past five-year plan, it was AI, Smart Manufacturing. Right. Also, there's this thing about the Smart Cities was also part of the last five-year plan. There was something called Common Prosperity. So, they want to make the second tier, third tier cities also prosperous. But I think the biggest thing, if you want to just think about China for the long run is the Sustainability, Carbon Zero and Space. Maybe even Quantum Computing. They are really going into this steep tech, rather than cute tech. Brian Ardinger: The great way to explain it. Cute tech. Well, Kapil I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your insights and your expertise. Really do appreciate your time. If people want to find out more about yourself or about GrowthX, what's the best way to do that?Kapil Kane: I think the best way to reach me is on LinkedIn. I mean, LinkedIn used to be open in China until it was blocked a few months ago. So, if you guys want to reach out, best place is LinkedIn. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, thanks again for coming on the show. Really appreciate the time and looking forward to staying connected and stay safe out there.Kapil Kane: Thanks. And thanks for having me on the show, Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Dr. Alex Young founder of Virti. Alex, and I talk about the impact of new technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence on the training and human performance space, and some of the challenges and opportunities facing companies in the changing world of work. Let's get, started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Dr. Alex Young founder of VirtiBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Dr. Alex Young. He is the founder of Virti. Virti helps HR teams and organizations using things like artificial intelligence and augmented reality to improve and measure training. So welcome to the show, Alex. Alex Young: Thanks so much, Brian. It's great to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you because you come from a different background. You were a trauma and orthopedic surgeon before you became a entrepreneur founder. So how did you go from being a surgeon to being a founder of a virtual reality training type of company?Alex Young: Yeah, so it's been a really interesting journey. I mean, my interests have always been around how to improve learning and the performance of people really in any sector. And my original degree, as you mentioned, was in medicine. And then I specialized in orthopedic surgery, working in the UK and also in the US for a little while.And I've always, always been a bit of a tech nerd as well. So had a couple of companies when I was actually training to be a doctor. And taught myself how to code. Pretty terrible coding skills but managed to build a few companies around that. And then really with Virti, what I wanted to do was build a deep technology company, which tackled one of the major problems I was seeing. Both in healthcare, but also in every other sector, really on the planet which was how do we democratize and scale soft skills type of training for the workforce of the future. And when I trained as a doctor and a surgeon, often we do communication role-plays and things to train people really how to be more empathetic. How to be better communicators. How to do things in health care, like break bad news to patients, or explain a diagnosis. And in the operating room about how to make decisions under pressure and lead teams. And often those sort of training sessions, were not very scalable. They weren't hugely engaging, and they were quite biased and not that data driven. So, as you mentioned with Virti, what we do is we use AI and tools like virtual reality to put people into these very scalable, very measurable scenarios, where they can fail in a safe environment and run through lots of soft skills trainings senarios whether that's on a sales team training. Whether it's for managers or leaders, to understand how to deliver feedback. Or it's on your hiring or HR side, where we can actually find if people have some innate biases in the questions they ask during interviews. Or how they deliver team performance. So really, really interesting journey and lots and lots of parallels between healthcare and being an entrepreneur. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. The whole concept of this metaverse and some of the new things that are coming in when it comes to augmented reality and virtual reality, what are some of the things that you're seeing in that space? How has it changed and evolved since you've started the company? And what are you seeing? Alex Young: I think the whole VR space has been on a bit of a rollercoaster. Really, you know, going back all the way to the 1980s when NASA first started using VR tech for some of the training that they were doing. And in the healthcare sector there's always been lots of, kind of, sort of use cases of virtual reality for things like surgical training. But it's never really seen mass adoption. And I think now with some of the newer headsets coming out and with companies like Meta, which of course rebranded from Facebook. Putting kind of billions behind the type of technology. We're seeing some of these PR teams like the Metaverse really galvanizing businesses and people behind this idea of a shared space. Where people can go, communicate with others. Practice in safe environment. Or just go and relax. And, you know, play games with each other. And I think on the back of the pandemic where everyone was very isolated and teams still work remotely, it's really, really interesting having that projection in a shared space where you can build rapport a little bit easier than perhaps that of over Zoom, looking at your camera. And you get a bit more inclusivity with team communication.And I think, you know, for us as a training company, we were founded back in 2018. Really under that premise of how can we scale role play or in-person training. And make it more affordable, more scalable and more data driven. And for us, it's just been a great time to sort of execute on that vision and help lots of companies to upskill their people. Brian Ardinger: You mentioned you started the company before COVID and that. But obviously we've seen a massive shift when it comes to this change with COVID. And the fact that everybody's now trying to up-skill cross sell, figure out new ways to do work and that. Are you finding particular industries or jobs settings that are more conducive to this virtual reality environment? Alex Young: I think it's really interesting, just the diverse views of kind of sectors and categories. Kind of find, you know, helpfulness from immersive technology. It can be used throughout absolutely everything. For us specialization, which is obviously soft skills, I think, you know, we're seeing a big uptake by people like sales teams. Particularly in industries like franchises, where they got to upskill new franchisees from a playbook and have a certain way of doing things.The traditional method there obviously was doing in-person meetings or in-person webinars and, you know, live webinars and things like that. And it just wasn't either that engaging or that scalable. We've seen big uptakes there. Other industries outside of healthcare, where we've seen big uptake, things like aviation, which again, anything that kind of has infrequent, but very impactful hazardous outcomes. We found that putting people into virtual reality scenarios to be really, really helpful.So, things like how to communicate with a passenger on an airline who might be rude to the staff. Or, you know, disruptive to other passengers. Being able to deescalate them. It doesn't happen too usually often, but, but it can be incredibly disruptive and cause flights to be landed in places other than their destination. That kind of thing is just great for running people through that talk of repeatable training, Brian Ardinger: The trend of VR, seems to be just on the early stages of that. What's holding this back from companies being more focused on using this type of environment? Alex Young: So, although virtual reality and the concept of virtual reality and the Metaverse has been around for a while. I think the technology now is only really sort of on that precipice of kind of mass adoption. As you mentioned, I think with anything new in the hardware space, whether it's an iPhone, whether it's a new type of computer, in this case, it's the VR headsets. There is going to be a lot of speculation and a lot of blockers and barriers to adoption just because the hardware itself is expensive and people need to understand how it fits naturally into their workplace. I think what we're seeing now is some of the usefulness of the content. And the apps that sit on these pieces of hardware, really the things that are driving adoption. And as they become more and more impactful, the quality of those becomes better. We're seeing people, you know, much more eager to adopt. And, you know, again, the technology as a whole, it's gone through a huge amount of technological change. Even just they've the last sort of two and a half years in terms of what the tech can do. So, we've now got things like eye tracking. The headsets they need wires, that attach headsets to computers. You know, the chips and power of the actual headsets themselves is much faster. What we're now saying is we're still on that adoption curve. It's still very early. But we're seeing real impactful business outcomes being seen by people who are actually using them. Say we've done a lot of research around how the tech works. We've seen people's learning retention increased by upwards of 200%. It's in confidence and employee's ability to action some of the training they've practiced in VR. Outperform in-person training in some cases. And we've seen the time for training reduced when you combine virtual reality with in-person training. So, lots of cost savings. Lots of better impact. Lots of better engagement. Some of the data coming out of it. Brian Ardinger: What are some of the surprises that you've seen over the years of how your original assumptions were about how to build a company, or the features and solutions you were going to build out there? What are some of the assumptions that have changed? Or some of the surprises that you've seen?Alex Young: We've been very lucky in that, you know, we spend a lot of time researching things back in 2018 when the company was founded. And we spoke to E learning development professionals and spoke to people in HR. We spoke to end users (employees) and really got a good understanding of what they were using at the moment in terms of either e-learning or in-person training. And then tried to pull out the critical elements of that into what we built.I think in terms of what we have built at Virti, one of the big complaints that people made, which I've got to say I didn't realize until I sort of truly spoke to a wide variety of HR and learning development professionals was that if you deliver off the shelf content to, we as a company have our own scenarios, soft skills training, and other types of training, and that's great. And people can pick up and plug those, you know, straight into that training workflows. But actually, people want the ability to create their own content and they want a system that's easy to use in order to do that. And for things like virtual reality and soft skills training, where a lot of it is conversational scripts, people aren't that intimidated by doing that themselves. And, you know, they've got their own experiences and their own ways of doing that. The big things that we did quite early on, on the back of that feedback was build out this No Code creation set of tools across both video and computer-generated scenarios so that people can actually create their own.And that then throws out a whole host of, you know, real creativity, back to us as a company. And it's really exciting for me as the founder to look at what people create. Whether it's, you know, very immersive diversity inclusivity scenarios, based on people's previous experiences. Whether it's video training or onboarding training for that company. That's really, really exciting.Brian Ardinger: I'm glad you brought that up because this idea, and we talk a lot about it on the show about no-code and low-code and democratization of some of these tools that makes it easier for people to spin things up, test things, try things. It's interesting to see that you're seeing that evolve in the virtual reality space as well.Alex Young: We talk about soft skills. Or power skills as I like to call them, in terms of leadership training or helping managers deliver feedback. But there are lots of different ways to do that. And there are lots of different learning points. And I think the types of scenarios that you can put people through are almost limitless in some ways, in terms of the demographics of the people that you're communicating with. The actual setting. The types of conversation. People's emotions. And even just from one scenario, you can tweak things behind the scenes and create a whole host of slightly different, slightly more difficult or easier scenarios that you can then run your employees through.And that's where it becomes really interesting because the data of the system can then pick out some subtle changes and improvements. And it can also start to grade who your best performers are in the leadership space. In the sales space. And in the communication space. And actually, give people a gold standard or a ball that they can hit if they're looking to improve their soft skills, which is a really, really cool and really gamified. Brian Ardinger: And that's an interesting point as well. When you talk about soft skills, I think one of the challenges is it's very difficult to measure that. And you're saying with technology and that, and you have an opportunity to collect data that you might not have been able to collect in the past and use that in different ways to really put some metrics or some insight into what's going on.Alex Young: A hundred percent. And I think that the simplest way that I think about things is if I do an in-person role play like I did when I was a doctor or like I did, when I was, you know, practicing my own sales skills as the founder of a technology company. You will do a role play and then a third person, the coach will feed back to you. And they might say something like you started the conversation off well. Or give you some technical feedback on the content of what you're saying. Or they might give you some feedback on your eye contact or your body language.But it's very subjective based on what they're seeing at the time and the assessors own personal experiences and their own abilities. And what the technology can do is it can actually track entire conversations. It can look at people's cadence of that tone. It can look at what conversational items, you know, that they're actually talking about.And with some of the new hardware, you can also look at things like eye tracking. Physiological data. So, you can see if people are getting a little bit scared during parts of the conversation as well. And then you can feed that back to the user who might not know some of these subtle things, especially in the eye contact area. So, there's loads and loads of really interesting things that we can do. And the most important thing is then feeding that back and helping people be able to learn and improve in really kind of objective ways. Brian Ardinger: Any type of technology adoption, there's this focus on innovation. And how do you get folks to adopt new technologies and things like that. So, you've obviously had an opportunity to see how companies take new technologies and the culture that's required. So, I wanted to dig a little bit into what you've seen when it comes to the culture of innovation. And how have you seen better companies adapt to this kind of new innovations. And what are some of the things that you've seen when it comes to the culture of innovation?Alex Young: It's a great question. And I think we, the gamble operating in health care, is our sort of immediate or near target market. And that is something that is quite slow to adopt. Any type of technology because of any kind of patient safety concerns and things like that. And you've got to go through lots of rigorous procurement processes and so forth. But even there, one of the key things that I always look for is who's going to sponsor, you know, the adoption of this technology entirely in the new company. Who is that going to be?Is it someone in the C Suite? Is it a champion in the L & D or HR Department? Who's going to really come on board and align with someone from our team who's typically on the customer successful or learning development side. And look at what the real goals and the outcome of introducing this tech is, both in the near term or say, you know, a year or two years.And I think that's where we, as a company, forget a little bit about the technology and we say, okay, how can we help and align to your business goals? Whether that is just getting to payback of the platform as quickly as possible. You know if we can show we can make you money or we can show you that we are driving things like sales revenues or improving customer satisfaction and things like that through better training. Or just by, you know, retaining your staff because we do a lot of onboarding training and, you know, there's some craziest statistics from places like Gallup or, you know, LinkedIn's workplace Survey, which shows that, you know, that people don't engage with our onboarding or if the onboarding isn't good enough, they will leave your company in like the first 45 days. Which is terrifying us as a business owner myself. And I think it's those things that we really obsessed over. And then I think the next part is making sure everyone within that organization, that's adopting the software is basically understanding what their role is. That the users are incentivized to use it. And it's meaningful and it's going to be helpful to them. Rather than being a hindrance or just another password that they need to remember. And most importantly you know, for us, it's in providing value to our customers and what they're doing. And collecting feedback and iterating on that. So, it's always an interesting journey. Every company is slightly different. Some people love adopting new technology and wants to be at the forefront of any innovation. Some people want to wait until they've seen some use cases come out. And some people are just super cynical. And it's just human nature and different folks you know, different industries. But it's always fun working with lots of different types of companies and people.Brian Ardinger: You have a podcast out called the human performance podcast. So, whenever I have a podcast host, I always like to get your take on what's going on in that particular space. Some of the things you've learned in this space of human performance. What are some of the best guests or some of the insights that you've learned from your podcast and the guests that you've had on it?Alex Young: It's been absolutely fascinating actually. I mean, the podcast began really as a way to provide some stories to our users and our customers that sort of inspired them in their day-to-day lives. And some of the things that I was really, really interested in was how people's mindsets or how their own performance made them do, you know, extraordinary things. On that podcast, some highlights, but for me personally have been, we've had a couple of astronauts who've been on, who've done, you know, multiple space walks and have to fix shuttle antennas, literally in the middle of the space. That for emergency situations, or sports people who've come back from injury and done amazing things.But I think, you know throughout, the thing that fascinates me is always how people deal with some of these just enormous achievements. And by that, I mean a lot of people who do really, really well are actually the most humble and nicest people on the planet. And will bend over backwards to help out folks.And I think a lot of that is about their mindset and it's about them really seeing themselves as a servant to the training and to what they're doing and being very, very coachable. And one great story is that from Scott Parazynski. He's one of the astronauts we've had on the podcast. He not only has done, I think over 40 space walks, but he's someone who is just always learning. And always wanting to challenge himself.And has that in him. Which he's kind of learned over time. And he's also been to the top of Everest. He's been into a volcano in extreme temperatures. And he's just done some crazy, crazy stuff. And the thing that keeps him going is always that want and need to learn new things. To challenge himself. And to really sort of improve himself as an individual. And it's just amazing hearing stories like that every single week. So, I always think, you know, whatever podcast it's not about the host, it's always about the guests. Which really make it for everybody. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Absolutely. Thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to talk about your learnings and what you're seeing in the world. Both as a founder, as a, as a technology person and as a person who's focused on human performance. So, Alex, thank you for coming on the show. If people want to find out more about yourself or about Virti, what's the best way to do that? Alex Young: You can follow Virti at @Virtilabs on all social media. And the website is And then I'm Alexander F. Young on all social media. And by all means, follow me. I talk about soft skills and human performance across every channel. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Alex, thanks again for coming on the show and appreciate the time. Looking forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come.Alex Young: Thank you so much, Brian. Really enjoyed it.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books and Descript Affiliate for transcripts.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Andy Binns, Coauthor of the new book, Corporate Explorer. Andy and I talk about the innovation imperative facing corporations today. And what they can do to foster an entrepreneurial environment, to create corporate explorers within their companies. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Andy Binns, Coauthor of Corporate ExplorerBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Andy Binns. Andy is the Cofounder of ChangeLogic and coauthor of a new book called Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game. Welcome to the show, Andy.Andy Binns: Hey Brian, thanks very much for the invitation. I'm delighted to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show. You have been in this innovation space for a while with McKinsey and IBM. Now you have a new book called corporate Explorer, which is exploring a lot of topics that I think are near and dear to the heart of a lot of our listeners is how can we, as corporations, become better at this whole innovation stuff? Why is innovation becoming so important for corporations to figure out?Andy Binns: That is really actually the point isn't it. And we try to open the book Corporate Explorer by saying, look, a lot of what we're talking about is really old. And it's been around forever, right? And even the notion of a corporate explorer didn't turn up in the last few years. You know, one of the earliest ones that I know of is the creation of the ATM machine. The ATM machine, Della Ru a UK based currency printer literally has the license to print money. And it's like, well, surely people want to access this differently. And this guy comes up with the notion of the ATM machine somewhere in, Surry in south of London, with Barclays Bank in the 1960s. And this was a 300-year-old corporation. This can be done by corporations, but to your point, it's got more important. And it's got more important because we know that digital is there. And transforming not only a business, but an industry. You cannot safely set within automotive and say, all those guys over in consumer devices no longer have anything to do with us. That's true there, but it’s there in a dozen other industries you care to name. And so, this notion of disruption that Clay Christiansen taught us all about. It's kind of like it's present. We don't dispute it. And we certainly don't dispute it after the last two years we've had. This high degree of uncertainty is present.And so, a lot of corporations, even those who are doing really well today, I think see that the dynamics of their industry are changing at such a pace that they can't ignore a bunch of different innovations. Either because they want new revenue streams and or they need new capability. Both of these stories are going on.Brian Ardinger: Yeah, they're being forced to. It's kind of spot on. We've got technology advancements that are coming on. We've got new changes in marketplaces. We've got a pandemic. All these things are colliding at once requiring companies to think and act to move faster than they've ever had before. And yet, we still find example after example of companies that are struggling with this. And overcoming obstacles that you would think that they'd be able to overcome. Because they have quite a few advantages from a corporate perspective.Andy Binns: Absolutely. And that's why corporate innovations beat startups at the innovation game. Now they don't beat them every time. They may not even beat them half the time. But they do. And the point about assets is exactly why they do that. Right. It's when you can leverage brands customer access, technical capabilities, whatever it might be, then that's, what's going to bring you success.Brian Ardinger: So, let's dig into that a little bit more. What are the key advantages that corporations maybe aren't recognizing or aren't using to the fullest extent when they are wanting to do more innovation initiatives? Andy Binns: One of the stories we tell in Corporate Explorer is that analog devices, a really strong technology innovation company, electrical engineers. Running around making phenomenal semiconductors. Worrying about the speeds and feeds of that circuits. And then they start to observe a change in the world, particularly the industrial markets where there's this opportunity to connect their sensors, accelerometers, and various other ones to the cloud. And to use analytics, to observe the functioning of the machine.Right. It's a great space, a lot of startups are active in. And they build this product line around condition-based monitoring. They make some acquisitions to build it out so they can do acoustic sensing as well as motion and all the rest of it. But if you're a startup and you go into, tell the same solution. No one's ever heard of you. You go into Analog Devices, you're 60 years old, and your brand is based on never retiring a product and always meeting your supply commitments. But totally different conversation. The market access is a real opportunity in many cases for these corporations. And also, they can access customers in different ways because they matter as a supplier to a bunch of automotive industry clients or whatever it might be. So, I think that's a big area. The other area is sort of some of the permission to play. So, another case that we give in Corporate Explorer is of the insurance company, Unica in Austria, where they move into sort of a digital insurance product. And again, they already have the actuaries. They can already design the insurance product. They already have the licenses from the relevant European authorities to sell insurance. So again, they can just move that a little bit faster when they are using these assets to make things happen. Brian Ardinger: So, having said that corporations still aren't necessarily good at innovation. They stumble on the fact that a lot of times they get focused on executing and optimizing their existing business model. For fear of messing up that apple cart, they don't necessarily take the next steps and that. How do you create that culture of innovation such that they are willing to take risks and leverage those advantages they do have? Andy Binns: We talk in the book about these being the silent killers of exploration. A term we borrowed from Mike Beer and the silent killers is that actually there isn't a deliberate agenda to stop innovators. Right? Sometimes it feels that way, but it's rarely the case. Mostly they're on autopilot. They're on autopilot because they're focused on the short term. They wanted to eliminate risk to the degree that that's possible. They want to preserve the way they think business should be done. Right. Which is that power of sort of professional skills and identity, which has such an influence on corporations.And so, I think what they need to do is to learn. It's a learning agenda for them. And I think we are those teachers. You are that teacher, the listeners on the podcast are their teachers. And what they've got to learn about is experimentation. Moving into small increments. Rather than spending a lot that needs to spend little amounts. So that they are in a position to find out where the markets are and where the opportunities lie.I think that they need to trust their Corporate Explorers. Get off this notion that importing people who've been in a series of failed startups, that they're going to know how to get this done. It's very disrespectful for all the many people who've done fabulous work in startups, and then moved to corporations. Done spectacularly well. But why would you trust them? They failed, right? The point is that inside the company, there are Explorers, and you need to give them the space, the license. We need to talk about what license means to make that happen. And then finally, the Corporate Explorers themselves need to see themselves not simply as innovators, but also as leaders of change. Too many innovators or potential Corporate Explorers in corporations go hide their project and try to get on with it without getting too much interference. And what they need to do is build a movement behind what they're doing. They need to win allies. They need to win advocates. They need to figure out how to get that movement going behind what they're doing, so that when they hit roadblocks, which we know they always will. They have people who are willing to support them and explain what it means, why this is learning. Not failure. If I had a criticism of our colleagues in that function in organizations is that sometimes they miss that change, that human social building this network inside the company toolkit. Which is actually one of those big things that's critical to success. Brian Ardinger: So, let's dig into the book a little bit. This idea of a Corporate Explorer. Can an average person within a company become a Corporate Explorer? Is there a certain skillset or knowledge or our mindset that's required? Talk a little bit about what it means to be a Corporate Explorer and tasks behind that. Andy Binns: To a large degree, the Corporate Explorer is exactly the Samsung Entrepreneur. They see a problem in the world. They want to solve. They're dissatisfied with something that's happening. We tell the story of Sara Carvalho at Bosch. That Sara is out hiking through the Andes, the lovely sounding image, right. And she gets home to the home of the people who are hosting her. And she says, I want to take a hot shower. Well, they don't have hot water in Peru. That's not something. Essentially then sets about how do we use Bosch's technology to create a solution to providing hot water.It could be Sara and these other examples I gave the same. We've told the story of Balaji Bondili at Deloitte. He gets involved in the tsunami relief in Asia. And he sees the power of the crowd. He's ah, the power of the crowd. This is something that could transform consulting. And like 10 years later, he gets into it right. So there's this passion behind something in the world you think you can fix. And some way you think you might be able to do something about. And that's true in entrepreneurs and in Corporate Explorers, the same. What's different is this social ability. The corporate explorers that succeed, are those that firstly can articulate a case in wagon gets attention. They're really good storytellers. They can bring the possibility and opportunity of what they're proposing to attention. And they do so