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10 tips for corporations – from upstart start-ups

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ROGER NORTON, CEO at Startup Studio Playlogix.com, looks at what lessons corporates can learn from startups about innovation and what they can do differently to compete better. 

Innovation is the new competitive advantage, and large companies are realising that it’s hard to do when culture, processes and mindset don’t support this new way of thinking. Startups, however, are increasingly proving to be great vehicles for creating innovative products as they continue to disrupt markets and outcompete the more entrenched larger and slower companies (until they get acquired at least…).

Acquiring external innovations and merging them into a larger company is an approach that often fails. This is because the dynamics that drive a corporate for things like risk reduction and cost optimisation are totally at odds with the dynamics that have allowed the startup to thrive in the first place. Applying key practices to create the right environment could significantly increase the odds of success.

Firstly, startups are small autonomous teams that work under conditions of extreme uncertainty, searching for a repeatable, scalable business model by being laser-focused on the value that they provide to their customers. There are also many dynamics at play in a startup and an important number of constraints. For example, time and money, and the type of funding startups raise needs constant validation and proof that they’re on a winning track to encourage them to keep experimenting until they are sure (in theory, but in practice, it’s a lot messier…)

To recreate these startup constraints, while removing the big corporate ones, is no simple feat. Here are some tips on what helps that we’ve picked up along the way so far:

1. Run many small projects simultaneously, not a few large ones.

You’re not going to get the best ideas in the beginning (no matter how good you think it is now). Running lots of small experiments allows you to ‘learn how to learn’ faster and increases your odds of finding amazing opportunities. It’s a numbers game –  ask any venture capitalist. This approach also allows you to focus your energy and capital on what really matters and leave off the ‘nice to have’ features.

2. Create a safe-to-fail environment. 

Running lots of small experiments is a great way to achieve a safe-to-fail environment, but an extra effort should be made to celebrate the failures as these indicate the things that you’ve learnt. It’s also important not to overhype small experiments and create high external expectations. Every project you invalidate early saves you the money you would have previously spent trying to launch it. Fail fast and early.

3. Create cross-functional teams. 

Use multi-disciplinary teams from many different areas of expertise and various levels of management. Diverse teams not only bring very unique perspectives to each problem, but they also allow the space for the idea to morph into a bigger opportunity in an adjacent area. Hierarchy bridging teams help allow decisions to be made fast and implemented faster. You need to keep the feedback loops tight.

4. Have a single driver for each project. 

If you’re trying to build a startup, you need an ‘entrepreneur’. One person that is involved in every aspect, has all the context and can make decisions really quickly. The buck needs to stop somewhere, and at least one person needs to be 100% focused on making it work. This person also needs to document the project and decisions along the way, something that is critical when needing to report to the traditional business.

5. Have a clear validation path for each project with clear milestones that needs to be followed. 

Mapping out clear objectives, what is expected at each stage, what support is available, and what the team should be focusing on at any given time helps create the laser focus on what’s most important. The objectives should also set out time and budget limitations throughout the process (we’ve put together the Lean Iterator process under a Creative Commons license to help with that).

6. Focus on solving a customer’s problem, not on a particular solution.

By trying to build a particular product, it’s not complete until it is, and that means that you can’t learn anything until the end. By focussing on a customer’s problem, you will easily find ways to make improvements early on, and you will learn your way to the best solution. It also means you’re more likely to build something people actually want (this point is covered in detail here).

7. Identify the business unit that will be the custodian if it works and engage them early on. 

If it works, then the project is going to need to move onto a department’s balance sheet. Keeping them in the loop of the project from early on will help you build something that makes that process much easier. Find out what their KPIs are and how you might effect them. Understand the corporate governance restrictions that you’re going to have to navigate. This aspect is one of the biggest failures of the “successful” projects that I’ve seen.

8. Define success before you run experiments and review regularly. 

Every experiment needs a hypothesis. You need to know what you’re testing for before you start. Clear success criteria help you work out what is most important and is the easiest way to prevent getting distracted on things that don’t matter. It helps you hear the signal in the noise. Research competitors as early as possible to make sure you’re differentiated and keep testing for feasible revenue streams early.

9. