On Tuesday, May 29th, we will be holding our next Intrapreneur Alliance event in Toronto. The theme of this gathering is focused on how companies can create real cultures of innovation, rather than just paying lip service to the idea. We have some really great guests coming to speak about their experiences doing just that.
We’d love to have you join us, please check out more details and register to save your seat for the breakfast event here.
We’re excited that our keynote speaker for the event will be Ben Yoskovitz, founding partner of Highline BETA, a new venture development and startup co-creation company. Before starting Highline BETA, Ben had worked in startups for many years and co-authored the book Lean Analytics, which combines Lean Startup and analytics to help companies of all sizes build better ventures faster. He now uses that experience to help companies create new ventures and promote innovation. He will also be bringing that knowledge to our audience by presenting on the models he has found to work best when companies want to promote intrapreneurship amongst their employees and create innovative new products and practices that will take them to the future.
We had a chance to sit down with Ben and ask him a few questions in preparation for the event. Here’s what he had to say about why companies need to think about their future, what holds them back from innovating, and the power of co-creation:
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a Founding Partner at Highline BETA, a new venture development and startup co-creation company. Background-wise, I’ve been in tech entrepreneurship for 20+ years, having started my first company while in university (back in 1996). I’ve started a few companies, an accelerator, ran product at a couple of startups (GoInstant — which was acquired by Salesforce; and VarageSale), and angel invested in 15+ startups. I also co-authored Lean Analytics, a book about using data and the Lean Startup methodology properly to build better startups faster.
These days I’m focused on growing Highline BETA, which I co-founded with Marcus Daniels in 2016. My work is incredibly varied. I do a lot of training and facilitation with corporate clients on Lean Startup and Design Thinking. I work with the Highline BETA team and our clients to build ventures, from the earliest ideation and validation to developing MVPs and launch plans. I run accelerator programs. I meet with startups to explore partnership opportunities and investments. There’s a lot going on, all at the same time, which makes my job incredibly interesting and rewarding.
Highline BETA does something called “start-up co-creation.” Can you explain what that means?
Startup co-creation is about taking the best of what big companies and startups have to offer and bringing those together in a way that will empower corporate clients to build lots of new ventures. For big companies to truly innovate beyond their core business, they need a repeatable, scalable model for building lots of “little companies” (or “new ventures” or “startup co-creations.”) We help big companies unlock the assets on the inside (including domain expertise, access to clients, under-utilized assets, capital) and very quickly, within a 2-3 month sprint, identify new areas of opportunity and growth that can be developed through the creation of something net new—a startup or venture. A startup co-creation or new venture can mean many things, be it a new product line or business built within a large company (spin-in), a startup partnership, investment, acquisition or a new startup that’s spun-out.
Why do you feel that it’s important that companies constantly think about their future? And why does innovation play an important role in shaping a company’s future?
Big companies have a dual challenge: maximize value creation in the short term and stay relevant in the future. These aren’t always the same thing. And what might work for short term value creation/returns is often not what works years into the future. If companies focus too far into the future they get penalized in the short term. If they focus exclusively on short term targets, they’ll miss out on fundamental shifts in the future and find they’re quickly irrelevant.
Companies need to balance short and long term approaches to innovation. And the methodologies, people, structures, etc. needed for both are different (although there is a necessary synergy between them.)
You’ve been around the startup and tech space for most of your career helping companies do some pretty innovative things. What factors/values do you believe a company needs to have a true culture of innovation?
Companies need to provide a “safe space” for innovation to take place—especially innovation that takes a longer term view, or is more expansive and beyond a company’s core focus/business. A “safe space” means that you have to espouse a few key things—for example, the metrics used on innovation projects are different than those used on core projects. Early on, when starting something new, you can’t use metrics like revenue or profitably to measure success/progress. So you need a new way of measuring progress for innovation projects. Team composition for innovation projects is likely different as well; I’m a big believer in small, cross-functional teams that can do pretty much everything on their own without needing to use a ton of other “departments” or resources (startups, for example, don’t have the benefit/luxury of all those extra resources!) You also need to give people space to fail or pivot and the tools and training to work and operate differently.
What is the most common thing that holds companies back from having these kinds of cultures?
Actually, I think it’s the fact that the company has a business to operate. Operating a large company is very different than starting something new. Balancing the two is incredibly difficult. So the very fact that a big company has to operate, and has expectations on quarterly earnings, profits, product release cycles, etc. is the very thing that holds it back from implementing a true culture of innovation. You wouldn’t tell a big, successful business to stop operating; to stop focusing on driving efficiencies, growing the top line, launching incremental product innovations. Those are all things that a big company has to do, and do extremely well. They’re also focused on the short-term — and without that longer term view and an action plan for executing on / delivering on future opportunities, big companies miss out.
Since starting Highline BETA you’ve helped quite a few companies plan and put into practice models to help them think innovatively and then act on those ideas. What’s the benefit these companies get from outside help rather than trying to do everything themselves?
No one truly does anything by themselves—even the most revered entrepreneurs that everyone puts on a pedestal rely on others to help them, whether that’s internal employees, investors, partners, family, friends, etc. Highline BETA brings a very entrepreneurial and investor-focused viewpoint to things, which most companies don’t have a ton of experience with. So we provide a new perspective and marry that with a deep understanding of how our corporate clients operate—both the challenges and opportunities they have. We bring an “entrepreneurial doer” mentality to everything we do, with the benefit of having seen a lot of things (i.e. startups, models, investments, etc.) and tried a lot of things. There’s no perfect playbook for the type of innovation that we’re pursuing with our clients. There’s no guaranteed formula for new venture development and startup co-creation, and so it’s difficult for any company to go out and simply execute a strategy in this area without external support that’s lived and breathed the world of entrepreneurship, startups and early stage investing.
If you would like to hear more from Ben and others, come out and join us for a morning of great learning, networking, and advancing the conversation on the importance of intrapreneurs and innovation. Register here today to save your seat, as space is limited for this event.