not because they say, oh, we can just get a little bit better. Yeah. If you back me, it will be, yeah. There's a small piece of revenue that I can build. Know they've got ambition. They said this is transformative. And the thing is that that actually gets more senior attention than the safe I can do a little bit better. Because it starts to hit the scale of what a senior manager is interested in. So, they do that really well. And then they build out this network of support around that idea so that they're able to then execute it and sustain it.That's the piece of differences, is this great ambition and storytelling, combined with the social network. So that their building. And I'll tell you, there's another thing, Brian, I've learned as I've met these people. I hope it comes out in the book as we tell the stories, is that they're humble. They don't mind if other people make them successful.You go around Vienna, and my great friends at UNIQA Insurance. And there are a dozen people who think they help make Krisztian Kurtisz successful at building this digital community insurance product Cherrisk. And he just has a way of making other people feel they played a role that also is something, again, I think different from an Elon Musk that defines the great Corporate Explorer. It sort of takes a community of leaders around it, not just those involved in the project, or the venture themselves. But also, the people who are going to be actively engaged in supporting Brian Ardinger: If I'm in a corporation and I'm trying to understand, and maybe even find the Corporate Explorers within my own walls and that I can nurture and build that. Are there particular techniques or things that you've seen to help identify those Corporate Explorers within your company? And then what number of Corporate Explorers do you really need to have an impact? Andy Binns: I think this is sort of the proactive and reactive if you will. Right. And the reactive model is simply, are you listening? Are you actually looking out for them? I'll tell you one of the most successful Corporate Explorers we talk about in the book is Jim Peck at LexisNexis, right?He built a multibillion-dollar business in 10 years, inside and existing corporation, which does legal and news information. He builds this big data risk analytics business. And Jim saw the insight. He had the idea. He proposed, nobody gave him the responsibility. That this incidentally is true of Krisztian and UNIQA Insurance.Nobody gave him, here go build me a billion-dollar business. He proposed it. So, there's a reactive side. Now are you listening. Are you ready to cope with that? Ideally, do you have an ambition. A sort of strategic ambition that says, this is what we want to do, so that if I'm Jim or Krisztian in the business, I feel I have a license to propose those ideas.One of the great examples is MasterCard. And they had this ambition to wage a war on cash. That's actually a really empowering thing. That tells me I've got to find ways of converting this big number, like that point 85% of transactions on cash to digital. I know wow, those are the ideas, that's how I evaluate success, right?That reactive piece. And that inspired. The proactive thing is go looking for them. And I think there your best bet is some sort of participative competitive approach where you're focused on solving customer problems. What are the top 10 customer problems you want to solve in the world? And invite people to come up with ideas.And we can talk more about this. I think there's a problem in corporations of too much idea creation. But I think the, hey, how can we solve these customer problems? How can we add more value to different customer groups? What places are there, where there are customer groups we've identified that may have problems we can grow into. That kind of thing is a great place to encourage people to participate and then step forward with their idea.And then don't spend too much on any one idea. Startups run through scarcity and so should corporate ventures. They should be, they should be begging for cash. As corporations, in some cases are, they worried much more, particularly in Europe I find, they worry much more about the size of their office. And how big the team is that they can hire. And all this kind of stuff. Which is complete nonsense in comparison to have you validated the idea. Have you done enough to prove out whether that's a really a market for it or not?Brian Ardinger: Following on the incentives conversation, a lot of times we think, I mean, you mentioned there's a lot of intrinsic incentives that seem to be in play for the Corporate Explorers that actually have success within that. How does a company think about incentivizing folks to raise their hand and say, hey, I want to be an entrepreneur within the walls or, or I want to take my ideas forward? Are there things that seem to work better than others?Andy Binns: It's a pretty complex area for sure. And there's a view out there, I think that what we need to do in corporations is in some way mirror the rewards of the, of a startup. So, Intel had this approach. Potentially ended after we published the book. And they said, okay, go and build a venture. We'll give you what you need.And if it reaches an external valuation of a billion dollars, we'll give you 10 million or a business unit, will buy it out for 10 million. It didn't work. And it didn't work, also if you think about it, it introduces a perverse incentive to spin out the venture outside of the corporation. So, you don't get the value from it because you're going to get far more on the open market than you are in the corporation.That's great for the individual Corporate Explorer or entrepreneurs. It's lousy for the corporation. It's a flawed notion of incentives. And most of the people I've mentioned, who've done this successfully, are ones who actually have received very little additional compensation. Now that doesn't mean that they haven't done very well for themselves. Because this is a great way to prove your career. To prove that you're a CEO.Jim Peck ended up being CEO, not only of LexisNexis Risk, but also of two further corporations. He's now CEO Nielsen IQ Market Research Fund, and Krisztian’s career has blossomed. Others have blossomed. There are real opportunities. It's just not the same as an entrepreneur. And so, I think what we need to do is. The issue is less about what we pay them, and it's more about the environment we create. That accepts that explore businesses are different than the core business. That how you evaluate them, how you manage the fact that there are high degrees of uncertainty around how fast they'll generate a return, that's the point. And if you make it so that that's accepted and understood and well-managed, then your corporate explorers will emerge. If you make it, oh, you've got a great idea. I want to see a five-year cash projection on how you're going to deliver the same margin as the core business, then you going to throw them out, right? You're going to eject them over time. That's really the area of incentive that I think we should focus on much more than the individual payment.Brian Ardinger: So, my question I want to ask about is how do you know if you're making progress? How do you know if your corporation is getting more innovative? What are some key measurements or ways to know if you're making progress? Andy Binns: You know, I think that it is for me about how many revenue generating businesses have you created. Again, there are some who would say, this is about how many billion-dollar external valuations. This is nonsense. I know the valuations matter. If I had a billion-dollar corporation and I was selling it, putting in my money in my pocket, I'd be delighted. Many people would. Of course. But that's not what corporate life is about. It's something else. And so, you've got to understand that that you're fulfilling different objectives. So, I want to see that I've got revenue generating businesses that in the markets I define on winning, we talk a lot about how, if you're going down this path of creating new businesses, you want to have a really clear ambition. Like this way to wage a war on cash.And then you want to know what are the hunting zones you're going to play in. In order to achieve it. So, I want to know how many ventures have I got in my hunting zones? And how many of those are on track towards the kind of revenue goals that I have for them or the kind of milestones that I need in order to get that? Because it's all about ideating, incubating, and scaling ventures. That's success, you know, activity is not success. And so, I want to ultimately see that happen. Brian Ardinger: And knowing that you can't bet on the winners at the very beginning. You have to have a portfolio of ideas that are coming through at all times. So that you can see the progress with evidence and, and, bet on the ones that are moving forward. Andy Binns: Absolutely. And this whole area of portfolio managing your innovation is something that I think is critical. One of my colleagues Noel Sobleman talks a lot about this. And I think he's on the money. Brian Ardinger: So last topic I want to talk about is we are in this great resignation. And this area where people are moving around and trying different things, and the world has completely changed. What are your thoughts when it comes to retention or hiring of innovators? And these corporate explorers? Andy Binns: I think it's a tough moment for corporations. One where they should be fairly concerned that they're going to lose their best talent. Because if you look at the stats, what goes side by side with great resignation is a record number of new business formations in the U.S. Some of those are going to set up coffee shops, coffee roasters, breweries, distilleries. People who are enjoying themselves, doing something different from corporate life.But there's a large number which are people seeking to realize their entrepreneurial ambition. And so, if I'm a manager in a corporate business or senior executive, and I'm seeing this happen, I should be asking myself, why am I losing my most entrepreneurial talent when I could be using that to sponsor growth in my business.That's where I think that needs it. So, all of the stuff we've talked about, about creating the license to explore. Giving them customer problems, to solve. Investing small amounts and making things happen, and then scaling the ones that work. I think that actually is a key part. It's not the whole answer to this story of, of the great resignation, but it's a piece of it.And it also is about, you know, people want a future. They want to believe in something. They want a why. And doing new stuff, demonstrating like in sustainability. Is one of the interesting things is that most of the ideas, you know, we do a little bit work with Wazoku is one of the idea management platforms. And Simon Hill told me that more than half of the ideas on the Wazoku platform across all of their client base has to do with sustainability right now.And people want to see you're making progress on something like. And that's a story of innovation. How can you scale that to a level that actually has business impact? And I think again, that creates purpose, commitment, a sense of being a part of something that matters. Again, a key level of the innovation component.Brian Ardinger: Like you said, it's really never been a better time to tap into new and exciting projects. There are far more problems out there that people need solved. And they're constantly changing. So, you're in a good spot, if you, again, encourage folks to raise their hand and find those problems and have the ability to solve them. Andy Binns: Yeah. I think that's exactly right, Brian. Yeah. Very well said. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: So, Andy, I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. If people want to find out more about yourself or about the book Corporate Explorer, what's the best way to do that? Andy Binns: Yeah, you could go to or and learn about us. Learn about our research. I've written this book with two professors. Mike Tushman from Harvard. Charles O’Reilly from Stanford. They've also written some other books on the topic. Lead and Disrupt in its second edition, is another excellent text to dig into this whole area of how corporations can win and do win at innovation. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Andy, thanks again for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Really appreciate your time. Really appreciate your insights and look forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come. Andy Binns: Likewise. Thanks Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books and Descript Affiliate for transcripts.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Harini Gokul, Head of Customer Success at AWS. Harini and I talk about the importance of working backwards to define customer success. And how companies can better understand customer needs to create better products and services. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change, and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Harini Gokul, Head of Customer Success at AWSBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Harini Gokul. She is the Head of Customer Success at Amazon Web Services. Welcome to the show. Harini Gokul: Thank you. It is such a pleasure to be here. I've heard many episodes of your show and I'm so excited to have this conversation. Brian Ardinger: Obviously, Amazon Web Services is one of those companies that we think of when we think of innovation. I first want to just start with, what is your role at Amazon Web Services and what is the Head of Customer Success actually do? Harini Gokul: Yes, it's a great question. So, AWS is all about customer obsession. It is baked into the DNA of how we build products and go to market and take care of our customers. I lead what we call as the customer solutions function. What they industry sometimes also calls to as customer success for our next generation of customers. What that means is we want to make sure that we are investing in our highly innovative hyper-growth customers to make sure that we are supporting them in their transformation. In their digital transformation and their business transformation. At the end of the day, my job is making sure my customers can take care of their customers. Brian Ardinger: Let's dig into that a little bit. So obviously you, by working with a lot of different companies, you've seen both the good and the bad of how people focus on customers. And what are some of the insights or maybe biggest mistakes that you've seen from customers when it comes to interacting with customers.Harini Gokul: There's certainly a lot of good and a lot of opportunities for us. Our starting point is how we define value and good with the customer. Right. And the one challenge I see is we start with our definition of what good looks like. And we are nodding. We are in customer conversations and nodding sometimes. But not really actively listening or absorbing what the customer's articulating their problems. Because we so badly want our solution to fit their problem statement. So, I think the biggest hurdle is starting with what we think is good. And thinking versus truly actively listening to the customer and focusing on a customer defined value. Brian Ardinger: So, are there particular tactics that you use when you start that first conversation with a potential customer to understand their needs and then subsequently what to with that?Harini Gokul: Absolutely. So, my, my favorite, I've many tools in my toolkit, but one of my favorite tools is actually an Amazon methodology called Working Backwards. Many of our listeners, and probably you have heard about it, Brian. Working backwards as an approach of creating a press release before you build a new product or a service, or you create a new program and what that does is it starts from the customer. And it says, when we do this, this is the problem we are solving for. This is the challenge we've addressed. This is the benefit we've provided the customer. And it's an articulation of value. And what good looks like when the job is done. So, you work backwards and place the customer squarely in the center of what you do. And then work backwards from that to say, what do we build, create, stand up, create as an organization to deliver on that value?Brian Ardinger: And through that process, I imagine you're not always right. Those assumptions that you make at the very beginning of what you think the customer needs and that. So, you need to, I would imagine to be agile or adaptable to how that works. So how does that initial, I guess, take on the customer and that, how does that play out in real life when you're actually then executing and finding out that some of the things that you thought were correct. Some of the assumptions you had are now incorrect. Harini Gokul: And, you know, it's two ways. It's one be, make flawed assumptions. Or we, like I said, we truly want to believe that some of our beliefs are true. So it's important to dis-confirm our beliefs. Also, especially in the past two years with the rapid growth and innovation we've seen, customer needs are constantly evolving, right? So, we need a muscle to continuously listen.  You listen first and then you create what you believe, what you've heard and have that document from working backwards. And then be constantly check in. You know, as we do the work with the customer, to dis-confirm our beliefs and understand if customer needs have changed. If what they are looking for has changed. If their customer needs have changed. So, there is a process to constantly check in and iterate.It's about actively continuing to get customer perspective. And as we do our work, and also being open to going back on positions, we've made. Always sort of examining decisions that are being made. Commitments that have been made. And say, is this the right thing for the customer. Brian Ardinger: I imagine you work with a wide variety of types of companies. So, startups to more established ones. And all kind of growing fast. Is there a different mindset from a brand-new startup, that's trying to spin up some new things in the marketplace? Versus an existing customer that's trying to grow and expand their existing business model?Harini Gokul: It's such a great question, by the way, because I do work with the diversity of customers. And the more I see at the spectrum of customers. All from sort of more mature companies to born in the cloud companies, there are certain common foundational things that go across them that help them succeed. One is this focus on customer defined value. And putting the customer at the center of everything they do. The second is making sure that there's a culture of innovation that is built into how you solve those problems, right?And that goes back to creating an environment where your talent feels fearless. They feel like they can take risks. They feel that are two-way doors here, where they can make decisions, experiment, and fail fast. Those are the things that are common across these companies. What is different, of course is the approach and the execution, right? So more mature companies have more legacy assets as an example. Or a mindset that needs to evolve. And born in the cloud companies have seen growth, but they're struggling with how do I sustain this growth.Now that my product, is such a great fit. Now that I've seen such early traction, how do I build the foundations? How do I build the culture, the people, the scale that's required for me to sustain this growth? So, the leavers are slightly different depending on where you are, but there are a number of things that span across this range of companies. Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk about some other tools or tactics that you use to remain competitive and innovative. What are some of the things that you're looking at that are changing the game out there? Harini Gokul: Absolutely. I think we've been in a period of hyper growth, hyper innovation. And companies and customers are all thinking about a couple of things. They're thinking about how do I serve my customers better? It's becoming competitive. So, they want to differentiate themselves. So, a number of our customers are thinking about what do I need to do in terms of product, in terms of experience that can help differentiate. And my role is to help them figure it out. A lot of the conversations we're having right now is working backwards from what they want to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, what they want to serve to their customers, and saying what are some decisions they have to make?And that's really, to me, one of the most important things about what I do is helping companies place their bets. How do I determine where do I put my talent? Am I going to put them in sort of this technical, heavy lifting in the back? You know, this undifferentiated heavy lifting. Do I put them to build a product? What am I going to focus on? Is there a go to market I focused on versus building a product? And so, a lot of my work is bringing in my product teams to sit with the customer to think about what good looks like for them and help make them the right decisions. So, if I step back, I think the element of helping customers place bets. Talent is hard to find. Resources are not finite. Infinite. So, helping them place their bets and prioritize best to serve their customers is probably the most important thing we do. And that includes working closely with our product teams, working closely with our sales teams. And really up and down the stack to make sure our customers get what they need.Brian Ardinger: You bring up an interesting point when it comes to technology and data and the fast paced that the world is moving. Such that companies have to be much more adaptable at understanding where their talent is and where they should be leveraging and that. So, can you talk about some of the things that you're seeing when it comes to data and technology of where customers can get the most out of the new trends and the new things that are popping up there, and still remain relevant?Harini Gokul: I think it's important to think about innovation. But innovation that is truly important to the customer. So, I would say start with what makes a difference to your customer. What problem you're solving. Then prioritize. And as you translate that internally create a culture that rewards making the news versus just reporting the news.And to me, that's one of the biggest signs of a company that sustains this hyper-growth that hyper innovation, is creating a culture that scales beyond initial innovation. Culture that rewards its people for always looking around the corner. Picking up those signals. Knowing what's coming down the pipe. Knowing what's important to the customer even if it's just an anecdote they've heard. And then bringing it back in and translating that into a product feature into a go to market, into a sales play, that helps the customer meet their needs. So, I think companies that create a culture of innovation that reward making the news versus just sort of delivering on what you've promised, are the ones that will truly be successful as you go forward. Brian Ardinger: You mentioned having a constant customer contact and that. And I think it's easy at the beginning when you're a startup, because one, you don't have as many customers. So, you can stay in touch and you're trying to figure out what they really need.But as you grow, as you have customers, you have delivered a solution over and over again to them. I think sometimes get complacent, from the standpoint of you think, you know, what the customer wants, or you rely on the salespeople telling you what they've heard in their field rather than having that direct relationship with the customer. Are there tactics or things that you've seen to continue that hunger of customer centricity, that you've experienced or that you've seen from your customers?Harini Gokul: Hunger is such a great word for that, because you truly do need to be hungry to know what your customers are thinking. And really helping them, you know, thinking around the corner with them. And the one tactic that I've used in many, many roles that's really worked for me is called a customer advisory board. And you can do this, but if you are a startup with five customers, or if you are a much more mature company with thousands and hundreds and thousands of customers. It's the importance of getting together a representative sample of your customers around the table, literally around a virtual table.Or a physical forum and having a conversation that lets them do two things. One it lets each of the customers have a peer-to-peer connection. Because that's really the value add to bringing customers together is having them connect with each other and share insights and perspectives. And second, having them share with you what they think is working and what they think could be better and what signals they are seeing. And to me, these forums, these customer advisory board forums are so critical to making sure that even when an organization matures, as it grows up, that we are keeping closely connected to customer signals. Brian Ardinger: The last topic I want to talk about is trends that you're seeing in the space. Obviously, the world is changing very quickly, whether it's technology or data and that. What are some of the things that you're excited about that you're seeing in the marketplace that are changing the way companies can work with customers?Harini Gokul: I think there are multiple things any given day, I often say that since the great industrial revolution, this has been the decade of unprecedented change. Data is king right now, or queen. And I see a lot of focus on getting data. Understanding data. But what I've really liked is now that we are leveraging that data to pattern match. And draw inferences. And be proactive and predictive in how we can take care of our customers.So, while data is great and I love the focus on it. What I love seeing is the step up. Is the transformation of using data as means to a better customer journey. I think that's important. I love that praise. What that is driving and what that has also complimented is sort of the consumerization of technology anywhere, right?Our experiences are so driven by what we see around us in the consumer technology, that even enterprise more traditional mature spaces are starting to understand what good looks like from the consumerization of technology and where we can adopt it. So, I think that syndrome has become more spread. The third piece I'll say is I've always been very intentional about privacy, security, data sovereignty. I worked in Europe for a while, and I was there when GDPR happened. And I could see that in order for this incredible growth in the Cloud to continue, we would need people to trust the Cloud. To trust that they knew our organizations had their best interest at heart. And I see that anxiety and I see that importance, come back again in a very significant way. Especially given the geopolitical environment we are in right now. For More Information Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. Things are changing so fast. It's both exciting to be in this, but it's also one of the scariest times, I think, for a lot of customers and companies out there trying to figure this out. I really appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your insights. If people want to find out more about yourself or about AWS, what's the best way to do that. Harini Gokul: LinkedIn, please. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Harini, thank you very much for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Looking forward to continuing the conversation. And I thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. Harini Gokul: Of course. Thank you.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books and Descript Affiliate for transcripts.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Liam Martin, author of the new book Running Remote: Master the Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Remote-Work Pioneers. Liam and I discuss the challenges and opportunities of the new world of asynchronous and remote work. And what employees, managers, and leaders can do to be more productive and thrive in the new and changing environment. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Liam Martin, Author of Running RemoteBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Liam Martin. He's the author of Running Remote, which is a new book. He's also a serial entrepreneur. Runs Time Doctor and And he's also a co-founder and co-organizer of the world's largest remote work conference called Running Remote, which is coming up here soon. So welcome to the show, Liam. Liam Martin: Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to get into this. Brian Ardinger: As everyone has found out, it's a topic that's become a lot more on people's radar. In 2020, I think if you started before that talking remote work, you're talking about nomad life and they were the folks that were doing it, but it wasn't necessarily mainstream.Now we're in this world where everybody's had some taste of remote work. You know, they've been working from their basement or someplace along the line. What are people getting, right. And what are people getting wrong when it comes to remote work? Now that everybody's been plunged into this deep end. Liam Martin: Oh, that's a great question. January of 2020, 4.5% of the U S workforce was working remotely. March of 2020, 45 % of the US workforce was working remotely. And we're projected to effectively, as we moved from pandemic to endemic, be at about 30% of the US workforce working remotely. And if you make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, that number is 75% of the workforce.So, we're talking about a transition that is probably the most influential transition towards work since the industrial revolution. But the industrial revolution took about 80 years, and we did it in March. So, a complete change of the way that people work. And when people made that transition, I was getting crazy calls because I've been doing remote for almost 20 years.I was getting all these calls from governments and from multinational corporations. And I lovingly call these people Pandemic Panicers. The people that were just like, okay, we're going to go remote at gunpoint. Right. We have no choice other than to go remote. And the biggest thing that people really get right, is number one, just allowing people to make that transition and putting away the fears that they classically had before that occurred.And that was a really interesting opportunity for the market, because for me, I mean, I think I call myself like a fundamentalist remote worker. I'm really committed towards remote work because I think it actually makes everyone's lives significantly easier. Not only the employee, but the employer. But when you saw this transition, people just said, okay, you know, we're going to try this out. We're going to see if it happens. I think a lot of people said, this is probably only going to be two months, it ended up being two and a half years. But the reality is that when everyone made that switch, it was putting away those fears. That was probably one of the best things that people could have done. People did almost everything else wrong, unfortunately. And that's actually the goal of the book is to be able to, to make that shift. But the core piece that I would probably touch on. The most important thing that people don't recognize is there is an entire industry of people called Remote First Organizations. I was one of them. We have people in 43 different countries all over the world.We do not have an office. And these people work all over planet earth, different cultures, different identities, and we all seem to get along together. The reason why we do that is because something that I researched or I came across basically during the book, which we call asynchronous management. Which is basically the capability to be able to run a business without speaking to anyone face-to-face. So think about it in this context. You've got a company you want to be able to build out a massive company like Coinbase, as an example. Coinbase IPO'd at $141 billion. They entered number 89 on the S & P 500. And for the first time in the history of the SEC, they stated that their headquarters was nowhere because they said everything else would be a lie. And the vast majority of the communication is asynchronous. Meaning they don't do Zoom calls. They don't meet in person. The company basically just evolves on its own. And there's a bunch of mechanics that kind of connect to that, which I talk about at length in the book.Brian Ardinger: What's the first topic that people ask you about or pick your brain about when it comes to remote working. Like where do people naturally go to that they need help with? Liam Martin: You're hitting all my buttons, Brian. All right. So, the first question that people ask me is, should we be using Zoom or Google Meet, or should we be using Asana or should we be using Or Trello or whatever it might be. And my response at this point, Is, if you're asking those questions, you don't actually know what your problem is.So fundamentally, the tools that we're going to use are not actually the way to be able to manage remote workers. That's an excellent way to be able to recreate the office. But when everyone's working from home and working remotely, it's actually a completely different way of managing people. So, I say as an example, just to kind of give you facts on the ground.I meet with my direct reports about two hours a week. I literally have synchronous conversations with my company, two hours per week. The other, you know, I probably work about 50 hours a week. The other 48 hours of that workweek, I work asynchronously. And so does everyone else inside of the organization. The actual systems, the platform, the process documents, those things are the manager. And we really focus on leadership, instead of management inside of these teams. Brian Ardinger: That's an excellent point because I think a lot of people, again, like you say, they gravitate towards the tools. And the tools will obviously are getting quite good and much better than they were 8, 10 years ago when you probably started this. And things like even Google Docs were a little bit janky at the time. But when it comes to leadership. When it comes to putting the culture in place, what are some of the pitfalls that most people fall into when it comes to remote culture?Liam Martin: So, this is the Friday at 4:00 PM. Everyone must report to Zoom, and we're all going to drink beers and playing Cards Against Humanity, not the fun version, however. The HR approved version, right. That no one really wants to be at. And maybe, you know, a pizza's delivered to you at the end of the week. Poll your people. Make that survey anonymous. Ask them if they like it. They do not like it. No one likes it. So, culture can't be built. Culture is something that happens naturally. And what you can only monitor is the dividends from that culture. You can't actually measure the inputs. You can only measure the outputs of culture in my opinion. So as an example, we bought everyone Oculus Rift headsets, just recently. Virtual reality headsets.And we said, okay, you guys have these virtual headset. Would you like to meet in the metaverse? Would you like to play video games together? We don't care which video games you play. If you want to play the most HR inappropriate video game, the one that you kill zombies with, go ahead. Up to you. And then what we measure is the dividend of that activity.So how many people actually do it? How much time do they spend doing it? That's what you need to do when you build culture inside of an asynchronous remote organization. Because this forced version of culture building is again the same mindset that people have inside an office model. The big premise is that when you think about collaboration as a core component of remote work, it's actually an incorrect premise, the remote pioneers, and the ones that I studied throughout the book, they actually recognized that instead of everyone paying this last cost of an hour and a half commute to a single place every single day in which you could have a collaboration buffet. Remote First organizations have recognized, well, every time we meet is a cost that we have to inject, right? So, we can have a more of an a la cart method to be able to make sure that we can collaborate when we need to. The minimum viable dose to be able to move the business forward. And this all, once you understand that core premise, everything else that applies to work and how work should be done changes. Brian Ardinger: So, as we're coming, hopefully out of the pandemic a little bit, you know, we're getting people back into more of a traditional office environment. Where are you seeing the challenges when it comes to that hybrid approach. And this back and forth of, we need to go back to normal, so to speak. Or we've got half the people now in office and half the people are remote. What are you seeing from that person? Liam Martin: I will be again a little bit, I guess, outspoken in this context. Which is, I think that hybrid is actually the worst decision out of the three. So, I'd rather have people go back to the office, than be hybrid. And for many reasons, but the biggest one is something that in remote work, we call distance bias.If you have an individual that is close to the decision maker or the manager. So, let's say someone that is in the office versus someone being remote. Inevitably the person that is in the office. If the manager does not actually have the discipline to be able to treat both of those employees equally, the employee that's closer to the manager will have more of their decisions moved forward than the remote worker. So effectively the remote worker become second-class workers. And it's not within the interest of a remote worker, if they want to actually move forward in the organization to be remote. So, they're going to have to come into the office in order to be able to actually have that work done.I mean, there's been actually a couple of studies done on this already. It's incredibly destructive. It completely destroys company culture. It destroys your EMPS. It is something that I think is a ticking time bomb as we move back to, the majority being a hybrid environment, because that's the way that it's currently happening, at least in the United States.Brian Ardinger: I think a lot of folks resist going to the fully remote because of one of the main advantages of being in person is that ability to have those serendipitous collisions of people and that. And so how do you plan for that? How do you build for that? To get the advantages of that bumping into power that you don't in a remote environment. Liam Martin: You're going through my greatest hits of things that we may or may not agree on. Asynchronous work is the polar opposite of serendipitous collaboration. We try to, as an organization, remove serendipitous collaboration because serendipitous collaboration is a word for feeling busy, but not necessarily getting anything done.So, there's a fantastic book by Cal Newport called Deep Work. And it is the ability for every single individual inside of an organization, to be able to have everything that they need at their disposal in order to solve difficult problems. And that actually is the core premise of what actually makes a company move quickly or slowly. It's their speed of innovation. It's their ability to be able to solve problems. And we found through research. Again, this is because we've just had such a difficult mind shift where if you look at, open up any other MBA book, it's like collaboration is the most important thing that you can possibly do that serendipitous interaction effect.But in reality, actually, the best work is done when everyone has everything that they need to do. Everyone has the tools in front of them to solve a problem. And then they can solve that problem. And the vast majority of that work is done by the individual. So, the more people that you can optimize towards deep work, and the more time that you can minimize towards the meeting and collaborative effects that basically happen inside of organizations, the faster that companies move forward.I'll give you one example connected to this. One, someone in the book, his name's Amir. He runs a company called Doist, which is the company that builds the task management app ToDoist. Millions and millions of people use this application all over planet earth. He has people in his company he has never spoken to them face to face.He's never done a Zoom call with them. He's never done an audio call with them. The most he's done is a little bit of instant messaging and the vast majority is project management. Like task management. Setting a task back and forth. Commenting on it. And those team members are incredibly effective. And companies like ToDoist as very wealthy, profitable organizations.And they're done in a way that is completely asynchronous. And I actually think that this idea is going to proliferate throughout the rest of corporate America. As we move from this pandemic to endemic stage. Brian Ardinger: It's fascinating stuff. I often think about, like, from the individual's perspective, we've not been trained in this. And you know, so it's a lot of new learning of what to do in new environments. Are there particular skillsets or toolsets or mindsets that people should be thinking about as they want to embrace more of this remote asynchronous type of working? Liam Martin: Not many, to be honest with you. There are no books on asynchronous work, which is why I wrote one. The big thing that I can really point people out to. The ability to be able to work is really focused on, as I said, people solving difficult problems. And when you actually look at like, how do I actually solve a difficult problem? A lot of the times managers facilitate work, but they don't actually do any of that work. So inside of asynchronous organizations, another thing that we discovered, or I discovered in my research for this book is the managerial layer in async orgs are about 50% thinner than they are in synchronous organizations. So, there are more people, there are more dollars focusing on doing work, then managing that work because fundamentally the platform, the project management system, the process document is the manager. It's not necessarily the individual. And that's a real shift that again. It's very difficult for people to be able to recognize. I mean, I could point you towards a whole bunch of tools to be able to work that out. But if you're just simply recreating the office and saying, I have to tell you what my numbers are, Brian. Brian, you tell your manager what Liam's numbers are. And then that manager tells the boss what Liam's numbers are. No, all of those numbers should just be available to the CEO of the company and to Liam, actually. Another big thing is asynchronous organizations have a concept that we've kind of coined as radical transparency, where everyone has the same informational advantage as the CEO. Very difficult for a lot of old-school organizations to be able to overcome. But then if everyone has the same informational advantage as the CEO, then everyone can actually make much better-informed decisions throughout the entire organization. Brian Ardinger: One of the things that is often brought up in our podcast is this idea of talent. And how do you get the best out of the talent? And one of the things that I think is, again, different potentially in this new environment is how do you go about hiring for talent and specifically hiring for folks that may be better at this type of work?Liam Martin: So, one of the biggest indicators of success in remote work, and more specifically in asynchronous remote work organizations is introversion. I call asynchronous work really the rise of the introverted leader. Because when you go into a room of, let's say eight, incredibly intelligent people. Who's generally the person whose ideas are adopted?It's usually the six foot two, all American guy, with washboard abs that's incredibly charismatic. And those are the ideas that we usually adopt. If you look at a bunch of corporate boardrooms and we analyze a thousand of them. I could bet you without even knowing what the ideas are, is the guy over six feet tall. Is he a guy? Is he good looking right? And is he in shape?If you told me those variables, I could probably tell you whose ideas are getting adopted. And do those people have the best ideas? No, they don't. So asynchronous work actually provides for the ideas to be the most important variable as it applies to asynchronous work, because the bias of that charismatic individual doesn't permeate the organization in the same way.When you are just simply debating an idea as an example, on Asana or on Trello, in the comments. The best ideas, actually permeate organizations. And there's a lot of data to be able to show that women and minorities rise throughout remote and asynchronous organizations, way faster because of that lack of bias.Brian Ardinger: So, if people want to pick up the book, what are some of the topics that you'd cover in that? And what can people expect from it? Liam Martin: So, the biggest things are, what can you actually do to be able to experiment an asynchronous communication? And again, you can do this inside of an office or outside of an office. There are plenty of asynchronous organizations where people attend the office every single day, and then they recognize they don't necessarily have to be in meetings eight hours a day.They can actually just choose when they want to have a meeting and recognize that meetings are actually a distraction. They're not something that move you forward. They're actually something that slow you down, inside of organizations. And talk about what actionable steps you can take to actually move your organization over to, as we call it the asynchronous mindset. Which has a bunch of variables connected to the process documentation that you have to put inside of your business. The ability for your project management system to actually take over the vast majority of your management. And then the documentation of all of those metrics. So that metrics are just automatic, and you don't necessarily need to extract them manually.There's no more game of telephone, figuring out what the heck is going on in your business. And what this produces as a result, is a company that is number one, a lot less stressful for the business owner to be able to operate. But it's also scalable and can grow way faster than any of your competitors in this space.Brian Ardinger: It's a fantastic topic. What's the best way to connect with you and more information about the book? Liam Martin: So best place for you to just go to You'll be able to check out the conference that we're doing in May. And then also the book that comes out right after the conference. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Liam, thanks for coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share a little bit about what everybody's going to have to be dealing with in the near future. So, I appreciate your time. Looking forward to staying connected. Thanks very much for coming on. Liam Martin: Thanks for having me.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books.
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with David Cutler, author of the new book, The Game of Innovation. David and I talk about how companies can integrate creativity and gaming into their innovation practices. And we'll discuss some of the best practices, tactics, and techniques that you can use in the process. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive, in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with David Cutler, Author of The Game of InnovationBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have David Cutler. He is the founder and CEO of the Puzzler Company. He's a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of South Carolina. And I have him on the show because he's the author of a new book called The Game of Innovation. Welcome, David. David Cutler: Thank you. It's so great to have the opportunity to chat with you. Brian Ardinger: The book is very visual. And I would love to be able to show pictures of that. Maybe we'll put some of that in the show notes. Let's start about your background and how did you get into this game of innovation? David Cutler: You know, so much of the work that I do is with different kinds of organizations, focused on all kinds of problems. Sometimes it's around culture. Or it's around trying to achieve certain results. But they're not sure exactly what to do. And so, we worked together to design some kind of a process or a game. And then often we'll work on multiple teams. Where they'll come up with these great ideas and figure out how to design it. Often it is run as a tournament, so the teams will compete. But sometimes we do fusion rounds where parts of this idea are combined with parts of another idea or have all different kinds of formats. Brian Ardinger: So, you've been working with a lot of different types of companies out there. What are some of the biggest obstacles that organizations face when it comes to innovation?David Cutler: So, I think when it comes to innovation or when it comes to change, most leaders that I know have one of two fundamental beliefs. Or one of two fundamental leadership styles. And unfortunately, as well-intentioned as they may be, they often do not work. The first is top-down leadership. This idea that, you know, I have the big ideas as the leader. That's my responsibility or maybe my inner circle. And over time, I'm going to impose any number of these big ideas upon the community. And look you or I, we might love those ideas as outsiders, but it turns out that most people do not like being told what to do. Especially if it's different from what they've always done before.So as a result, people digging their heels. They push back or maybe they retreat. Morale plummets and the likes. And usually even if the change is implemented, it's probably not going to stay. And you know, most of those top-down leaders suffer one of two fates. Either they're fired or maybe they're promoted to a place where they can torment more people. Brian Ardinger: Do less damage.David Cutler: The other, the other perspective is this idea of bottom-up leadership. If we want change that. But if we want innovation to happen, it's got to come from the grass roots. Come from the trenches. And the problem with that is that most people have no idea that they are responsible for innovating the future. I think most of us believe my job is to do my job well. The thing that was outlined in the contract. So, if I'm supposed to serve French fries where I'm supposed to be the accountant, it's not immediately apparent that I'm also responsible for re-imagining the future. Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk a little bit about why games are so important and, you know, that's obviously the topic of your book and it goes into great detail. And again, I love the book because it's very visual and it gives you a lot of tactical things that people can do. But why games? Why is that so important in this innovation space? David Cutler: You know, I consider any well-designed process to be a game. Whether or not it's particularly gamey. You don't need dice and concept cards in order to effectively solve problems. And yet there are many, many benefits of unapologetic gamification. Games unify communities behind a common and shared sense of purpose. There's accountability to rules and results. Puzzlers, as I call them, problem solvers are often much more open to thinking creatively and strategically in the context of a game. Finally, though, the problems we may be solving are really, really serious often. People are more likely to bring their best selves if they're really enjoying the process. So, games can be really fun. Even though they're hard, hard work. Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk a little bit about how you go about crafting a game. And the importance of the different functions and that, of how you should do this in real life. David Cutler: So, game is actually an acronym for a very, very loose and flexible system. So, game stands for G guidelines, an arena, M materials and E experience. It's not always the same. In fact, every time I design a game, or I encourage other people to do, I often want to mix things up, especially if you're working with the same community, but there are constant tools.So, it just very, very quick. Guidelines G guidelines is about the parameters of your game. So, what's the most important challenge you're trying to solve. What's the problem at the core of things? What are the constraints? The non-negotiables that may not be challenged under any circumstances. Constraints are necessary to innovation. And criteria, what constitutes success.So those are the guidelines. Usually those are written before the game has started. So, we really know what this game is all about. Arena is the conditions of play. It's about your puzzlers, period, and place. So, the puzzlers. Who is playing this game, what kind of people, what kind of experts do you need to best solve this problem?Period. How long do you have to solve the problem and place? Where are you going to do this? And sometimes, you know, the arena before you start, and then you have to build a game that works within those conditions. As sometimes you know, this is the problem we have to solve. So, then you build the arena that will work with it.And then materials are the tools of your game. Maybe you're in the physical world. Flip charts and crayons and prototyping materials. There are a whole bunch of things you can use online, in virtual games. And the experiences. What happens. What is the order of activities, in which order, for how long? Brian Ardinger: I think a lot of people when they have gone through these types of exercises and different creativity events, and that, it's oftentimes boxed as like a training thing. Rather than something that you can do on a regular basis. So can you talk through how some of these techniques can be applied on everyday decisions. What's the everyday process that person can use with this type of technique? David Cutler: To the point that you just made. I find sometimes that the people who use the word innovation the most, have never actually seen it happen in real life. It's a buzzword. They're not really sure what that means or what that feels like. When you are working with a team for the first time you mentioned about this being training. Sometimes it's actually a good idea to have them focus on the problem that is not the most important problem facing the organization.It's a skill like any other that can and must be cultivated. And if the first time you're ever working in this kind of format, you're also focused on something that you've been developing for 15 years and it feels very, very personal. It's hard to be open about it. So oftentimes the first time when working with an organization, the first game that they're playing is a good idea to identify something that resonates. But is not the biggest elephant in their particular room.Hopefully, you know, through a great game, there is a focus on both process and product. So, we want them to come up with exquisite solutions. But also to be developing transferable skills that they can apply each and every day. So, we always try and find a balance of those two things. And in the game of innovation offer many, many tools that can be applied under a variety of circumstance.Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk a little bit more about the book. It's a very collaborative effort. There's a lot of folks, it looks like from illustrators and that. So can you talk about the team and then talk about how the book came about. David Cutler: So, there are four of us who worked on this book. I'm the primary author. And then I had a partner that we always bat things back and forth. And illustrator and a graphic designer. There's a saying that teams are better than solace. At least when it comes to creative efforts. When you work collaboratively, you'll just come up with bigger ideas, then if you're working alone. Because it's not just, what's in your brain plus what's in my brain, but also the parts of our imagination. That could only be even touched because our thinking intersected. I've been running events for a long time where we bring in a graphic facilitator. Or someone, the woman who worked on book, her name is Patti Dobrowolski. And so, what she will do often when we're working with communities is instead of typing minutes on a computer, she will doodle things. She will draw things in real time. So, by the end of an hour or a day or a week, you have a visual representation of what happened.It is true that a picture paints a thousand words. That an image can say so much more, than words alone. We live in a very visual society. So many people, I hear what you're saying, but I just, I just need to see it. So, we got this idea of if we're going to put this in a book, why not just talk about innovation, but make it look like innovation.And hopefully the pictures help emphasize the message of the words and vice versa. When we started working, cause my other books are word books. And for this one decided that I wanted it to be visual. But it turns out that when you were working in a visual context, you may have a profound word or a word of historic significance. Or word with a great sense of humor, or wonderful relatives. Or whatever it is.It turns out too many words just looks ugly. In a visual context. So, I made a rule at the beginning of this that I was going to use short sentences, short paragraphs, short amount per page. And made Google docs, look, you know, one page on a Google doc would be like one page in a book. I'll never forget, I showed my work of concise poetry when I was starting this off to the illustrator. And she looked at it, and Patty said, oh, my God, David, you just go on and on.And I'm like what do you mean? There are no words that here. What are you talking about? As she went through and slash slash slash. And so that was the challenge. I mean, it really changed my life. And the opportunity. How do you still tell stories? Still have clarity, still be specific. But with no words. Or with very, very, very words. It was an amazing process. Brian Ardinger: So, let's dig into some examples of some of the experiences that you've had working with companies using these particular techniques. First talk through how do people get on board or how do you get people on board with this particular concept? Because it is different than I would say the typical way folks approach innovation sometimes. David Cutler: I think it's pretty easy to get folks on board once they just warm to it. You know, the notion of a game which just feels playful is appealing. But also, a little bit scary for a lot of companies that were pretty seriously and have their own traditions of collaboration. In fact, what I hear from, you know, so many organizations is that they are focused on problems. But usually what happens is they'll say, here's the problem. What should we do? Of course, conversation jumps from topic to topic on the back of a frog. You know, someone has an idea. Someone hates that idea. Someone else loves it. We tried that 10 years ago. Someone else says, yeah, we should do that tomorrow. And of course, all of those ways of approaching problems are essential to the process, but not at the same time.And so, one of the tools that we use, we call them Great Gaming Goggles. And the idea is that there are five lenses of problem solving. Each one is a different color. And it's paired with a word that describes the activity that starts with the same letter. And the idea is that when you're working with a team, and you design a game to make sure that you're using just one lens at a time. So, they're all important. But not at the same moment. So, you can figure out are we wearing in this specific task or question or activity. Are we wearing the purple lens, which stands for propose, which is about creative idea generation. Are we wearing the green lens, which is about gathering it's about detective work. About learning the way that the world is and that it has been. Are we focused on feedback wearing a blue lens? Which means boost is about positive praise for an idea. Or a red lens, which is ripping. Is about constructive feedback. Or are we wearing the orange lens, which stands for own. Are we here to make a decision? Almost every organization I've ever seen is really good at some of those steps. And this goes for individuals too. And has a tricky time with other parts of it. So, there are some communities where they have so many ideas, but they can never decide on anything. So, they have all these half-started projects. They haven't actually gotten that much done. And then you see the flip side where they're very, very decisive. But they keep doing the same thing over and over.And so the process often starts by just exploring. You know, where have you been and what do you need to do. And then trying to figure out what format would work the best for. Brian Ardinger: Do you find it beneficial for this type of process to start from a team level? Or can anybody create a game? What are some of the best-case scenarios that you've seen of how to actually start using some of these techniques with an organization? David Cutler: You know it's a skill like anything else that gets better with practice. So not only solving problems but designing problem solving games. I think it could be a good idea to start with writing shorter games. We call them sprints. Two hours or less. And to figure out, you know, in a standard meeting, most meetings are what, an hour, 35 minutes, 15 minutes, something like that?I see meetings as a huge, overlooked opportunity. I think so many of us look at meetings as this necessary, but unfortunate evil. The bane of our existence. The low point of our week. And I think that a meeting should be the high point of your week. Because that's when you convene your talent, and you have the opportunity to work on teams and solve actual problems.So, I think a good place to start, if you are leading a meeting, Instead of doing the normal information dump at worst. Or at best maybe question and answer. To really think through, okay, we've got a 60-minute framework. What could we do? What are the steps that we would go through? So that by the end of 60 minutes, we're not going to have a detailed prototype. But could we actually solve some small part of some problem in 60 minutes. And feel like we have achieved something. Brian Ardinger: Well, and going through that particular exercise, I would imagine if nothing else, it gives people a different sense of time. And when you start seeing progress in a short amount of time, it makes other things possible for the next 60 minutes that you sit down. Things along those lines. David Cutler: Nothing ever gets done without brilliant people, but not quite enough time. I can give you an example of a game that I love to do that's maybe you can do in 25 minutes. Something I call Disaster Storm. And it has four steps. So, remember, you're asking one question at a time. So, we start off Disaster Storming by asking a group, maybe we're talking about podcasts. Maybe you're saying, you know, I have a good podcast. You have a great podcast, by the way. We want to make it even better. Right. Maybe that's the thing. I want to do something that's really going to catch fire and generate a lot of buzz. So normally what happens is you say, well, what should we do? Well with Disaster Storming the first step, you know, we often say in brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. But what about terrible ideas?You know, there's something about an idea that just puts a pit in your stomach, where you have an emotional reaction to it. Whereas good ideas or bad ideas, you can be more neutral too. But awful ideas, borderline illegal ideas. They really get a reaction. So, what I'll often do, let's say we're working with a group of 20 people or 50 people, is to position different teams. You know flip charts around the room. And the first question would be to brainstorm. Maybe we say, I want you to brainstorm the worst possible ideas you can imagine for Brian's next podcast. Right. Maybe to do it, you know, while sitting on top of a landmine. Or a while streaking through the halls or right. You know, face-to-face right after you eat some garlic. You know, whatever it is, what are the worst possible ideas that you can come up with? That's the first phase.So, they're only doing one. Then I have them flip places in the room. So, they rotate, and they inherit a list of terrible ideas. The next task that could take place at maybe 90 seconds is to find the most offensive, most terrible one and put an X by it.The next step is to start, and then we go through a process of transforming that terrible idea into an extraordinary idea. How do you go from something? And often they're very, very close. It takes something that has that emotional pull to get you to think of other kinds of extraordinary things. And then we go through a process where they design that idea. They figure out what's the big idea on top. What are some of the wow-ables that happen underneath? And then they share their idea. And in 30 minutes or less, often we will get more incredible ideas that most companies have gotten after weeks of struggling with a problem and maybe coming up with kind of variations of what they've always done. And it's really exciting. Brian Ardinger: Very interesting. One of the things that I always talk to our guests about is, and I get asked about when it comes to innovation, is they totally understand that the creativity portion of innovation and thinking differently and that, but a lot of it comes back to, well, how do we measure if we're on the right track or how do we measure these outcomes that we're actually making progress and that. I would imagine you have this objection to overcome when you talk about games. It's like, well, it's fun and that. So, it can't be worthwhile. So how do you talk about measuring outcomes in this particular environment? David Cutler: In fact, that would be a great topic for a game. Like to figure out how do we measure success as we move towards this goal. Those kinds of benchmarks are actually marked in the game. So, we often use criteria. I was talking about guidelines and how we designed the guidelines because the challenge, constraints, and criteria. Criteria is by clearly articulating what constitutes success. We don't know what the solution is, but we know what the desirable outcomes would be. I would argue the opposite that so much of the time outside of a game context we haven't articulated what we need to be doing. Yeah. We want to make more money or have more customers or get more hits on social media. But how do you know when you reach more? A great game will be very clear about what constitutes success on the front end without prescribing the solution. And there are actually two ways to write up criteria. One is with a shortlist and the other is with a long list. So, the idea of a short list is to say, you must keep all the constraints in mind. You must solve this problem. But to be really successful, you achieve this criteria? And so, you'll have some way to measure it. A long list, the idea is sometimes what usually will have in a short list. It'd be like three or four or five at the most criteria items. Like bullet points that are very easy to understand. And a long list you might have 10 or 20. Or 30 different criteria. And the idea is to hit as many of them as possible. So, in a well-designed game, you actually know how successful you've been at the end, because you've already defined that before playing it. Brian Ardinger: That's very good. We're living in a hybrid world now. Obviously with, folks going back into the office and that. But a lot of these types of techniques and that, there's an advantage to doing them face-to-face and that. What's been your experience and how to use these techniques in a more of a hybrid world. Or in a world where we can't be face to face.David Cutler: You know I'm an innovator to my core. I am nowhere nearly as creative as COVID 19. You know, I never imagined a world in which we had to be 6 to 12 feet apart. We'd be wearing these masks and the likes. And I view it, of course, it's been hard on all of us. And had very, very serious consequences. But I view it as a worthy adversary.I have this viewpoint that when you hit a wall, when something goes wrong, how can you have it help you come up with even better solutions right then if you didn't have that obstacle that was there. And so that's been my whole perspective throughout COVID. How can this make us better? Obviously, there are benefits to be online as well as deficits, but that's tricky because so much of what we do is, you know, very tactile and the likes. So, we started really leaning into, especially Zoom is the platform that we've used the most. And it doesn't do anything. We played a game, and it was for about 50 people. We had six teams that were on there and of course, one of the things that's great about Zoom is when you're in breakout rooms, everyone can come back and at the same moment everyone's back.So, it takes them a little longer to go into their own room than if they were just sitting at a table. But if you're in a physical space at the end, you have to get people's attention two or three times. But on Zoom, it's just like, boom. They're back. So, I remember hearing afterwards from people who went there. And it was just amazing.We wanted to show them, how do you make Zoom exciting? How do you make it work? Cause it's just, it's not inherently good or bad. It's just different. It's just a tool. And I think what happened when we went online, unfortunately, is that so many organizations, what they did was they took the worst parts of in-person, like the lecture, and brought it online. While losing some of the best parts, like the ability to interact and have side conversations. And the likes instead of, you know, saying what can this tool uniquely do? So afterwards, some of the people on this game would call us up and they would say, yeah, so I was talking to some friends, and I said, what did you do this weekend? And yeah, I just got off an innovation game. We played; it was six hours long on Zoom. People like what six hours. That's crazy. That's ridiculous. How was that? Like, it was amazing. You know, we got so much achieved. More than I did all of six months before that. But we spent a lot of time. We didn't have any solutions, you know, with a good game, you don't know what the actual solutions will be. You just designed in such a way that great solutions are almost guaranteed because of the kinds of questions that are. But we had to think about, you know, in a room when there's a question, someone can raise their hand and you can go over, and you can clarify that's trickier on breakout rooms in Zoom.So, we had to figure out a system so that we would type up documents ahead of time. So, they always knew what the task was and how many minutes they had. Had that kind of clarity because there's no, you know, front white board, it was amazing though. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: David, I really appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to kind of share some of this stuff. I encourage people to pick up the book if they are at all interested in innovation and some really tactical ways to make some progress. So, the book is called The Game of Innovation. I encourage people to pick it up. If people want to find out more about yourself, David, or about the book, what's the best way to do that.David Cutler: The easiest address I can give is And that way you'll find out information. There's a trailer for the book and some sample pages and a whole bunch of other information about solving problems with your team. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, David, again, thanks for being on the show. Looking forward to continuing the conversation in the future. David Cutler: Thanks so much Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books.
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Grant Botma. Grant is the Author of the new book, Work-life Harmony. Grant and I talk about the common problems with work-life balance. And some tactical tips for how to create harmony through the inevitable changes and opportunities that people face each year. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and that certainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Grant Botma, Author of Work-Life HarmonyBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Grant Botma. He is an entrepreneur and author of the new book called Work Life Harmony. Welcome to the show Grant. Grant Botma: Hey, thanks for having me on Brian. This is cool. Brian Ardinger: Grant with all the changes in technology and markets and environmental disruption that's going on in the world. We're trying to talk about what individuals can do to navigate and manage accelerated change. And I thought your book would fit in perfectly. This concept of work-life harmony. Grant Botma: Yeah, I think balance is great. It's something that all of us need to have in various areas of our life. The problem is somehow our society has made balance the goal. And that's the wrong target. Even the best balancer in the world who holds the Guinness Book of World Records. He fell out of balance. There are times where we fall out of balance. And the biggest travesty I think with that is when we do fall out of balance, because it isn't inevitable. We feel like a failure. We feel shame. We feel alone. And sometimes it prevents us from continuing to pursue the real goal, which is work-life harmony. Where we don't have a work life and a home life warring against each other all the time. But they're in harmony moving in one direction. Brian Ardinger: Well, I think a lot of folks are having to reevaluate that in their lives. You know, with COVID and all the changes when it comes to hybrid work. People are now both for good and bad trying to restart. Or we think about how they approach this particular topic. Why don't we talk a little bit about the book? And how you've outlined a number of different tactical concepts that people can go through to create this work-life harmony. Grant Botma: The biggest concept within the book, is to try to invite your family and your work into this purpose that you are on. What I espouse is that no matter who you are, no matter what you're doing with your work, a business does not exist unless you're serving somebody somewhere with a product or service, right?So, you are making an impact on somebody's life at somewhere down the line, through your business. And although profit is a great goal and a great thing to have with business, it's not the primary goal. You can still have profit, but not meet your purpose of genuinely serving people. And what we want to do is determine, okay, what does that impact we're making on folks?Let's put that in something that's simple that everybody in my life that's important can understand. Including but not limited to my coworkers and my team at home. And then you want to create intentional systems and processes. And also have some very tactical things that you can do throughout your week, month and year. To make sure everybody's invited in this mission together. And you're all going in the same direction, and everybody has good expectations managed. That's kind of the big thing.Brian Ardinger: I had a chance to skim through the book a little bit. And you do break it down for folks how to think about this, because I think it's very easy to struggle with. I know I have to manage my household. I know I have to manage all the work-related things that are happening. But how do I go about doing that? And one of the particular topics is you have what you call is like creating your ideal year calendar. Grant Botma: Yeah, this has been a huge thing for me and my wife. But then also it's something I make sure all of my employees do as well. That's where you look at the year to come. And instead of putting things specific on this day, at this time. I'm going to go to go here. It's understanding what are my priorities for this year, both in work and at home. And making sure that you say, okay, during this time of year, I'm going to focus in on this priority and make sure I do that.But then in this time of year, I'm going to focus in on this other priority and make sure I do that. So, an example is I take my kids out on a birthday trip every year around their birthday. And again, this ideal year calendar I'm not putting the exact date of when I'm going to go on the trip with them, but I know it's around their birthday.I'm going to say with my son Parker, his birthday, September 15th. Sometime in or around September 15th, I'm going to go on a trip with him. And it's not going to be something that lasts a week. It's just something where I spend one or two nights with him and maybe we go out of town. Maybe we stay here locally. Where I just focused on him. And I ask him some intentional questions about how I'm doing as a father. I might have some intentional questions about him based on where things are going in his life. But really, it's just, I'm pausing and I'm focusing on him. And I have that priority for each of my three children, but then also my wife during our anniversary.But I also have some priorities that work to where I get together with my other business partners and founders. And we do a trip. And we ask some intentional questions, and we focus in on what we want our business year to look like. I'd say the biggest thing with the Ideal Year Brian is understanding that I have busy seasons. Communicating to my family ahead of time. These are my busy seasons. So that I can get the support needed before, during, and after those busy seasons as well. Those are just a few of the things that are in that. Ideally your calendar, Brian Ardinger: And so, the idea of zooming out and getting the big picture at the beginning of the year, so to speak. And blocking time from that. Is it blocking time? Or is it more along the lines of here's the ebbs and flows and things that are going to be part of the year that we know coming up. And then a plan from that? Grant Botma: Yeah, it's expectation management. Brian, think of it this way. So, harmony, we're going to talk about music for a second. If I asked my wife and kids to sing a note, they'll do it because they love me, and they'll sing. And they'll keep singing and they'll keep singing. But eventually they'll stop. And when they stop singing, I'll look at them like, why did you guys stop?And they'll say, well, I got tired. And you didn't tell me how long to sing for. But if I tell them ahead of time, hey guys, I need you to sing a note. I need you to just sing it at this tune. I need you just sing it for this long. Chances are there'll be able to sing it longer because their expectations were managed. But they'll perform a whole lot better. And I won't get upset if they stop singing because we have expectations managed. That's what the Ideal Year Calendar is. It's saying, hey, during this time year, I'm going to focus here. And afterwards we're going to celebrate together because of that purpose that I'm on. We're going to talk about all the impact that was made during that busy season. And then at this time, I'm going to be focusing on over here with you guys doing our birthday trips and that. It's expectation management. Telling them how long we're going to sing notes for and what those notes are going to be. Brian Ardinger: So in situations, obviously you're an entrepreneur, you know, very well a lot of this stuff can't be planned. And what happens beginning of the year, what is not necessarily what's going to happen at the end of the year from your expectations or otherwise. How do you go about managing the expectations of the fact that they're going to change? That these things are going to have to change. Grant Botma: I love that. This is the reason why I actually rarely create goals outside of 90 days. Because the world changes so much that the likelihood that I will be able to make every single one of those goals happen over the next 12 months is very, very low. In the book, I repeat over and over and over again. Your goal is to do this at 70%. If you can live out 70% of your Ideal Year, that's way better than zero intentions on nothing planned and you're just drifting throughout your year. So, you do expectation management and hey, this is what we would ideally, the Ideal Year, would like to live out. This is not the exact year. It doesn't have the dates in there. And we're going to do our best to live by this. But obviously life happens. And when that does happen, we'll make adjustments together. Brian Ardinger: Do you see different tactics coming to bear? Let's say the beginning of a journey, for example, you know, you're just starting out with your startup or launching a new product or something along those lines. Versus maybe you have an established career. There are more knowns versus at an early starting stage. Are the tactics different? Grant Botma: Oh, for sure. So, part of the reason why I went on this work-life harmony journey is my wife, her brother, is handicap. He's disabled. And he was injured in a medical accident when he was 11 years old. So, when I went to go ask for permission to marry her. When I went to talk with her parents, I also asked if I could be his caretaker when the time came.So, my wife and I, we didn't have any choice to get good at work-life harmony. This was something that we've decided that we wanted to do. And we had to get better at it each and every year. And when you're a business owner, you know, especially at the beginning, you've got to grind, and you've got to go. And there's a lot more busy seasons than there aren't. But we knew that we needed to be in a place where I could have as much flexibility as possible when the time came to be able to care for, his name's Daniel. When the time came. Yes, it's a journey. This is a journey that my wife and I have been on for basically 17 years now. And every year we do our best to get better at it. And in the book, there's a chapter called evaluations. And with those evaluations, I say that there's four questions that you should be asking.What can I do more of? What can I do less of? What can I add? And what can I remove? And if you look at your last Ideal Year and how it got lived out. You then before creating the next Ideal Year, can you use those four questions to evaluate on how you want to grow. And how you want to adjust. Based on that season of life or the season that your business is in.I couldn't take a month off in the spring and a month off in the fall, like I do now, when I first started my business. These are things that have evolved and changed. And it wasn't like, oh, I just arrived and started taking a month off. It was okay, let's take a full week, unplug. One time during the year and see how that goes.Right. And then we evaluate and adjust it and then we add it to that. And then, oh yeah, let's get to a point where I'm taking a full month off, at one point. I did that. And we adjusted it, added to it. Then we went from a month to a month. And then two weeks later on in September. The last several years has been two months off. And again, I've been a 17-year process to grow and get to that point based on seasons and proper evaluation. Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk about the business side of this. So, you talked a lot about how this can be played out in your family side for the work-life harmony side. But obviously work-life, work is a portion of that as well. How do these tactics change? And how do you execute on this in the work environment? Grant Botma: Yeah. One of my frustrations with work-life balance type topics is they all basically equate to this. Hey, stop working so much. And I don't want to do that. I like working. And I'm good at it. And I enjoy it. I believe I was created to contribute.And again, I believe that business is something that allows me to make a really great impact on people's lives. I find lots of joy in that. That's my purpose. I don't want to stop working. I just want to be as intentional and as efficient and as biggest impact I can possibly make. And just like I do evaluations, and focus with my family, birthdays and anniversaries.I also do evaluations and focus, like I said, with my leadership and with my team. Every year, we're still asking those same questions. What can we do more of, what can we do less of, what can we add, and what can we remove? And as we evaluate our business over the past year and think about what we want our business to look like in the next year. We're taking that same intention and same focus that I do on my home life, that I'm also doing in my work life.And the cool part is with the tool of the Ideal Year Calendar. It's not just something I share with my family. It's also something I share with my business partners, my employees. And it's something that we all do as a team. All of my employees do. So much so that we get to celebrate each other as they take trips with their family. Or they do take focus time with their family. But also, we all know when to support each other, when we are in our busy seasons. Or in that really grinding time to try to finish out a project or whatever it may be. Brian Ardinger: How do you work in clients and customers to that particular thing? Because obviously they're not going to have necessarily access to understanding that. Sometimes their needs conflict with what you want to do. Or what the business wants to do. How do you involve the customer with this? Grant Botma: The first thing, I make sure I do is I don't hide from the customer that I'm a real human, like they are. I want to connect with my customers as often as I possibly can. And sometimes that is as simple as, like I mentioned in the book, is if I'm on a phone call or if I'm in an interview or whatever else, if I get interrupted by my children or something, I'm not going to yell at them.I'm going to ask for some grace from the client. And then I'm going to talk to my son who might've interrupted me and say, hey, I'm on the phone with Mr. Doe. And actually, we're talking about something that's really important. We to try to change his life through this advice. And through that thing. I'm going to finish this phone call with him and then I'll get back to you. Okay, buddy. You know, I'm going to be intentional with how I communicate to my family when I'm on the phone with the client and let the client hear that. And I'm not going to apologize for it to the client either. Like this is life, right. But then also, for my role in my business and the ambassador of our brand, and I'm doing podcasts interviews like this, and I'm writing books and writing blogs and creating videos and YouTube and being very vocal on social media.I don't have a delineation between my business and my home. It's one life that I live. And whenever I'm communicating in the public about this mission and this purpose that I'm on. Not like a different mission over here and a different focus over there. It's one thing, one focus. I don't have a bunch of different masks that I wear as I'm engaging with clients or when I'm engaging with my friends on the golf course. Or when I'm engaging with my family at home. I might use a little bit different language here or there. Right. But I'm not going to be a different person. I'm the same guy everywhere. And that's super important too. Brian Ardinger: So, obviously this is something very personal and passionate to you. And obviously you came up with some ways that could help you as an individual and as a family and a company live these values and live these tactics. So, talking to a company out there, or maybe some of our audience members who haven't thought about work-life harmony in this particular way and that. How do you start building that initial company culture or family culture around these particular initiatives? Grant Botma: The biggest thing is you let them know you care. And the way that you do that is start small. So, an example that I give in the book. So, in every chapter I give what's called a quick win. One of those quick wins is something that I call One Kid Up. And this is awesome. It's a ton of fun. It takes next to no extra time and energy from you. So, I'm not going to tell you to work less remember. But it's something that allows you to let your kids know that you care.So, we have three children and once a week we do something called One Kid Up. Where we put the other two kids to bed a little bit earlier. We don't tell them they have to go to sleep. They're a little bit older now, but we do tell them that stay in the room. But one of the kids gets to stay up with mom and dad.And during that time, we might have intentional conversations with them. Or we're going to talk to them about drugs, alcohol, sex, all the things. But we also might just take the time to just watch their favorite YouTube channel. Or play a board game. Or make a fun dessert after dinner. Either way, it's just focused time with them.And rather than putting everybody to bed, say at nine o'clock, I just tell two of them to go to their room at 8:30 and then there's 30 minutes that me and mom have with the kid and its focused time. And when we put them to bed after that focus time, the big thing that we want them to hear and know from us is we love you. We care about you and you’re important. I think that's a great place to start. And weaving those little intentional actions in to your rhythms, another chapter in the book that you do every single week, every single quarter, and every single year. You can build on those every year. As you continue to try to get better at work-life harmony, this journey that we're all on.Brian Ardinger: So, let's pivot a little bit and talk about your company, Stewardship. It's included a couple of times on the Inc 500 fastest growing company list. You have innovated in a lot of different areas. Why don't you tell the folks a little bit about what Stewardship is and some of the innovations that you're focusing on right now. Grant Botma: Yeah. So, Stewardship is a group of several different companies. It's a independent mortgage brokerage. An insurance Agency. And investment advisory. They're all independent for purpose so that we can be true fiduciary to our clients and give them the best advice, products and service possible without any bias to us financially. We like to tell our community, we do home loans, insurance, and investments with wisdom and love.And one of the new initiatives that we're working on right now is starting a real estate company. And the reason why we're starting this is because we saw a problem in our community. There was a need. And now we're going to fill that need. And it's not necessarily more real estate agents or competition with real estate agents.It's actually a new program that helps people be able to buy their next home while still living in their current home. They'll get early access to the equity from their current home, for the down payment on the new home. For upgrades to the new home. And they can have those upgrades done while they're still living in their current home. And they don't have to worry about trying to move twice or self first and then live with in-laws or storage and all the things that are associated with that. And then they don't have to try to sell their home while they're living in it and be ready to show it on a moment's notice because somebody coming by to check it out and you have to make sure it's clean. And now my kid's napping. And then what I do with the dog. It's a way of selling your current home and buying the next one in the most seamless way possible. It's been several years in the making. A lot of that has come through some of those annual founders’ events that I do with my business partners and asking the four questions that I mentioned before. And we're excited to be launching that here in a few weeks. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Well, it's exciting to hear again, that you're continuing to innovate and living the stuff that you're producing out there in the world. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what's the best way to do that.Grant Botma: You know, I'm very active on social media. You can find me on Instagram or Twitter @GrantBotma. Thank you for pronouncing my name correctly at the beginning of the podcast. Yeah. So, you can follow me there or on Facebook. And I'm very active in my direct messages. So, if anybody has questions, you can do that. Brian Ardinger: We'll Grant, thank you very much for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Sharing your thoughts and wisdom. Looking forward to continuing the conversation in the future. Grant Botma: Yeah. Thank you, Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  We use Amazon Affiliate links for books.
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Dr. Shameen Prashantham, Author of Gorillas Can Dance. We talk about the benefits, opportunities, and challenges, corporates and startups face when trying to partner, grow, and innovate together. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is a podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Dr. Shameen Prashantham, Author of Gorillas Can DanceBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Dr. Shameen Prashantham. He's the author of a new book called Gorillas Can Dance: Lessons from Microsoft and other Corporations on Partnering with Startups. Welcome to the show.Shameen Prashantham: Thanks so much, Brian. Great to be on your show. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show for a lot of different reasons. One is your book of course. But also, you've been doing a lot of research into the area of startup corporate collaboration as your role as a professor of international business and strategy and Associate Dean at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. So, I wanted to start off the conversation with what got you interested in researching this intersection between startups and corporates and innovation. Shameen Prashantham: You know, Brian, I decided to go down the path of academia when I was in my late twenties. And then I did a PhD in Scotland. About how startups went international. And this was a topic that was gaining traction at the time. But I did my research in an international business unit that had made its names by studying large companies. Particularly large us multinationals that had established a presence in Scotland. It appeared to me as I was completing my doctoral work, that we were making an artificial distinction between these two sets of companies. Certainly, they occupied very different worlds in a way and had very different realities, but I was beginning to see some weak signals of the prospect of collaboration. And so, by about 2005, which is when I graduated with my PhD. I began to ask why are we studying these different companies separately. And in Scotland, there was a recognition by policy makers even, that for example, IBM, which had been around for a few decades or Sun Microsystems, they too were trying to actually do more innovation in their far-flung subsidiaries.And one way to do that would be to connect with local innovative startup, that we're quite keen to gain some access to the commercial muscle of these large companies. And so that was when I began to observe this possibility, this potential. And I found it fascinating and just sort of stuck with it. Brian Ardinger: One of the core premises of your book and your research is how do large companies stay innovative? And you're saying that more and more companies are looking at startups as a way to inject innovation into their core. Talk more about what you've learned through your research. Shameen Prashantham: Initially when I started looking for examples. I think they were really happy accidents. You know, you had unusually entrepreneurial manager in a subsidiary of a multinational thinking, gosh, we've surely gotta be able to do more than we can in terms of innovation, but there's a chicken and egg problem.Headquarters isn't going to give us the mandate to do more innovation unless we have the capabilities. But we are not going to be able to build the capabilities unless we have a mandate. Some of these guys were saying, well, let's just fly under the radar a little bit and try and dabble with some innovation by our collaboration with local startups.And they were able to do that, fairly inexpensively. The local startups were interested to do this. And I published an article called Dancing with Gorillas in 2008. Mainly from the point of view of the startups. But from that point onwards, what I began to notice, interestingly was the big company is gradually started saying, well, actually, why don't we do this more systematically?And the company that I have studied the longest is Microsoft. So coincidentally, 2008 was the year they introduced BizSpark which was their first major programmatic initiative for startups. Partly driven by a concern that the open software movement was going to cause problems. Give startups and alternative in terms of software tools. So, they were giving away software tools for free. But I think that became an important start. This was managed out of Silicon Valley under the leadership of Dan'l Lewin who was a Silicon Valley insider brought into Microsoft to engage with startups. And then what I observed over time is companies like Microsoft, which were, I think pioneers in this area, had a combination of top-down initiatives run by people like Dan'l out of Silicon Valley and bottom-up initiatives championed, for example, by managers in Israel who felt they really ought to tap into the fantastic potential for entrepreneurship in their region. And then things developed. And then I came across SAP doing something for startups out of Silicon Valley and so on. But the other thing that became interesting more in the last sort of five to seven years is that companies in traditional industries, automotive, banking, fast moving consumer goods.Especially around 2015, I began to notice startup programs, being initiated by them too. Partly as a response to the digital disruption. And they too felt, you know, they recognize the need to be much more innovative, agile, and entrepreneurial while they were introducing intrapreneurship programs. There was no reason not to also tap into the entrepreneurial energy in startups on the outside. Brian Ardinger: Well, you definitely seem to have this change, this rise of startups, and the rise of startup ecosystems I think helped bring this to the forefront of companies as well, where you saw more and more companies getting up and going faster than ever before. And the ability to start things, create things, build things, I think put a spotlight on startups in a way that hasn't been in the past. You mentioned it started, you know, a lot with the technology companies looking at startups as a core opportunity and that. Now it's been moving on to other realms. Other industries and that. What are you seeing when it comes to what's working and what's not working when it comes to partnering with startups?Shameen Prashantham: Great question. And just to briefly comment on what you said. I think I absolutely, right. My comments earlier, maybe emphasize more the demand side of things. You know, the big companies recognizing the need to be more entrepreneurial. But on the supply side, definitely we've seen more startups coming to the floor.And I think cloud computing is one of the game changers, and I think that's how Microsoft became more and more interested as well. And you know, the fact that Satya Nadella ran the cloud business, when it wasn't a thing in Microsoft, and then later became CEO also made this much more central to what they were doing. But in terms of what works and what doesn't work, I think in companies like Microsoft, but the other ones as well, BMW, Unilever, Walmart. So whole bunch of industries. I think what I've noticed is this. There is a Paradox of Asymmetry. That these big companies that have encountered at one point or another. And the Paradox of Asymmetry is that the very differences that make it attractive to work together. For example, the startups of agility and the large companies of scale, those very differences actually make it difficult, or at least not straightforward for these very different types of entities to work together. For this to work companies have to overcome these asymmetries. And so, what works. It's basically the efforts to overcome the symmetries. And I've identified three. An Asymmetry of Goals. These different companies want different things. And importantly, at different timescales. There's an Asymmetry of Structure. Is very difficult to find role counterparts. And what I call an Asymmetry of Attention, which is the big companies, the notion of startups out there. They aren't sure which ones are worthy of their managerial attention. The startups have a different problem, which is how do I get the attention of the people who matter within the company? And so, the companies that have clarified the synergy, the so-called, win-win very clearly. The companies that have put in place partner interfaces, so that startups know who the first port of call is. And the companies that have very deliberately intentionally cultivated success stories. Exemplars fairly early on. Are the ones I think that have met with more success. Because the synergy helps to address the Asymmetry of Goals. The interface helps to address the Asymmetry of Structure and having these exemplars, showing what success can look like to both parties help to address the Asymmetry of Attention.Brian Ardinger: I think that's so important. When I work with startups oftentimes earlier on, I would say, don't even think about working with a corporation until you understand who you should be talking to. And because it can very easily take you off track. The timelines of how a startup executes versus a timeline of a multinational corporation are significantly different and can take a startup in the wrong direction if they're not prepared for that. You mentioned that the companies that you saw that were doing the best work, had identified someone in the corporation or a group within the corporation to help be that Sherpa for a startup to help navigate that. Is that being driven by the locality of the locations? Is it being driven by business units? Is it being driven by the top down saying here's how we want to interface? Or talk a little bit about how companies have actually structured that Sherpa role. Shameen Prashantham: I love that metaphor. I've seen both. For example, a BMW. It was sort of top-down because an initiative driven out of Munich in Germany. Where it was very interesting in terms of the people who are driving this. And there was a pair. So, there's this guy called Gregor Gimmy, who was really the public face of the initiative.A BMW Startup Garage was created in 2015. In fact, I just sent an email, I think, to info@BMWStartupGarage and said I'm doing a lot of work on this. I've notice that you've started this. Can we talk? And Gregor replied immediately. And I would see him on the videos. But only when I got to Munich and met him in person, did I realize there was this other guy in the background, Mathias Mayer. And they were such different personalities, but I think you needed both. Gregor had worked for IDEO in Silicon Valley. He was very gregarious. He was the guy that startups could identify with. Mathias on the other hand, Dr Mathias Mayer. As you know, many German managers have PhDs. He was the BMW insider. I think who was the Sherpa for the interface in the company. To navigate the internal politics and so on. And I think that's why it works in that case. So, that's an example of top down. But there's also been bottom up. I mentioned Israel in the case of Microsoft, but also here in China, Walmart came up with an interesting program called Omega Eight. To deal with Chinese startups to help improve the customer experience in the stores, for example.But one of the things they were very clear was we have to do things differently in China. Speed, for example, is of the essence. And so they would put in place practices, like we will work with startups who can do only one pilot for us at a given point in time. And need to do it in 60 days. And that was actually very reassuring for the startups who were always worried that these big multinationals would be soon moving.And I think the last visit that Doug McMillan, the Walmart CEO made to China pre pandemic, was in 2019. And they showcase some of the startups working with Walmart. And so really, I think both are possible. But I think the key is having people who can on the one hand show empathy and connect with the startups on the outside. But also have the ability to deal with the internal piece and the politics and the communication and getting buy-in from people.Brian Ardinger: Yeah, it's interesting that you're seeing different examples having success, but, but taking a slightly different take on it. For example, like, you know, the BMW Garage, my understanding with that program is when they came out, it was unlike your traditional corporate accelerator or corporate venture, where they would invest in a startup.They would look for companies and then would help them become partners and basically get through the red tape of becoming a preferred vendor, for example. And helping that particular part of it versus just capital thrown at the startup. And then you have other examples, like you said Microsoft, that are offering tools and services at a discount to start that communication and start that partnership with startups. What role are you seeing corporate venture playing in this? Shameen Prashantham: It's a great question. And the honest truth is the vast majority of my work has been on non-equity partnering. So, offering that doesn't involve equity. And the distinction between what Microsoft is doing and BMW is doing can be thought of as a distinction between cohorts and.And the way I explained this to my classes, a cohort is like an MBA class. You know, getting in is difficult, but once you get in, it's a time bound program where the curriculum, pretty much everybody who starts the program ends the program and peer interaction is a key part of this. And I think that's the way Microsoft went about their accelerators, for example. But BMW's is more like a funnel, which is like the job search process. After an MBA, many fewer complete the process than begin. You get screened out along the way, and you may not know who else is part of the process. And each has its advantages and disadvantages. I think with the cohort type program, you're more likely to have serendipity. So, you may have two startups that didn't know each other from before forming a three-way partnership in the course of the accelerator program. But I think with the funnel, you have more predictability and I think that's what BMW went for. And you're absolutely right. They pioneered this idea of being a venture client. And so one of the key things they were doing was connecting startups with business units or innovation teams within BMW, who actually would be interested to work with them, but also made sure that they got a supplier number. Which most startups would not be able to do.Corporate Venture Capital traditionally has tended to come into play at a slightly later stage. BMW had i ventures, even before BMW Startup Garage, but the impression I got was the BMW Startup Garage were talking to people, startups with say a series A round of funding. i Ventures was coming in at B or later. That being said, particularly over the past year. I've seen corporate venturing now growing around the world. And I'm seeing the non-equity partnering guys working with more and more mature startups and some of these corporate venture capital guys working with younger startups than before. And so perhaps going forward, we'll see a little bit of a blurring of distinctions, but just one last comment on this. I asked a guy at Silicon Valley Bank who knows a lot about corporate venture capital at one point, what do you think about the role of CBC? And should I be involving that much more in my work? And his answer to me was you can partner without investing, but you can't invest without partnering. And so that's the important thing to focus on. And so, I guess whether you're investing or not, the key is to have this collaborative mindset when engaging with startups.Brian Ardinger: When I talk to a lot of companies, they are interested in trying to figure out, like, how do we start this process? They know that they should be looking outside their own organization to start maybe partnering with startups and that. Or, or even just to keep their own workforce more in line with the entrepreneurial mindset and that. What are some of the early things that a company can be doing to start the process of becoming more adept at navigating the startup landscape? Shameen Prashantham: I think it's a little bit like what Simon Sinek says. You know, think big, start small, but start. One of the things to do, whether it's bottom up or top down is to, especially for people who are relatively new to this scheme, which has now been going on for a while, is to look for shortcuts.So back when Walmart decided to engage with startups in China, they took a little bit of a shortcut to get going. They made tracks to the Microsoft Accelerator and said, do you guys have startups in your portfolio who might be relevant to us? And of course, from Microsoft's point of view, this was great. Because they want their startups to use more Azure and things like that and do work for big other big companies.So, they identified eight startups from their alumni who did retail tech. And brought them together with Walmart for the weekend. They call it a Hackathon. But I mean, it's basically interaction so that the Walmart people got to know these startups and vice versa. And then from that pool, they identified three startups that would work on a pilot within 60 days.And so, within the span of a quarter, there was something pretty tangible that had been achieved to make a stop. And I think that's the sort of approach that helps to overcome the inertia to go beyond talk and start doing things. Because then you can assess what's working. What doesn't? Does this make sense going forward? And you don't even need the blessing from above to be able to do this in the case of Walmart, this was a subsidiary level initiative. So, either way, I think it makes sense to start small to start specifically. But then if there is genuine intent to do this on a systematic large scale, then it becomes important to get buy-in from the organization as well.Otherwise, these things just stay small and that's where getting buy-in from top managers, as well as other business unit managers, who can provide the meaningful opportunities and even building awareness more generally within the organization. Because you can get mentors into these programs from other departments just to help startups get a better feel for the company. And so I think it's a combination of making sure you make a stop, but then be if you're really serious about it, then building on it to replicate this and even do this in other parts of the company. Brian Ardinger: You're based in Shanghai. And my question is what have you seen coming from different markets? Are the tactics or the strategies different in a newer startup ecosystem that a company is in versus a more established startup ecosystem, like the Valley or other places around the world? What are you seeing from the ecosystem perspective? Shameen Prashantham: Both Thailand and India have actually been very interesting. Ecosystems with a lot of energy over the past decade. Yes, you're quite right. That these newer ecosystems have a slightly different vibe. I say this in a positive way. There's less maturity in the sense that you're more likely to find first time entrepreneurs here than say in Silicon Valley or Israel.But on the other hand, they're also trying new things that populations have leapfrogged the PCE route in many respects. And so sometimes, with payments. For example, you find both in India, some innovations that are interesting and which Western companies find very interesting to be able to address. However, because the ecosystem has the great appetite, but it's still evolving then to some extent there may be a little bit more handholding involved because the startups have less familiarity with working with the corporate. Also, and this is true of China, then most of the places. There might be some distinct local ecosystem players, like in the case of China, Baidu, Alibaba, TenCent.And so, making sure that that is factored in, which is generally not a problem, it's just about recognizing that you have to take that into account. The other thing of course, is that in emerging markets, the rule of non-market players can be very important too. And I mean, by that particularly government and policy makers. And the other thing to note is that distinction between the national policymakers as well, and top policy makers at the local level and the latter are also very important.And so, what that can mean is opportunities that you wouldn't necessarily think would be possible yet are off the beaten track. So, the equivalent of Silicon Valley in China used to be Zhongguancun in Beijing, the soft, well it probably, when you were in Asia, was referred to as the Silicon Valley of China. And now Shenzhen, also claims to this move with a hardware focus. But in a place like Ningbo which is in Zhejiang Province, the same province that has Hanjo the city where Alibaba is headquartered. Ningbo been known for entrepreneurship for a long time for centuries, but it's never been a tech entrepreneurship hub. Yet even there I've seen IBM partner with startups because local policymakers are so entrepreneurial. They leveraged their smart city program and brought these actors together. And that creates opportunities you don't necessarily see in other parts of the world. And so, by being aligned to the differences, but also the novelty in these markets, both in terms of the technologies they're working with, but also the different parts of the region that has talent, I think companies with the global mindset, can actually tap into a lot of these emerging ecosystems. And Africa, I think is another very interesting story as well. And we are going to see more and more interesting examples from there too. Brian Ardinger: You've been spending a lot of time in this space. What are some of the trends that you're looking to see in the coming years?Shameen Prashantham: So, I think digitalization was the big driver of corporate startup partnering in this past decade. I think in the 2020s, sustainability might have a similar effect. And, you know, just before the pandemic hit, the United Nations said the 2020s is the decade of action. We need to accelerate. our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals and then boom, the pandemic hit, which has made it a more challenging yet more important and urgent in a way.And you know, in November, there was the climate change conference in Glasgow. Which is a reminder that whatever the geopolitical tensions and differences that exists on certain matters, like climate change, it'll be important to set aside differences and work together. And I think climate tech startups working with large companies is going to be very important. A steel company had reached out to me and said, you know, we're desperately trying to engage with startups. Point us to any that you know. So to me, this is going to be actually the key driver and which is why regions all over the world, you know, the Valley, mature ecosystem like that. Or emerging ecosystems in Africa. And everything in between. And I think that's going to come into play and be very important. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: The book Gorillas Can Dance is a fascinating book. Its got some great examples, great tactics. I encourage people to pick that up. If people want to find out more about yourself or about the book, what's the best way to do that?Shameen Prashantham: and I'm also on LinkedIn.Brian Ardinger: Fantastic, Dr. Prashantham, thank you very much for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Looking forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come and appreciate all your time today. Shameen Prashantham: Thanks so much, Brian. I thoroughly enjoy it.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. 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On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Jackie Miller, Program Director of the Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On Deck. She's also a former corporate innovator at Chobani and Chanel. Jackie and I talk about the ups and downs of corporate innovation and the benefits that a community of peers can bring to helping both startups and corporates navigate today's fast-paced world of change. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast, to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Jackie Miller, Program Director of the Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On DeckBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Jackie Miller. She is the Program Director of Corporate Innovation Fellowship at On Deck. Which is an accelerator for startups and careers. Welcome to the show, Jackie.Jackie Miller: Thanks, Brian. Happy to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show to talk about this amazing On Deck Program focused on Corporate Innovation. You've got some heavy chops in corporate innovation yourself. I know a lot of our audience is familiar with the startup scene and what's going on in corporate innovation.And they may have even heard about On Deck. Because I know over the last year on-deck has been putting on a variety of different accelerator types of programs. And now this move into corporate innovation. Maybe start off with telling us a little about what is On Deck? Jackie Miller: Yeah, absolutely. I was really excited to discover it existed. To your point, like working in the corporate innovation space, you're always a few steps away or immersed in like the startup ecosystem and world.But I think that what On Deck is doing is something really unique and special. On Deck was founded by Erik Torenberg. He was early, employee number one at Product Hunt. And later founded Village Global VC firm. So, really immersed in this space. And started On Deck or the vision for On Deck as a series of live dinners for founders, founders in between, people, ambitious people, thinking about their next move. And started with some like in-person IRL dinners that quickly kind of grew outside of San Francisco. And clearly was filling a need. Then in the pandemic, really accelerated this community to become a virtual global one. Right? The idea that there was such demand for this leveling up. Finding your next thing. And connecting with the right people, and ideas. So that really created the On Deck momentum that has brought us to today.It started with founders. A community for founders. And then quickly grew from there. So, we raised our Series A about a year ago, and now we have a startup accelerator. Yes. Which we announced recently. But we see ourselves as, like you said, as a career accelerator. So, there are programs for Chiefs of Staff, Product Managers, Designers, Marketers, Business Development, and now Corporate Innovation. Sort of designed to help people, whether you're starting a company or joining a company or kind of growing an existing company. How do you level up? How do you connect with your peers? And how do you find the safe space for digging into some of those ideas? And this is exactly the kind of thing I think, as you and your listeners probably know, could add a ton of value to corporate innovators.Brian Ardinger: I've followed On Deck from the beginning. Has a lot of different overlap with some of the audience as far as things that we talk about as trends. Whether it's no code or podcasts, or angel investing. And all these types of multitalented types of people that have this intersection of building things.And so, when you came to me and said, hey, we've got this corporate innovation fellowship spinning up, what do you think of it? I'm super excited to be part of it. And why is there a need for a corporate innovation fellowship versus anything else that's out there? Jackie Miller: You know, as you mentioned, I spent some time doing this at Chanel, spent the last few years in this space. And will probably be a surprise to no one that innovation in a corporate context can be really challenging. Right? The idea that every time I talk to people in this space. Both my colleagues at the time and my peers at other orgs. You quickly kind of realized that what people were looking for was moral support. Like this is almost envisioned as a support group, right? Like-minded builders who are navigating the same internal politics. Sometimes it's such a relief to hear. I was talking to someone the other day who described it as like, I feel like a unicorn in a forest. Find the other unicorns. Where they live and what they're doing. It's a really comforting and motivating, energizing feeling. And, you know, you mentioned following obviously the startup space. There sometimes it feels like we're drowning in startups, right? There's so many out there, but finding really good, vetted enterprise ready startups and having mutually beneficial outcomes with them is really hard too. As we all know, there's a big cultural difference there. So, there's a need for a better interface between corporates and startups.We know both sides want to work together. But more often than not, it's hard to integrate those two worlds. Which usually comes down to the very, not so sexy part of innovation. Which is really like internal processes, infrastructure, and governance. I've always found that it comes down to this and none of us are reinventing the wheel with how you strategize and plan around that. But it's really hard to know what works and where the roadblocks are. And to your, you know, No Code mention on some of the other trends, I think all of this is intersecting around emerging tech. And like trends that are impacting brands. And, and why they even have to think about innovation. So, all of this to say, like there's a lot going on here. We're all facing the same challenges. Wanted to take down the innovation theater and buzzwords. And create a space for real talk about what's going on. Brian Ardinger: I think the other trend that this is really hitting on is this whole move to education. You know, this changing trend of education. And like you said, career paths. You know, we talk a lot about this slash career or this portfolio career that people are having to embrace because change is happening so fast. And you used to be able to get a degree and continue your career for 20 years. And that'd be good. But nowadays, everything's changing so fast. You need to have outlets to learn new skills and things along those lines. So that's another thing I really liked about what On Deck's doing is again, it's not focused on one particular thing. Even though you do get the depth, but you'll also have the opportunity to see what else is out there and strengthen your skills in different ways. Let's dive into a little bit about what this particular program is all about. Who's it for? What's entailed. Things like that. Jackie Miller: In terms of who's part of this community and who we're seeking to be part of the community, we're casting a pretty wide net with innovation, right? We're looking at people who are a little bit further along in their career. This is probably Director Level and above. People who have eight years, maybe more, of experience. They've been at this for a while. And the title or duties could include everything from Innovation to Growth Strategy or Corporate Development. Labs, Venture, Transformation, the kind of Future of. You know, I joke that there's so many new titles in this space. My title at Chanel was Head Innovation Catalyst. It's a lot of innovation within innovation. So, we're casting a pretty wide net. But the personas essentially are anyone who is an active practitioner in innovation. Which I think is an important distinction. There's a lot of service providers and other folks that are part of the ecosystem, who are great, and we want to work with, but for starters, we want to focus on those innovators who are actively in these roles at large companies or organizations. And the three personas that we think they fall into are the culture and capabilities, which is that internal building, internal focused approach. And building and incubating new ideas, businesses, and ventures. And then lastly that investing in and acquiring more of your Corp Dev venture kind of side of things.So, it's a pretty big umbrella. Sometimes as you probably know and have seen like one person is all three of those things, depending on like the structure of any given innovation practice. So, we recognize that it's broad. And there's a lot of variety there. We want to have lots of opportunities to bring those people together. But also segment and do some really curated sessions and content for different ones.But I think beyond just those types of folks in those types of roles. What's important to us is, you know, I mentioned that innovation theater and avoiding the innovation theater trap, is people who really have a mandate to build and scale their innovation projects. Especially with startups. And I think that's part of the value of the On Deck community.People who are really tasked with that. They have the budget. And the time and the mandate to do that. That's where we think we can have the most impact. And, you know, Spirit of Service is one of our core values. It's yes. It's about learning, achieving your goals, and growing and making progress, in your own career, but that's only possible in a community like this when you can support. There's a lot of peer-to-peer support, learning, exchange. So that kind of Spirit of Service and bringing things to the community, will be a key filter too. Brian Ardinger: That's pretty exciting, because again, I've looked around and I haven't seen a lot of frameworks out there that really do approach and have that Inside Outside approach. I've seen a lot of people focused on internal innovation. And how do you do design thinking inside of a company, things like that. I've seen that these corporate venture sides where you're talking about investing in startups. But very few really understand that the value of having that cross-politization between the ties and the t-shirts or the tucked and the untucked. How I like to call them. Folks that I think you learn quite a bit by seeing that exploration side of starting something brand new and building it. And then on the reverse side, you know, startups get a lot from understanding what it takes to scale. And exploit and execute on something that they built. So, I'm excited about seeing that overlap. With this, how much do you see the programming being around specifically working with startups versus internal building? Or talk a little bit about the program itself.Jackie Miller: The programming itself is designed around these formats, right? It's very community driven learning. But it's about both group sessions and curated connection. So, we do a lot of facilitating that in the format of deep dives, panels. Something I'm really excited about that. I like to call a template potluck. Where we all ask our fellows to bring to the table, a pitch deck, a project strategy, a budget, even of things that have worked. For you, scrubbed of sensitive details. And a way to kind of just share and see what others are working on. Lots of like social opportunities to connect and access to our platforms. Right? So Slack and the Directory, which is almost like our own internal LinkedIn. As well as access to the sessions for all of our programs. Right? So, if our Chief of Staff program is doing a deep dive on Web Three. That's something we can tap into the expert network of On Deck to take part in. So, there's going to be a lot of different formats. In terms of the topics themselves into your question of, you know, how we take the broad topics and the specific ones. I think that certainly we'll do deep dives on things around like Open Innovation, Internal Culture, and Building. And the kind of specific challenges of Venture Building and certainly Building Corporate Venture Practices. But there will be some broader topics that I think are, they're the things that light up when I have conversations with different folks, at least. Like one of these is that when we touched on of like internal processes and structure of an innovation team. You know, how do you interact with the business units? How do you create good communication between all your stakeholders and get buy-in on what is often a huge challenge in this space? Or even the small bets, right. Brian Ardinger: Like measuring if you're on the right track in the first place. That's a big one. Understanding the metrics around it. Jackie Miller: Figuring out you're solving the right problem. Right. So I think those are things that are going to apply across the board. I think there's things like leadership, talent development, hiring, and when that should look like for the future of an innovation practice. That I think will apply across the board. And there's the founder mindset. I really believe that corporate innovators are at their core, they're founders, right. They're just not pitching to venture capitalists. They're navigating a much more constrained universe of what success looks like. But there's a lot of the same skillset mindset that a founder needs. And one other topic, I think that has been interesting to see across the board is sustainability, diversity, and inclusion are some of these big drivers of innovation right now. These are some of the core pain points or challenges that businesses have to solve. So, there's this intersection with innovation, that's exciting to me that I've heard from different founding fellows from Starbucks and Nike, JP Morgan, Walmart, who have all raised similar challenges. Brian Ardinger: And that's the other interesting part about it is because it's kind of industry agnostic. Like I think a lot of us can learn from what's happening in another industry and apply that to our own industry and vice versa. And so, I think that's a big strength to this type of program that you're pulling together as well.Jackie Miller: I think that's huge. I mean, I really think that in innovation, we already get stuck in a bubble sometimes. In your own echo chamber of the buzzwords. But then we do that in our industries too. When I was at Chanel, I can't tell you how refreshing and inspirational it might be to have a conversation with Pepsi, for example, right. This idea that it doesn't always have to be your exact peer to get really interesting new ideas and new insights. Brian Ardinger: When can people apply? When does it start? Some details around that. Jackie Miller: We just announced this in January. So still excited to see those applications roll in. The program actually kicks off in mid-March. So, applications are open. The deadline to apply is February 27th. You'll be tagged as an Inside Outside applicant, so that we can fast track your application. Once people apply, some will be invited to interview. And then they'll receive an offer to join us when the program kicks off in mid-March. Brian Ardinger: And you and I were talking earlier that you created a special URL for IO listeners. If they go to, they can apply via this link and get fast-tracked. You've been in corporate innovation. And you were with Chobani, and I think you launched a successful accelerator for early-stage food and tech companies there. And most recently, like you said, you were at Chanel. What's some of the biggest mistakes or biggest learnings, maybe that you've learned by being in corporate innovation. Where have you stubbed your toe and where do you think you can help others not. Jackie Miller: It's a great question. I think that my experience on the spectrum of, you know, different approaches to corporate innovation is one that I come back to time and again, right. This idea that innovators, people in corporate innovation should almost be in the position of making their roles obsolete.Right. Like putting themselves out of a job, in a way. Which is maybe a little provocative. But what I mean by that is, you know, it shouldn't be siloed. And you can see very clearly, early on whether or not a program is going to be a program or a practice or a department. It's going to be successful, if it feels siloed and stuck on to the side, rather than truly a top-down initiative. And then there's top-down buy it. And it doesn't mean, not to get into like the details of the corporate governance or anything than that. It's mostly about like the right stakeholders and the right communication line with the stakeholders, right. This idea that you need to be in between the business units on the ground and the leadership at the kind of strategy and priority and decision-making. And really navigate between those spaces. And it's easier to do that when you have that top down buy in. My experience at Chobani. Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani, really prioritized the incubator program. It was important to him. It was extremely founder friendly. We didn't take equity. It was just something that was part of his personal values and mission. And that, you know, shows in how he got hundreds of employees, internally, to be involved and engaged and really scale up that program.That kind of top-down buy-in makes a huge difference. And yeah, you need that combination of top down and grassroots impact, right? So, I think that not every corporate innovator has an influence over that kind of strategy and structure of that team. But those communication lines with leadership, are just as important as the structure itself.Brian Ardinger: The fact that the practice of spinning up something brand new, or working with a startup, for example, that doesn't have it all figured out. It doesn't have the business model all ready to scale, is significantly different than what most people are typically working in, in an existing business. Where they know the business model. They know what they're supposed to be doing. Their job is to scale and execute and make that better. Fundamentally, there's a lot of knows. Versus the world of startups, the world of innovation, where fundamentally it's all unknown at the start. And so how do you manage those expectations on both sides. Expectations from the people who are building that. Whether it's a startup itself or the internal team that's building up something from scratch. And then communicating that to the upper management, like timelines may be different. The measurements may be different. What you're looking for may be different. It's all very important because they are fundamentally different worlds to some extent. Jackie Miller: I think that's right. When you're pitching something new, it's sort of like, I think that empathy is at the root of all like change. And innovation at its core is about change. You know, it's about problem solving and introducing new kind of ways of doing things. Put yourself in the shoes of that person hearing that pitch. Right. And this idea that, of course there's a preconceived set of KPIs. And how we measure our projects and our initiatives. Really setting the stage and then making the case for exactly what you're saying of, okay. We're entering the unknown here. And introducing upfront the, these are going to be different metrics for success. And really defining. That really primes people to be more receptive to change. It can be a hard thing for them to process Brian Ardinger: So, what do you see are the biggest opportunities for corporates who can do innovation well? Why should they be doubling down on this?Jackie Miller: There's a lot of opportunities here. Right? And like a few things come to mind. Corporate innovation more often than not can be found in a cost center, right. This idea that, you know, how close are you to the business impact. To revenue. To building something new. I think that every corporate innovation team or program should have an eye towards that possibility.I think there are certain things that absolutely should be separate and are about experimentation and are about learning. It's something important for any department within a company thinking about what's the long-term sustainability and scalability of what we're building here. That should be part of the discussion part of the conversation.Another piece is interacting with emerging technology trends and startups. It's very easy for corporates to feel like it's a foreign language or that world is so far away. And I don't know what I could possibly do or how I could add value to that conversation or that exchange. I think corporate innovators really kind of understanding the value they bring to those exchanges. And how meaningful those exchanges with a startup or a founder can be even if we're talking about really big cultural differences. If you really go in knowing, and sometimes the things you wouldn't expect are the things that are super valuable. I can't tell you how many times what a startup really needed from me as a representative of the big company was like an org chart Sherpa, right. Someone would tell me, how are things organized? Who does this? Who owns that? And like, yes, ultimately that may be just who do I sell my thing to, but more often than not, it's about learning. What are the priorities? How are things organized? How are things structured and how do things get done? That is hugely valuable to a startup. And I think we oftentimes undersell the kind of knowledge and insight and support we can bring to startups. That goes beyond just the petting zoo. But is actually like here's some actionable information to help them achieve their goals. Brian Ardinger: What are some of the trends and opportunities that you're seeing out there in the marketplace? Whether it's technology trends or things that people should be paying attention to in this space.Jackie Miller: Part of the reason I was so excited to join the On Deck team, and you mentioned it upfront, about the work we were doing in no code. The fact that we are a fully remote company. Future of work is obviously a big topic when you look at like innovation culture and capabilities. And I think things like No Code, the idea that, and this is very challenging for large enterprises, where there are a lot of IT, data, infrastructure limit to what kind of tools you can use. But there is something fundamentally innovative about cultivating the skillset and the knowledge to use tools like No Code tools. And we're talking about like an Air Table or a Notion, or some of these. And while yes, there are enterprise platform challenges. I really think that the trend here is it's also that like talent wants to learn how to put on their resume and talk about how they were able to build things.They may not be coders. But they were able to build things themselves. Like that's what talent is looking for. That is what truly innovative projects come from, that kind of mindset and that kind of talent. Trying to find ways to create spaces. You can do this with Microsoft. Like when I was at Chanel, we use Microsoft and there are all kinds of interesting analytics and automation tools that you can experiment with. You don't have to be expert level. But I think there's something there. And future of remote working, right. Every corporate is navigating hybrid or remote, and what that looks like. These are new demands in the idea of innovative talent and the war for innovative talent. So, I think there's sort of a must have in terms of exploration, that are not necessarily suited immediately to the corporate environment. But I think it's something that corporate should definitely be thinking about. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Yeah. We've talked about that quite a bit. And how, if nothing else just being exposed to some of these tools gives you a different appreciation for the speed at which disruptors could come on board. Or other ways that you could change the dynamic within your company or outside. Thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your experiences and that. If people want to find out more about you or the On Deck Program, what's the best way to do that?Jackie Miller: The best way is to visit us at Ardinger: Well Jackie, thanks again for coming on. I'm excited to be a part of the Fellowship. I encourage people who are listening to check it out. Looking forward to having further conversations. Jackie Miller: Thanks so much Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. 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On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we host Jennifer Smith, CEO and Cofounder of Scribe. Jennifer and I talk about her journey as an accidental entrepreneur and the trends and opportunity she sees as she grows a software company on a mission to build the first operating system of know-how. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript of Jennifer Smith, CEO & Co-founder of ScribeBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Jennifer Smith. She is the CEO and co-founder of Scribe. Which is a startup software company that enables you to automatically generate step-by-step guides for any process or task. Welcome to the show, Jennifer,Jennifer Smith: Pleasure to be here Brian. Brian Ardinger: I am so excited to talk to you. Not only because what you're building. But you've got a pretty interesting background that I think our audience will get into. My understanding is you got into entrepreneurship as a, an accidental entrepreneur. You've spent some time at McKinsey and at Greylock. Degrees from Harvard and Princeton. And now you're developing and building a startup from scratch. So why don't we tell the audience about how you got on your path to becoming an entrepreneur. Jennifer Smith: Yeah, I, I do say I'm a bit of an accidental entrepreneur, cause I, you know, meet so many folks in the valley who say, I knew since the age of 10 that I was going to found a company. And you know, if you had asked me even a few years ago before I started Scribe, I would have said no, unlikely not. To me I fell in love with a problem. So, I'll kind of take you on a quick history tour. Imagine it's 10, 15 years ago, you know, when you're a leading global corporation and you want to figure out how work is getting done. Maybe you're facing a productivity imperative or you're scaling up your company. And so what do you do?You probably hire some fancy consultants, right? And they probably come around. And they interview your people. And they create a bunch of PowerPoints. Maybe they document what some of your best practices are like. Anyone who has seen office space can maybe just think of the Bob. And, you know, I should know, I spent seven years at McKinsey. Doing exactly that. I did mostly work in our Oregon operations practice. Which functionally meant spending about eight hours a day in an operation center, looking over the shoulder of agents, trying to figure out how they were doing things. And I learned really quickly the name of the game, at least as a consultant at the time was you figured out who the best person that ops center was. You sat next to them. And you said, what are you doing differently Judy. And Judy would tell you. Right? Oh, I was trained to do this. And you know, she'd pull out a big manual. I'll date myself. It was a big binder at the time. Right. Here's what I was trained to do. But, you know, I found these 30 shortcuts. And here's what I do. And I would write that down and my team would sell that back to our clients for a whole bunch of money.I always thought like, gosh, if the Judy's of the world had just had a way to share what they know how to do, they could have had really big impact on that ops center. Right. They didn't need me and my team to be saying it for them. And so that always kind of nagged at me, but I figured that was a problem for someone else to solve someday.And then fast forward a decade later, and I'm working at Greylock on Sand Hill Road. And I spent a lot of my time there meeting with CXOs of large enterprises. So CIO, CDOs, Chief Innovation Officers. A lot of folks who would kind of come talk to VCs to try to understand how they could be more innovative.I counted them when I left actually. I talked to over 1200 folks. So pretty broad sample. And what I realized was nothing had changed. The way that you still wanted to understand how work was getting out. You were still getting some version of a 28-year-old Jennifer with a Lenovo ThinkPad running around, interviewing your people, right?Maybe it was an internal person and maybe now you're using a fancy Wiki instead of PowerPoint to capture it. But the idea is still the same. It was still very manual, not very scalable. And that was crazy to me. We'd had so much technological innovation and something that's so core. So fundamental to the way that millions of people, billions of people around the world work, hadn't changed. And so, I just got really obsessed with this problem and Scribe was born. Brian Ardinger: So that's the impotence of the problem. It's like, okay, well, I've got this little nugget and ideas are great, but obviously you have to execute on that idea to make it an innovation or make something of value from that. How did you go from that nugget of information to finding a team or finding somebody who could help build or solve this problem for you?Jennifer Smith: I believe in fast iteration around this. And so what we said was let's try to build the most basic MVP of a company and a product around this idea. And our idea was what if we could watch an expert do work and automatically capture what they know how to do? What if it was just like documentation as digital exhaust? Just a by-product of you doing your normal job.And so, we built what was the very beginnings of Scribe. Wasn't even called Scribe at the time. And what we were focused on was just getting something very basic out there. That was for free. That people could test and use. And we could learn from that. And so, we kept the company very lean. Maybe a topic for another conversation. But I believe in running very, very lean as a team. Probably painfully so.Until you really feel like the market is pulling something out of you. And so, we put our software out in the world. And sort of said, like, let's see how people use this. And what they tell us. And Scribe picked up some legs after a bunch of iterations and grew. And now it's being used by tens of thousands of workers around the world.And that's because we really focused on a type of software that the end user would want. I think a lot of enterprise software today is focused towards a buyer. It's something that your boss tells you to use. And that's why you use it. And we said, let's flip this on its head. Let's try to iterate our way to a product that someone uses because they want to, not because their boss is telling them to. But because it makes their day easier, they're more productive. They get recognized for their contributions. Brian Ardinger: It's an interesting approach because we've seen a couple of different companies that have taken that B2B approach and flipped it on its head. Like a Slack where, you know, again, it's a product team or something that starts to engage and use the product. And then through that word of mouth and through iterations, they start getting to the point where the boss has to take notice because that's the productivity tool that people are using. Was it always the model that you were going to go after? Or what made you think that this is the way to build Scribe.Jennifer Smith: Yeah. It's because what you're trying to do as a startup is learn as fast as possible. We talk all the time about how do we just make our learning loops as short and tight as possible. And the way for us to do that was to try to get Scribe in the hands of as many users as possible. Right. And so there's a few things that we did for that. One was we released a free version of Scribe. We just said, here you go. Go ahead and use it. Create a Scribe. Share a Scribe with anyone else. And we use to track this. We were trying to make it as easy as possible. The atomic unit is short and easy as possible for someone to use Scribe.And so, we would clock it and see from the moment someone landed on our website to the moment, they were able to create a Scribe and share with one with someone else was under four minutes. And we had users who didn't even speak English. Right. And we hadn't translated the product yet. And they were able to do it under four minutes.We said, how do we just keep this as short and tight as possible? And there are these natural growth loops in the product as well. So, whenever I create a Scribe, I send it to someone else. I share it with them. I can invite and collaborate with teammates. So, each user, be gets more users. That enabled us to learn faster and faster.And that's very similar in many ways to what Slack and some of these other product led growth companies have done. Where they're really focused on driving that user value and cultivating user love. Which I think is great. The other thing we're focused on though, is in addition to this being a product that folks are pulling for. That they're telling their bosses, I want to be using. How do you also add value to the organization?And so, what's interesting about Scribe is you've got people across your org who are using it because it just makes their day to day better and easier. But then there's value that accrues to the overall organization. Oftentimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, when you're starting to talk about making each person incrementally more productive.And the knowledge that you're starting to capture from people documenting what they're doing every day. I think Slack has a similar model there. I think where Slack is a bit different and I've actually written a piece about this is their pitch to the enterprise is really just, your people are already using this. You might as well pay for it and get these enterprise security and features and all these things you want. And we try to think about it as like, no, what's actually the value add to the organization. Like, it's great that all of your people are getting this value, but then there's also additional unlock that comes at the organizational level.Brian Ardinger: You talk about Scribe as you're building that first operating system of know-how. How is this different than the way people have tried to solve this problem in the past? Wikis or other ways? There's always that challenge of capturing information and then making it easy and accessible when you need it. How's Scribe a little bit different? Jennifer Smith: The Wiki was born in 95. I remember at the time we're all very excited. You know, everyone contributed, you saw the rise of things like Wikipedia. What's interesting. If you look at the staff even around like a Wikipedia. It's the idea is this, this big democratic open source, everyone contributes to this hive knowledge of the world.Actually, there's a very small percentage of contributors who represent the vast majority of knowledge on Wikipedia. And they tend not to be pretty diverse too. I think you see this same thing within companies. Which is you have the keepers of knowledge. I call it knowledge with a capital K. Like the set of people who contribute to the Wiki or the knowledge base, whatever you're using.And, you know, they spend a bunch of time. They have great intentions. They spend a bunch of time putting information. And that. It's highly manual to do. But there's a bunch of difficulties. One of the main ones is that it's very manual and takes that time. So, unless it's that person's job, if they're just doing it out of the goodness of their heart, it becomes very difficult to maintain.And what you end up with is a downward spiral. I mean, anyone who's been part of a company can recognize this, the documentation goes stale. And then you stop referencing it because you know, it's stale. Then the person who created it forgets about it because no one's ever talking about it. And downward spiral from there and it doesn't become valuable.With Scribe, we were trying to say, hey, how do you make this instead automatic. How do you make this so no one has to do any additional work? Again, this idea of digital exhaust. It's just a by-product of you doing your normal job. So, you hit the record button and you work as usual. You just do the thing you normally would have done anyway.And you're automatically getting the step-by-step documentation that is up-to-date and current and accurate. And reflects the way work is actually being done. Because I think it's changing this model of knowledge is something that you have to go produce. To something you already have. You've already done the hard part of knowing how to do something valuable within a company. Our view is that your knowledge around that should just be automatically captured and shared with other people who shouldn't be taking time away to have to do that. Brian Ardinger: How do you account for the fact that as the world is changing so fast, things are changing such that what you documented two weeks ago may not be what you document or how you do that task today. How do you keep up with the pace of change? Jennifer Smith: I think this is really important, right? Because things are changing even faster within organizations. You now have a great resignation where maybe even the people who are doing the work, its changing even more. They're changing their physical location. Potentially they're remote right now. You have a lot of differences. And I think this is why it becomes more important than ever before to really tap into this collective know-how within an organization. I almost think of it as like popping someone's brain open and pulling out what is it that they know how to do? Which is really the lifeblood of your company, right? We're talking about the knowledge of what are people doing when they show up to work every day. Nine to five, fingers on keyboard, trying to create value for your company. And that knowledge walks out the proverbial elevator these days. Maybe not literally, you know. Every day at five o'clock and you got to hope that it comes back. I think it's more important than ever before that companies actually find ways to capture this knowledge and then be able to share it across the right people at the right time. If you think about it, there's so much kind of reinventing the wheel happening within a company today. You're either when you go to do something, you know, popping your head over the cubicle and asking someone or trying to search on your own, or just kind of figuring it out. And there's so much productivity loss that comes from that. Brian Ardinger: You alluded to a couple of trends that I want to talk to you about. One is this democratization of innovation where anyone can really have an impact in the organization because of the tools that are now there. So, things like no-code and low-code tools and things like Scribe that give power to the individual to create value in different ways. Talk a little bit about how you see that trend evolving and how it's going to have an impact in the business world. Jennifer Smith: Yeah, I love that you bring this up. And as we say democratization. I find with some of our customers, they get very excited. Some of our customers get very scared. And I think it all depends how you think about it and frame it. The best knowledge on how things get done within a company or how to do things better really come from the people who are doing the work day-to-day on the frontline knowledge workers.And so how do you really tap into that, and both understand what those people have figured out, but then be able to share that seamlessly across the org. There are increasing number of tools that make that better. I think it's easy to point to a bunch of the collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack and others that make it easy to communicate. The kind of flip side or downside to that is that ends with collaboration overload. Which I think we've all heard a lot of talk around, especially, you know, post COVID. And it's very real.And it also is usually a disproportionate burden on your best people. Who are the ones that everyone always goes to to ask, hey, can you show me how to do this? And so, we think a lot about how do you scale those kinds of people who really are your best or your most experienced, or sort of have found a better way to do something.In the way like code or media, which are infinitely scalable. We think about Scribe as the atomic unit of just how do you pull that info out of someone's head and make it infinitely scalable across an organization? Brian Ardinger: It's pretty interesting how the world is changing such that again, we have that ability and how that's going to change. Both the speed of change, this layering effect of, as you give more productivity tools to folks, they become more productive. And therefore, changes the dynamics and moves from there. You also talked about this hybrid and remote working. What are some of the good, bad, and ugly that you're seeing and how does Scribe and the tools that you're building play into that. Jennifer Smith: I think it'll be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Obviously, a lot of companies have now moved into hybrid or fully remote. And I think that's worked really well in instances where folks have built in-person relationships. And then they were able to move that on to remote. At least in the first few months and year of the pandemic.What's interesting is you're now seeing a lot more turnover within companies. You have new people who are joining for the first time. And may have never met any of their colleagues in person. Right. And so how do you start to build that knowledge. That sort of informal knowledge of how work actually gets done within a company.And what you find is when folks were in person, they often understood like, oh, Cheryl's the one who knows how to do this. She's the person I go to for that. Right. Or Bob knows how to do this, or Benkit knows that. So that becomes much harder to replicate when you're not all sitting together. We think a lot about how do you similarly try to like tap into this collective knowledge when people are not sitting face to face or next to each other, where you're able to just pop your head over the cubicle and ask someone, you know, a question on how to do something.We talk about it as just drinking our own champagne at Scribe. Because we're hybrid ourselves. Right? We have a team here in San Francisco, but then we have folks distributed around the U S and world too. We use Scribe ourselves to share all of that knowledge around how to. You've got three kinds of knowledge and accompany. You have historical knowledge. What date did we release this product? You have policy knowledge. What days off do we have with our PTO policy? And I think you can even kind of ask HR. And then you have this procedural knowledge, which is the thing that tends to be least documented. And it's all of that knowledge around, how do we actually do work?What is the day-to-day processes and business functions that happen to make this thing go? And that's the part that you see documented the least. And that's the part that we're focused on most with Scribe. Brian Ardinger: Whenever I have a founder on the show. I'll always like to ask do you have any go-to tools or resources or hacks that we can recommend to other fellow founders or products builders?Jennifer Smith: Yeah, I believe in time management. And being really, really thoughtful about how you spend your time. And I'd say even more importantly, your energy. So, I've talked to my team a lot about thinking about where do you get sources of energy. And what drains your energy. And you need to manage that within a given day or week.And so, I always say lean into your strengths. And as you look at the way that you're spending your day, make sure that it's disproportionately focused on the things you are good at. And that give you energy. You should feel like you're pushing a boulder downhill. Building a company is really hard. Don't get me wrong, but it should feel like pushing a boulder downhill because you're doing the things that you love doing.And you've got a bunch of momentum from the market. And your team. And your product behind you. And if it doesn't feel that way, then you need to be changing the way that you structure your day. Brian Ardinger: So last question. What's next for you? And what's next for Scribe? Jennifer Smith: We're building the team and the product really aggressively right now. The next two years for us are just continuing to scale out. As I mentioned, we have a free version of Scribe that tens of thousands of organizations are now using. I think in over a hundred countries. We've offered now a paid version of that as well, for folks who want to upgrade. And we're selling into large enterprises also.And so, we're really focused on how do we just make it as easy as possible for anyone to be able to share how to. For us as a company that's continuing to grow the team. That's investing more in R and D. And then continuing to build out on the distribution. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: If people want to find out more about yourself or about scribe, what's the best way to do that?Jennifer Smith: Yeah, you can check us out on our website, Feel free to sign up there directly. We also have a promo code available for listeners, if they're interested. The product's free, as I said. But for the paid version, if you want three months free, it's insideout30 as a promo code. But invite you all to check it out and try it out and drop us a line with some feedback.Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Jennifer, thanks for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Really appreciate the time. And look forward to seeing where everything goes in the future. Jennifer Smith: Yeah. Thanks so much, Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Ben McDougal, Author of You Don't Need This Book: Entrepreneurship in the Connected Era. Ben and I talk about his portfolio-based career in entrepreneurship from founder to 1 Million Cups organizer, to his current role as entrepreneur In residence and ecosystem developer with Techstars Iowa. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. Let's get started.Interview Transcript with Ben McDougal, Author of You Don't Need This BookBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Ben McDougal. He is author of the new book, You Don't Need This Book: Entrepreneurship and the Connected Era. Welcome to the show. Ben. Ben McDougal: Thanks, Brian. It's great to catch up with a friend and looking forward to connecting with your audience.Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. You and I have known each other for a number of years in the startup ecosystem building world. You hang out in Iowa. And I hang out here in Nebraska. It's been fun to see your journey. You joined Techstars Iowa as kind of a hybrid role as an entrepreneur residence and ecosystem development person. So how did you get involved in startup ecosystem development? Ben McDougal: Thanks, Brian. Yeah, I've always been an entrepreneur. I came out of school, admittedly, thinking that we got expensive pieces of paper to go build someone else's dream. But startup, wasn't a word back in 2004. I got a computer science degree wanting to develop video games.And so looked at that industry. Which led me to web development. When I look back at it, it was pretty entrepreneurial. I mean, talking with endless different industries on how to build their business online. And so, while I was in somewhat of a traditional kind of business development role. I don't know what spawned the entrepreneurial spirit besides just recognizing an opportunity. So, I created a 3v3 soccer tournament. I had played soccer. I was in a web development shop and could make a nice live event come to life. Ended up having two years of that before selling it to a local soccer club, as we had launched a social network for gamers. It was interesting looking back using entrepreneurship to wedge myself into an industry I was always passionate about. But there's a whole community side that was emerging.And so built Jet Set Studio. It's still a small sliver of my career portfolio. Doing video game events around North America and building community in person and online. That was some of the early interactions of community building. I would stay in web development for eight years and retire out of that and go into another kind of traditional role inside the home building industry. Never really touched a hammer and kind of avoid manual labor, genuine.In that home building world, we found a disconnect between Home Builders and Realtors. So, we built an open house scheduler, knowing that it's not hard, but it's recurring when they're connecting that open house schedule. So that's Open Open. Alongside of that, that intrapreneurial spirit was fed with that parallel entrepreneurial spirit ended up building Flight Bright in the craft beer industry, which was an electronic beer flight paddle.It translated and continues to be that type of electronic serving system. But we added a beer festival app. And so that's Flight Bright and that story continues to be written. And you think about this diversified career portfolio that has a mixture of entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial activities. And the glue that brings it all together, along with myself is the community. Leaning into community and recognizing the energy of accelerating others.And so that's where you see my work in 1 Million Cups long ago. Like I was a part of a 1 Million Cups every Wednesday as an entrepreneur. But when the opportunity to lead emerged, I rose my hand. Got involved. That led to the chance of being a regional rep. So, we built this role to help support all of the different organizing teams across the United States.And so, I've been the Midwest regional rep now for the last four years. And that has been remarkable. Supporting and connecting 45 different 1 MC communities across 12 states, has created an awareness when it comes to entrepreneurial ecosystem building, at a rural, medium, and large size environment.Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. 1 Million Cups. I've mentioned this on the program, a number of different times, and I know a lot of people in the entrepreneurial startup side have maybe heard of 1 Million Cups. But on our corporate innovator side, it's, it's one of those programs that I think that more corporate innovators should become involved and that. Maybe give a little bit of background about 1 Million Cups and why that's so important, not only for the entrepreneurs in your community, but the companies and the other organizations.Ben McDougal: I think intrapreneurship at existing companies, small, medium, and large is a critical component to any entrepreneurial ecosystem. Having employees that are the champions of change for their existing company, plugging into community activities, helps them stay in front of the innovation curve. Fuels like their innovative energy. And creates opportunities to collaborate with entrepreneurs that in a way that helps their companies.And so, whether it's the energy. Kind of the network and human capital that can come from this type of active. All the way over to the financial capital and opportunities for those companies to benefit from their interactions with startups is real. One quick tactic, Brian, that catches my attention is larger companies treating activity within a startup community as volunteer hours.So, removing the barrier of PTO for someone who wants to go to 1 Million Cups on a Wednesday morning. Or to that startup event. Instead of restricting that type of activity by saying they need to take time off. It's celebrating that activity, knowing that while it's a little less time outside of the office, the energy, the activity, the connections, the progress that has made through that activity, benefits the company, perhaps even more. There's some value when you think about giving intrapreneurs, the freedom to explore their curiosity. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. And that's one of the things that we talk about a lot is not only entrepreneurs have to get out of the building, but intrapreneurs as well. And you can't build anything without actually getting out there and trying things and testing things and being a part of the communities.We talk about this concept of a portfolio career and more and more folks I believe are going to have to be transitioning to this concept of, you know, you don't do just one job for 20 years of your life. It's a series of different side hustles and projects and people you work with and that. As an early adopter to this portfolio career type of lifestyle, what are some hints or suggestions you could make for people trying to transition into more of a portfolio type of approach?Ben McDougal: Yeah. The Diversified Career Portfolio is something that allows you to use energies from different activities to maximize the outputs. And sometimes that means it's the full-time job paired with a couple of side hustles. Complemented by some volunteer roles. Knowing that those kind of shapes within that pie chart, that's how I like to visualize it. Are always changing.And the interactions between them are something to be conscious of. And so they don't necessarily need to directly connect because they connect through you. And so, recognizing that even if they're different activities and completely different industries, that passion that you're feeding translates into good things for other areas within that pie chart.Another thing to always keep in mind is your personal bandwidth. I write about this in the book, a complete section for side hustles. And knowing that your personal bandwidth is something, if you can do a lot, then everyone's going to be asking to do a little. You know, and so all of a sudden you can potentially get diluted to mediocrity.And I think there's a good exercise of imagining that you have timed to swinging an ax 100 times. With those hundred swings, are you going to hit 100 trees once? Or perhaps a strategic collection, a few more times to make the impact. Knowing that it doesn't just need to be one tree. You might be able to make a positive impact on a collection of trees with those hundred swings, keeping your eye on that personal bandwidth as you add, or remove things from that career portfolio.And lastly, I think the value of transparency. There are other things to talk about here but being transparent with the way that you spend your time avoids the exhaustion of secrecy. And so, whether that's an entrepreneur sharing that side hustle with their boss and exploring that interest. Or it's easiest from the beginning, right. So, as you bring on a new project or enter a new contract, being very clear with the way that you spend your time, so that there's not tension down the road. Brian Ardinger: So, Ben, let's get into the book a little bit. It's called You Don't Need This Book: Entrepreneurship and The Connected Era. What made you decide to write a book? And give the audience a little bit of background about what they should expect from it?Ben McDougal: There was a time where I started to feel a sense of potential regret. I had enjoyed some fun ventures on my own. But really it was the stories from thousands of entrepreneurs that I had interacted with. Whether that was on my own journeys or within 1 Million Cups. And learning from these different perspectives and the activity of so many remarkable entrepreneurs, it became to the point where if I wasn't able to pass that on to my little one, right. My startup that pays in love that this experiential wisdom would just be lost. And so that was kind of my why. To synthesize everything that I understood about entrepreneurial. But specifically, within our connected era. Driven by community and the ability to do so much more with less, through the network of a global economy.And so, I crafted an outline. It sat on my phone for a while, and I was encouraged by Victor Wang to build into it when it started to keep me up at night. And that's where I had reached. And so crafted the manuscript. Had a beautiful forward by Victor, that explains that moment. But also, a contribution from Brad Feld in the very thick community chapter. Which is number two out of 10. I think it's such an important piece.And so, it's been called a nice guide for first-time founders and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, exploring that professional field. Whether it's the ideation process right out of the gate, all the way through to what I would consider a wild card. And that is persistence. And so, you know, marketing is in between research, customer discovery, and like I mentioned, community. So, it's really provided a strong sense of peace and I'm so thankful for how it's coming from.Brian Ardinger: What I liked about the book is a lot of startup books are about the tactics of how do you increase your sales or grow XYZ. Yours brought in not only those tactical aspects, but also the bigger picture of it's not just about the entrepreneur. It's about the team they bring together. It's about the community that they have to support. And that are supporting their efforts. And it gave more of a holistic approach to what it means to be an entrepreneur, rather than just the blocking and tackling of the business side of things. Ben McDougal: Yeah. The amount of activities as an entrepreneur is kind of like everything, right. So, I talk about the term Career Nirvana. Which is where, you know, your work feels like play to you, but looks like work to others. It is in balance with your community, with the team that you're working within and with the life that you live. Entrepreneurship is not something that you learn. It's more of a lifestyle. It's more something that you just bring into your daily life. And the practice can be, become something that leads you to maybe the first time that you need to pivot, right. You either succeed or we learn. Not being afraid of failure, knowing that you're continuously optimizing that career portfolio to have the right slivers in that pie chart. And tweaking the size of each sliver along the way. So, I appreciate that, Brian. It's definitely fueled from learnings, from people like you. From remarkable entrepreneurs and community builders that have taught me so much.And it's been neat to hear their responses. Similar to what you shared. There's some heart within it that explores the tactics, but also some of the mindsets. Some of the community aspects, that will give you the resiliency to play longterm games with long-term people. Brian Ardinger: Great advice. You hung out with a ton of entrepreneurs. And you've seen them at the earliest stages and that. What are some of the biggest myths about entrepreneurship that you've uncovered or things that you wish that early-stage entrepreneurs would know earlier? Ben McDougal: You'll see it in the book. I call it the Headline Trap. We see entrepreneurs raising a million here and a kabillion there. Right. We see them in the media and that is a well-deserved and of course, an important recognition of people's own successes. But that can also become paralyzing for someone who feels as though they're not allowed to tinker. The opportunity of a side hustle or a startup, or even a full-time effort, doesn't always need to rely on financial capital or global impact in order to positively impact your life and your career portfolio. And so, giving the permission, that's not required, but sometimes needed in order for people to explore their passions. Without the weight of feeling like this has to have this huge global impact to make it something that really provides purpose and provides a sense of gratitude with someone's career portfolio. The way that they spend the limited time. And so, I think the Headline Trap and avoiding that is one way to get started now, instead of like the dreaded someday. Brian Ardinger: Yeah. Trying to line up the perfect plan and then launching the perfect plan is never the perfect way to make it happen. I mean, the plan is never going to be perfect from day one. You've got to go out and stub your toe and figure it out most of the time. You don't seem to have much fear from the standpoint of, you're always willing to try something. Swing a different bat. What gives you the confidence to do that? Or what have you learned that gives you confidence to step out in the unknown and try something different? Ben McDougal: I don't know if there's one thing that would be like, this is how I have become confident. I think it's a mixture of having stepped out and it doesn't hurt. It's exciting. You know, the enthusiasm of building something that you care about. And that can lead to the resiliency we've spoken about. You know, I think there would also be a collection of skills that give me confidence. And I write about that in the marketing chapter of You Don't Need This Book. Because it makes us dangerous as individuals. Linebacker doesn't play wide receiver. Right? So, recognizing your role. What you're good at and filling the gaps so that you're not cloning yourself when you're building as a team. Or working with contractors as lone wolf. But there are six skills that I think have given me a lot of confidence and abilities to build on my own, knowing that adding more fuel to the fire along the way is always possible.I start with writing. I think writing is a powerful skill that you can learn just by doing. I think of photography. Videography, not just taking the videos, but being able to stitch things together so that it's digestible and tells a story that connects to a broader narrative. Graphic design. Right? Bringing all those multimedia things together. Creativity, knowing that everyone can take a photo, but it's that angle or it's that ability to publish, is what separates with that creativity. Organization is another one that comes to mind and knowing that as you collect this mountain of media, being able to keep track of all of it in a good way is another valuable skill set.And then lastly, when it comes to content creation is just bringing it all together and recognizing that there's a practice in staying creative and building the content. So that you can create stories that sell and having the ability to do that on your own allows you to do a lot with a little, even if you don't plan to do all of it hands-on. You'll recognize what needs to be done for whatever the project is next. Brian Ardinger: You've been around in the Midwest Startup Ecosystem since the early days. You know, a lot of stuff that's happened in Iowa has gotten a lot of traction over the last four or five, six years. And now you're involved with Techstars and that. What are some of the trends that you're seeing when it comes to startups in the Midwest? And what are you most looking forward to?Ben McDougal: Yeah, so the Techstars role emerged from that community building that we talked about earlier. And I was already an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. And so, when there was some room to get involved with the accelerator, I jumped at the opportunity to partner up with Techstars. And leaned into that Entrepreneur in Residence role paired with Ecosystem Development.And so while I'd always admired Techstars, this was a cool kind of side door to sneak into the rocket ship that is Techstars. And so, when you see these founders coming in, wherever they're from, and you start to think about the Midwest entrepreneur, I think that we could talk about things that everyone always talks about.Right. We don't have quite the access to people that are interested in getting risky with their financial capital. We can talk about some of the resources that may or may not be the same as some of the larger hubs like Boston or San Fran or some of the other ecosystems. But one of the things I find liberating is using a framework that we see in the Startup Community Way, by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway, the Seven Capitals. And releasing ourselves from thinking that we have to have money. Okay. What do you have? Right. It's that abundance mindset and leaning into that holistic kind of positive sum approach to entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Allows us to use what we have to attract more of what we want.And so, I see a lot of entrepreneurs almost being set free. To think big. To build something that can be scalable. Not being afraid to tinker and fail, right. But also knowing that it's going to be a process. And one of the easiest things that I would say we have in the Midwest is almost natural. Give first mindset. Without preconception or without alternative motives.When I talk to someone, I almost have immediate, almost natural, positive, intent. That I want to see you succeed. That type of give first positive sum. If you win, we win approach is prevalent around the Midwest. And it allows us to do more with less through the connected era. And so, while there might be less of certain types of capital, in some cases, there are also more types of capital in the Midwest that allows people in rural, medium communities, and even the larger cities that we have throughout our Midwest region. Knowing that we can connect to the global community and make an impact no matter where we're at. Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I think it's so important and we see it every day. And you guys sent a message to some of the folks here in Lincoln saying, hey, we want to come out with Techstars to promote the fact that our applications are open. Can you set up some meetings and that? And you guys came out last week and toured some of our ecosystem. And we've done that back and forth over the years. And it's nice to have an ability and an environment that fosters that type of relationship that it's not just about keeping everything in my own backyard. Ben McDougal: It's still inviting. Cheers to that group that we enjoyed time with there in Omaha and also in Lincoln. And that type of interaction, like you said, is not uncommon. A couple of friends who want to show you around leads to an entire day of inspired activity. In fact, not knowing when you're listening to this, but our applications oddly enough, open today, Brian.And so, if you are building a team. You've got this startup and you're ready to scale. I did not come onto the conversation, planning to promote such a thing, but the applications are open and the Techstars experience is remarkable. It's really geared towards those who are looking to scale up. Maybe looking to raise venture capital in order to support a growing system. And the amount of mentors at a global level. The amount of give first and kind of Techstars for life. That culture is real. And our hybrid program allows folks to participate in Des Moines, Iowa, but also online throughout the hundred-day program. And boy seeing these entrepreneurs and their teams, and their companies emerge and raising serious capital and going on to continue to do big things is another way that I've energized my own career portfolio. Because I'll say it again, folks. The energy of accelerating others is unmatched. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Absolutely. I appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share your enthusiasm and acceleration path. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what's the best way to do that?Ben McDougal: It's very easy. Has my activity throughout the social media landscape, but also has my weekly writings that are called Roasted Reflections. And there's a quick link to take a look at the book, whether that's in the signed soft cover format or the e-book, or most recently released the audio book that I narrated. And so, you can enjoy You Don't Need This Book and I'd love to hear what you think. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Ben, thanks for coming on the show again. Looking forward to continuing the relationship and seeing you out there on the field as well. And I appreciate you coming on the show. Ben McDougal: Hey, may the best of your today's be the worst of your tomorrows and keep building.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  As an Amazon Affiliate, we may earn a small commission from purchases. 
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Jim Euchner, author of the new book Lean Startup in Large Organizations. Jim and I talk about the underlying fears companies have when trying to change and implement innovation initiatives. And what they can do to initiate and build Lean Startup methodologies to embrace change and stay competitive. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help the new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive, in today's world accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Jim Euchner, Author of Lean Startup in Large OrganizationsBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Jim Euchner. He's an honorary professor at Aston Business School in the UK. Editor in chief of Research Technology Management Journal. Former VP of Global Innovation at Goodyear. And he is author of a new book called Lean Startup in Large Organizations. Welcome to the show, Jim. Jim Euchner: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Brian Ardinger: Well, I'm excited to dig in. You've been involved in Lean Startup for a long time, specifically around this idea of corporate innovation, which I think when you hear Lean Startup, at least in the early days, you didn't think about it from a corporate perspective.I found, like when I talk to establish enterprises and you bring up the word or the term lean startup, a lot of times it has baggage around it. They dismiss it or think about it as you know that startup term. How do you define or talk about Lean Startup? Jim Euchner: I think about Lean Startup, in its basics the same way that the founders of it did. You know, Eric Ries and Steve Blank and so forth. I think it's a way of taking a high-risk venture from a very high-risk place to a place where it's something that you can bet on. It's a way of iterating your way toward a great customer value proposition and a good business model. The challenge in large corporations is that each of the practices of Lean Startups in its own way, sort of sparks an antibody inside the corporation. So Lean Learning Loops. They are a wonderful way of learning. Business experiments is another term for it. But if you have a lot of experiments and pivots, it can seem very chaotic to people inside the corporate setting. So, you have to do what I would call an impedance match between the corporate setting and the Lean Startup practices. The central Lean Startup practices are still very valid. But the way they're managed, there are some complimentary practices that make them effective inside large organizations. Brian Ardinger: You bring up a great point. It really doesn't matter if you're building something brand new in an uncertain environment as a startup or within a corporate environment. The same principles can be used to navigate that unknown or that uncertainty. In your book you talk a lot about, I guess, the common fears that leaders and organizations have when it comes to change or Lean Startup and that. Can you talk through and outline some of the key fears that you talk about in the book? Jim Euchner: Yeah, sure. So, the first one is this sort of fear of chaos. That the innovation program will just be out of control. And one way that's effective in doing that is to create what I would call an Innovation Stage Gate. So the practices of Lean Startup are still practiced, but they're inside a discovery phase, a business model development phase, and an incubation phase. That gives people inside corporations the chance to learn, to comment, to review at very critical stages. So, review the customer value proposition and the customer value. Review the business model. And very importantly, the effects that the business model will have on the core business. And then before scaling, understand how it works in the real market. The first fear is the fear of chaos. The second fear is a fear that the innovation team will disrupt the operations of the core. Everybody they're working with has a day job. Right. And you're asking them to take exceptions, to move quickly, to do stuff that you know, that really on the financial side, doesn't matter a lot in the near term. But it still has an urgency. And it may be outside the bounds of their usual experience. So, it's risky. Helping people manage that is important as well. Brian Ardinger: This fear of distraction. I hear it all the time. We don't have time to innovate. You know, we don't have time to try these new things and that. What are some of the ways that you can get people to overcome that mindset? Jim Euchner: It's a combination of things. And I really think that each company has to look at their own culture in order to decide. One thing that people do is, and it's the first thing to do, is just try to get corporate air cover. Someone says it's okay to do it. And that gives a permission. And then if they don't do it, it gives us permission also to escalate.The problem with that is escalation wears thin very quickly. And you make more enemies than you can afford to make. One of the things that I found most effective in my experience is to bring the functions along as you go, but to have no expectations of them in the early stage, other than that, they'll just provide the support you need to get something done.So, if I'm talking to procurement, I don't want them to do a full RFP. I don't want them to take a risk with their own career on something, but I need their help in putting together a contract that will meet our requirements. And if I have to sign off on that or I have to provide them some resources in order to cover the cost that that will have to them, then I'll do that.The very important one is legal liability. Legal liability is very important to protect the core corporation. But when you're doing experiments, they can seem awfully risky. In that instance, you may need to raise the issues, explore the issues, understand the implications, and then co-sign off. They may still say, I don't like that liability risk, you say, okay. But we'll take it in this one instance. And I'll take that on myself. The core thing is just to not keep people in the dark because you're afraid they'll jump in. And to give them at the stage of incubation, really a chance to rash through all those issues. So, if you're a non-standard IT organization, what are you going to do about the final product? And you can thrash that out in incubation, not during the early experiments. And the same kind of thing happens across the company in sales and procurement and everything. Brian Ardinger: Yeah. I find that if you have this almost side project mentality, it's like, oh, we're doing a side project to test or iterate or try something. And then by the time it gets to the point where you need to escalate it, a lot of times you have additional evidence or insights that you can then get that buy in from the higher ups. Jim Euchner: And that's exactly what you're trying to do. You're trying to get the evidence and the learning so that it's worth it for people to do whatever they have to do to support you. But in the early stages, if you don't share where your portfolio is, what you're doing, and then people are just going to get nervous that you're doing something that's going to cause them problems.A specific example is if you're in IT and someone's building something in a non-standard environment, they're afraid you're going to get up to incubation, you're going to launch it. And then they're going to be stuck supporting it. They won't even know what it is. Right. So, they want to control it early so that, that doesn't happen. You have to give them assurance that there will be a time. You have to adhere to it. You'll really address their issues fully when you're in that incubation phase. Brian Ardinger: Let's continue on with some of the other fears that stop or inhibit folks from implementing some of this Lean Startup methodology.Jim Euchner: The next ones really play out more at the executive level. One of them is just a very direct concern. This business will succeed by cannibalizing the core business. So, it'll look like your business is doing great, but your business is actually only succeeding because it's hurting the core business. So, in that instance, there's just a fear of an overall net loss. And to deal with that when you're developing a business model, and when you're incubating, it's very important to sort of keep track of what is happening to the core business as the result of what you're doing, as well as keeping a PNL for the, for the basic business itself. So that's one. Another is a concern that this whole process will lead you into a place that the company can't even recognize. We were in the document management business at Pitney Bowes. We worked to move into document management in healthcare. Eventually once we had a client and we were ready to go forward people saying what are we doing in healthcare? You know, how did we ever get here? And so, there's an identity issue. And the best way to deal with that is for the executives to just be very clear about the opportunity spaces they're willing to bet in.And then go beyond that. If they're interested in health care, for example, spend some time there. Learn about the customers. Learn about the industry. Learn about the other players. There's always the risk that the new business, as it grows, will bleed resources from the core. And they'll have to somehow make it up. The result of that oftentimes is that you under invest in the new business and people implicitly or directly try to smother it.The best solution to that is to separate the growing business from the core business. But to have very clear and negotiated relationships between the two entities. Which is something Govindarajan and Trimble proposed. Those are some of the fears. They're real fears. They have legitimate basis. They're also emotional and that's why I call them fears. But given that you can start to address them. Brian Ardinger: Well, it's interesting also because if you think about an organization and what they've effectively done is figured out a business model that works. And their job is to optimize and execute on that particular business model. So, they hire for that. They measure for that. They do all that. And so, you have what is an effect, a group of people that are not designed or not there to explore and try new things. And so you have that constant tension, I think. Talk a little bit about incremental innovation. And how does that play in with some of the launching of these new, bigger business models or ideas in Lean Startup.Jim Euchner: I actually think of innovation, what I would call type one innovation. Which is innovation inside the core business model. And there's type two innovation, which is creating a new model and new revenue stream. And I make that distinction because you can have really breakthrough innovation of type one.Intel is in the same basic business it's been in for years. But it does some of the most fantastic technological innovation way ahead of the game. Still, if it's successful, it's not challenging the core business. If you do it well, it will move through the pipeline. If you're in the, at Proctor and gamble and you develop a new consumer product that fits within their basic brand, it'll flow through whether it's a radical product or line extension. A new business on the other hand, challenges the assumptions. And this is just what you were pointing out.It challenges basic assumptions about why we're here. What we're doing. What matters. How I get compensated and so forth. That kind of innovation really has to be managed differently. So, I think that the type one innovation can be managed with less executive attention. Much more integrated with the core. The type two innovation oftentimes requires entirely different structures. Brian Ardinger: And I think that's important because I think oftentimes, we hear the word innovation and we immediately jump to one end of the spectrum or the other and having that common definition. And how do you look at this particular innovation? Is it type one innovation? Or is it something that we're trying to build a brand-new business around? You know, I think having those conversations early and often probably help set the groundwork for executing on it as well. Jim Euchner: Absolutely. And I think there are multiple stages where you do that. So, you do it at the beginning and you know where you're trying to understand what am I about? When you get to the stage of incubation, you have to make a decision. Do I incubate this as part of a business or independently? There are techniques for deciding what you need to do and engaging the stakeholders in doing that. And then when you want to scale it. It's a decision again. Am I going to integrate this with one of my businesses? Am I going to take parts of existing businesses and combine them with the new to create a new venture?Am I going to acquire something to grow the business? Or am I just going to grow it organically? These are big decisions. So, you need to ask those questions repeatedly. And I've seen all three, even at Goodyear, all three types of scaling methods. Brian Ardinger: So, a lot of this comes down to culture, it seems. How do you start building that culture of innovation inside established companies?Jim Euchner: It depends on what you're trying to do. And of course, as it always does. Sometimes people are already in the midst of an innovation program, and they're not satisfied with how fast it's moving. Right. And it may be an incremental or an employee innovation. They're maybe not satisfied with the scale of the ideas that are coming out.Then I would say, you'll look back. You try to say, why. Why are people not collaborating? Why are people not proposing good idea? Why are people turning away ideas that are good ideas, but maybe outside the norm? And you just keep asking why until you get to that cultural reality which is what we believe about what should happen or shouldn't happen.Edgar Schein, who's really the father of corporate culture, he made people aware that it exists and that it matters. He would say that at the core, there are a set of beliefs about who we are, what we do, what's acceptable. And even if we were trying to change and we articulate a whole different way of operating, those beliefs won't change just because we've articulated different view. They're like the compiled wisdom about what works for a career inside a company. If you want to change those, you have to do it very deliberately. First, you have to identify the ones that have leveraged. And then you have to deliberately put in place counter behaviors and supports that help people and remind people to exercise those behaviors.If you do that and it succeeds, eventually the culture will change. But you won't change the culture by telling people, by training people that this is now the culture. By espousing a different set of values. It just, it happens over time, in a very deliberate way, I think.Brian Ardinger: Yeah, you got to walk the walk. Another big topic that I always run into and people in the audience ask us about all the time is how do you incentivize corporate innovation efforts. And how do you measure them? How do you know if you're on the right track? Jim Euchner: I have maybe a different view than a lot of people do about the incentives part of the question. I think people who are in the field of innovation want to innovate. And the biggest incentive you can give them is a place where that can happen.If you don't give them the elements that are necessary for that, they're going to be gone. Or they're going to be frustrated and they're not going to be productive. If they feel like I'm working someplace where I can make a difference. I can make something happen. That's more important than, you know the bonus structure or something like that.The metrics I think, need to be there for metrics, both of how the project's going and how the organization's supporting it. I think the best metrics for big innovation is at a portfolio level. You look at a lot of ideas. You test them. Only a few may come to the value proposition stage. Fewer go into incubation. And you measure on aggregate are we moving stuff through the pipeline. Are some things getting into incubation? Are we launching any of those businesses? Are they hitting profitability targets? But it's over a period of years, not a particular year. You get rewarded in year eight for work you did three years ago, oftentimes. Right. And they're at a portfolio level. So you're not saying this team got an award and that didn't because it's the overall portfolio that's driving success. And we use something called 10- 3 -1 at Goodyear. Over a period of five years, we wanted to put 10 businesses into incubation. We wanted to decide to scale three of them. And then we had a revenue target for what we wanted to get out of the aggregate.Brian Ardinger: Yeah. It's very similar to, I guess, venture capital-based model. Betting on a portfolio. Knowing that some are probably going to fail. Others may return some capital, but you'll have those outliers that eventually returned the fund and then some. Jim Euchner: Yeah, exactly. And I think that's the way executives have to think. A difference between inside a corporation and outside is, a venture capitalist is playing with his or her own money and they can make a bet to win inside a corporation. There's often a reluctance to make a big bet to win. Because you got to explain it to the street and it might not succeed, or it might take longer than you expect to succeed.And so, there's this asymmetry between those two worlds, even if they're about the same objective. Amazon doesn't worry about that. Tesla doesn't worry about that. They've got credibility and cash and they can make it happen. If you're a company that's been around a hundred years and people are watching quarterly earnings growth, and they're worried about dividends, it's a harder play. But I think in the new world, executives are going to have to get good at betting to win, not betting to minimize the, the downside loss. Brian Ardinger: You've been in this space for a number of years. Have led it in corporations. And now on the outside as well. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen over the years?Jim Euchner: The first big change I saw was really you would call it design. That's really part now of the practice is a part of the lean startup. But it's being customer centered in the way you're doing innovation. So, identifying a space that you're interested in. And then spending real time. So, some places borrow tools. I have in my career from the field of anthropology to really understand customers from the world that they're in. And to innovate into their needs instead of from your technologies or from your idea of what customers want.I think that's been a pretty profound change. I think a lot of companies do customer centered approaches without trying to short circuit the deep anthropology or the deep ethnography. And I think they miss a lot. They'll get good stuff to make a better product, but not necessarily the kind of insight that will let them create a new business.So that's a big one. Another is Agile. And iterative and business experiments. The idea that you don't need to do this stuff in the lab. You need to do the stuff in the world, right. You need to get out of the building. And that's difficult for a lot of R and D people especially. Getting out in the world and framing business experiments the same way you might frame a technical experiment and learning from them. And pivoting from there.I think that's a big shift. And then I think people are now thinking more about business models and about the difficulty of them than they ever have before. That's a still, I think, a very difficult subject. I think there are systematic ways of developing business models. But it's dicier. But I think those three things focusing on the customer. Focusing on an iterative experimental prototyping way. And worrying fairly early about well what's the right business model. Not just what's the easy business model. Brian Ardinger: That makes sense. Are there any trends or anything in the future that you're excited about? Jim Euchner: I'm very bullish on innovation right now. And part of the reason for that is there are so many technologies that are growing so fast. Every time you have a new technology, it opens up the design space. It opens up the way you can address customer needs. And sometimes in a really fundamental way. AI is particularly interesting to me. I think there are some archetypes of companies that are born with that perspective in mind. And they're productive and efficient and fast and customer centered. And I think they're a new model. I really think there is a new template for what the corporation of the future are going to look like. And innovation is much more at the center of it. Amazon is a wonderful... there are a lot of detractors of the way it optimizes the workforce, and so forth. But I think the way it focuses on customers and what you experience every day, if you use it. The way it experiments to create new businesses. In particular, the way it uses its assets to enter a new realm and just pivots all over the place. So, who would have thought, you know, a book seller is going to be a movie producer and a cloud services producer, a logistics provider on the scale as FedEx and UPS. It's amazing. I think companies are going to need to really learn from that example. And it's a, I don't know they'll all be grown from the ground up or whether some companies will be able to adapt. But I'm excited to see which, what the innovation companies of the future look like. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Absolutely. We are living in accelerated times, and it'll be interesting to see where it all ends up. I really do appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share your knowledge and that. The book is called Lean Startup in Large Organizations. If people want to connect with you and or find out more about the book, what's the best way to do that?Jim Euchner: They can go to So that's a website and, or they can connect with me on LinkedIn.Brian Ardinger: Well, Jim Euchner, I really appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation today. We're looking forward to continuing the conversation in the future and then have a great day. Jim Euchner: Thank you. Very nice to talk with you.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  As an Amazon Affiliate, we may earn a small commission from purchases. 
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Allison Weil, Senior Associate at Hyde Park Venture Partners. Allison and I talk about some of the latest trends in venture capital in places outside the Valley. And we dig into some of the tips and insights for new founders.Inside Outside Innovation is a podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat to what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with Allison Weil, Hyde Park Venture PartnersBrian Ardinger:  Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. We have Allison Weil; she is a Senior Associate at Hyde Park Venture Partners. Welcome to the show, Allison. Allison Weil: Thanks for having me. Really excited to chat today. Brian Ardinger: Have you, we've had a chance to work together a little bit. You were panelists at the IO 2020 summit and helped look at a lot of the startups that we had at the startup showcase. And you and I were on an investor panel for the Pipeline Entrepreneurs about a month ago. I realized we hadn't had a chance to sit down and talk more in depth about the life and times of venture capital here in the Midwest. So, I figured I'd have you on the show. How about you tell the audience about Hyde Park Venture Partners and what do you focus on? Allison Weil: Yeah, absolutely. So, Hyde Park Venture Partners, we are a seed through Series A, venture capital fund, based in Chicago, that exclusively invests in companies in what we call the mid-continent. And we define that as the traditional Midwest plus Toronto and Atlanta. Most of our investments are in software companies. A lot of it is SaaS, but we're also investors in marketplaces and tech enabled-services and companies that we invest in can be anything from free product, you know, with a great team, all the way through a few million dollars in annual-recurring revenue.Brian Ardinger: The new world that we're living in, the post COVID world, let's take a step back and over the last year, what have you seen? That's changed the dynamics of venture capital in this now post COVID world. Allison Weil: Yeah. Great question. So, I think, you know, the first and most obvious thing is the shift to entirely remote investment. You know, prior to this past year, we really actually emphasize meeting our founders in person.You know, you learn a lot when you meet someone in person that you can't over Zoom call, you know, or a phone call. And I think that's still true for the record. So, it's not a thing that I think is going to stay permanently. I'm not on a perma-Zoom bandwagon, but you know, obviously that was kind of the first thing is a shift to fully remote investing and investing without meeting our founders in-person at all. The thing that, that enabled that's been different particularly in the Midwest, is it means that investors and founders don't have to be in the same city or location, which makes it easier for coastal investors to spend time with interesting companies in the Midwest. And so that's been a trend that we've certainly noticed a little bit.The other thing that we've noticed, frankly is that investment hasn't slowed down at all. It might've slowed down for a little bit in March and April is everybody, ourselves included, took some time to like orient ourselves to this new world, like personal life, professional. Like what in the world is going on right now? Let's figure it out. What's going on with our portfolio companies, get everything stabilized. But past that, investment's been going on rapidly and at high valuations, and the markets are shockingly hot. All of that is what I'm seeing, which is certainly, probably not what I would have anticipated, if you would have asked me, you know, the second or third week of March, like what's this next year going to look like.Brian Ardinger: A number of questions come to mind after what you just talked about, one being, so you mentioned investing remotely. What have you learned about how you can read a person or what specifically is different about investing remotely versus in person and how have you adapted? Allison Weil: What investing remotely requires you to do is spend a little bit more time just on having those conversations with folks over Zoom, right? So typically, you'd invest in person. You might go to lunch with somebody or dinner, you know, in the city, and just build that rapport. Right? Early-stage investment report is actually pretty important because you're building your relationship that can last a really long time. And so, you don't want to cut that time short. You still want to spend lots of time with the entrepreneur. You still want to get to know them and you can do that over Zoom. Right? Like you can still learn about like who are you as a person? How do you lead a team? You know, how do you interact with people who are different than you? How do you make decisions and all of these things that are still important, you can pick it up via Zoom.There is some stuff that you can't. I think some of like the interpersonal chemistry is a little bit different over Zoom versus, you know, in-person, but you still have to spend all of that kind of time getting to know folks. It just might be more sporadic than the concentration that you had, you know, when you traveled to their city.Brian Ardinger: Have you seen founders address it differently or different ways that they've come across better in that particular environment?Allison Weil: I rely more on quality decks than perhaps I did in the past. So, in that first conversation, if it was in-person, it's a little bit easier to interject and kind of read the room a little bit more and people over Zoom, the really good founders, are doing that over Zoom effectively. So, they are using a deck, but they're using it as a prop rather than as the center of their conversation. Right. They're still reading my facial expressions. They're still figuring out, you know, if I have a question that needs to get asked or where to pause and where to keep going and things like that. And they're effectively guiding the conversation much more so. I prefer those kinds of intro conversations to be more like a conversation than a pitch.Like I prefer folks to tell me their story, rather than walk me through their pitch deck. And so the best founders are using Zoom and are using their pitch deck to enable them to really tell their story, versus tell the story of their pitch deck. Those are two different things. Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing more cold outreach than that? Or are you still seeing the same deal flow from other founders recommending or other venture partners and that recommending? Allison Weil: I'm probably seeing marginally more cold outreach right now, but I don't think that that's a function of Zoom. I think that's a function of just some other things that we, as a funder doing and I'm doing.  So, most of our deal flow is definitely still coming from referrals, from our funds, or for me doing outreach. I certainly do a significant amount of cold outreach to new folks that I find a mountain ecosystem. I welcome cold outreach. Anybody who's listening to this, who wants to send me a note, who is a founder in the Midwest and is like, I would like to talk to Hyde Park, like don't wait, send me an email. I love cold outreach. I'm not scary, please do it because that's something that I welcome. Frankly, I think is a great quality in a founder because it shows a boldness that's going to be pretty important. Brian Ardinger: The other thing you kind of mentioned at the initial question, you see a lot of talk about founders and companies moving from Silicon Valley to other cities like Miami or Austin or Denver, Chicago. What are you seeing on that front? And are you seeing a shift from the tech hubs to the other places in the world? Allison Weil: You know, I find that that's probably a little bit more buzz than reality. You know, I'm actually originally from South Florida. And so, I see all the leg VCs moving to Miami talk and it's December and January. And like, that's a lovely time to move to Miami. Talk to me again in August and I'll welcome them to Chicago. Because I'm sure that's when the shift will come out of here. I think that there is a shift, but it's a marginal one. You know, I think at the end of the day, most folks are still, you know, for better or for worse, going to concentrate in the same place as they've been concentrating.And it might be a 5 or 10% movement out of Silicon Valley or New York or something like that. And now 5%, 5 or 10% is, is certainly not nothing that that is, you know, potentially a pretty significant shift into other ecosystems and can make a pretty outsized impact. I don't think 90% of folks are leaving Silicon Valley or will anytime.Brian Ardinger: Are founders talking about it as far as like, they're no longer thinking, well, I've got to actually go out and find money in Silicon Valley or open up an office out there. Are they actively saying, well, it's now on the radar that I don't have to be there?Allison Weil: The founders that I talk to in particular are the ones that never were planning to like initially open an office in Silicon Valley. And our whole thesis is that you don't need to be in Silicon Valley to start your company and to build your company. And you can look at our portfolio and see that there are great companies in it that don't have any office presence out in Silicon Valley. They might raise funds out there, but that doesn't mean that you need to have a significant office presence out there and you need to find talent out there. I just fundamentally don't think that that's a requirement. I think it's even less of a requirement now. And I think what we are seeing is founders having an increase in their distributed teams and really building more fully, remotely and open to that because obviously, you know, everything is really fully remote right now.But I think in the long-term, I am on the more skeptical side about the long-term impact there. Right. I am someone who believes that people will return to offices, kind of, as soon as it makes sense to. The network effects of being in an office and being around your coworkers are too great. And that It's a lot easier to get promoted when you're in front of your boss every single day, all the time, then it is, you know, remotely as much as you kind of wish it. And then as we returned to do those kinds of environments, that's where I think the world's going to go. Brian Ardinger: You do a lot of outreach to find startups in that. What's your favorite way to find or research startups? How do you go about analyzing the deck of opportunities out there? Allison Weil: So, I find opportunities, a lot of accelerators, incubators, pitch days, et cetera. You know, anytime a startup does something like that, there are VCs trolling it, looking for the interesting ones. So, I certainly do that a lot. I like local media, a fair amount, actually. Particularly because I tend to be sourcing in secondary markets. The kind folks at Startland News, for example, are going to report on a startup pretty early on once it starts getting momentum. And I certainly read that all the time to make sure I'm on the pulse of what's going on in the Western Midwest. As far as analyzing a deck, the first read of a deck of like, whether it's interesting or not. You know, my first question of anybody is who are you and how did you get there? So I look, I go straight to the team page and I'm like, what's going on here? Why is this a good team for this kind of company? And a good team can come in a bunch of different forms, but that's kind of a core question that I want to answer.And then it's, is this an interesting problem? Is it an interesting solution? And I don't mean what I'm about to say next in a bad way, which is then my bar is actually pretty low after that, right? Like, which is, I am optimizing on I want to talk to every potentially great founder in the Midwest and every potentially great company in the Midwest.That can be hard to tell off of like a website or a deck or a LinkedIn page or whatever it is. And so I want to have that conversation. And so, anytime I'm on, there's like a spark of anything, I'm going to reach out and I'm going to want to have that conversation. And I'm going to want to spend 30 minutes and see, Hey, you know, is this something I want to spend a little bit of time on? Because the upside for me is significantly higher than the downside would be. Brian Ardinger: So, let's switch gears and talk about what are some of the trends that you're seeing? What are some of the industries that you're looking at? What are some of the changes that you're excited about? Allison Weil: We're generalist investors. So, I take a look at everything across the spectrum. I look at healthcare, I look at FinTech. I look at e-commerce, I look at drones, you know, whatever. Whatever it is, I look at it, which is awesome in a lot of different ways, but it makes it really hard for a question like that. But I think the trends that I am watching in particular, I think the biggest one is e-commerce infrastructure. You know, obviously over the course of the past year, e-commerce as a share of the total, like retail has increased dramatically. It's something like, you know, 10 years of progress over two months is what happened in March and April. And so, we at Hyde Park have a number of investments in e-commerce infrastructure.We just made another one announced yesterday in Blackheart, which is a Toronto-based company, that's enabling try before you buy, which we're really excited about. So that's kind of one area. The other area that gets me excited in the FinTech space is around financial tools for folks that like don't have financial tools that really work for them.The banking system, as it stands, kind of works for a subset of the population, but it doesn't really work for lots of people or businesses. And so, anytime I see a FinTech company that is working towards building a better financial reality for the broader population, that's something that gets my attention.And then the third thing that I get excited about are picks and shovels for industries that are still emerging. And things that kind of get my attention there, e-sports is a big one, you know, fast growing, you know, already a pretty significant share of users is the big one. Another one is drones, as I mentioned. So, like not so much a drone company, but a company that will enable drones to do deliveries. And a company that will enable the data to get off of drones, more easily. Stuff like that could be an area that I would get pretty excited about and same goes for other kinds of autonomous vehicles or whatnot.And so that's the sort of third area that I love spending time in. And then I get really excited about. There's more, but those are three highlights. Brian Ardinger: And the last topic I want to talk about is, so you've been on both sides of the table. You've been a founder with a startup. Now you're on the other side as a venture partner. What's some of the best and worst startup advice that you've seen from both sides of the table that you'd recommend to our founders out there that are listening. Allison Weil: The best advice that I will tell you from my own failed startup is make sure that you are building a team around you that you can excel with. Right? You need to make sure that everybody around the table, at the earliest stages, when it's two, three, four people, every one of those people needs to be working in sync and effectively and at their best and entirely committed. Without that, it makes everything else really, really, really hard.And so, like really making sure that you've got a great team and that you're working with a great team that you want to be in the trenches with is probably the biggest piece of advice I would give from my time as a founder. And from my time as an investor, the other side of it is, and like, there's part of me that really hates this advice. There's part of me that like, doesn't want to say this, but it's also really true. Make sure you know how to tell your story. At the end of the day, you only fundamentally get like 30 minutes with me most of the time or, or other venture capitalists. In that 30 minutes, I need to be able to answer a number of different questions about you and what you're building. I need to understand it well enough to share it and share what's exciting about it with the rest of my team if I find something interesting. And it can be hard to do that if you're not effectively sharing your story with me. Who are you? How did you come to this problem? Why are you passionate about it? What are you doing to solve it? You know, what's the status of the business and how's it going? And like quality answers to all of those in a short period of time can be difficult but practice it and really make sure that you're doing it. Because the last thing that I want as a venture partner is to have a great business in front of me that's just not good at like, making it clear that it's great. Because that's heartbreaking to me. Like there's something here, but if I can't see it and I can't like wrap my hands around it. Then I'm not going to be able to kind of keep digging in or it's going to be really difficult for me to keep digging in.Brian Ardinger: I think that's an important point that being able to, the founder being able to translate that to the venture partner, so that they can translate that to their other partners and get feedback and that. I think that's the hardest thing. Oftentimes you see a nugget there, but if you can't clearly then re-communicate that back or transfer that enthusiasm the same way the founder does, it oftentimes dies right there. Allison Weil: Completely or the founders will get stuck on like one part of their business. Actually, one of the biggest problems I see sometimes in a pitch is folks that are solving big, hairy, important problems, get stuck on the big hearing important problem, but they forget that like, I know that it's a big carry important problem.Like I live in the world too. And like, I see that the financial inclusion one is a great example. Like I see that this is a huge problem, and I don't want to spend 20 minutes, of my 30 minutes on it. I want to spend one minute of my 30 minutes on like the piece that's like, here's there's this big problem. And then I want to spend 29 minutes on, and this is how we're going to solve it so much better than anybody else that you talked to about it.For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Absolutely. Well, Allison, it's great to talk to you and get some insight what's going on. I'd love to have you back on the show and tell us in the future, what you're seeing and that. If people want to find out more about yourself or about Hyde Park Venture Partners, what's the best way to do that. Allison Weil: Our website is And my email is Allison, And I'm always happy to chat. And as I said earlier, love cold outreach. So please, please do it.Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well thank you for being on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your thoughts. Looking forward to continuing the conversation and have a great week ahead. Allison Weil: Thank you. And you as well.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTERGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  Originally published February, 2021
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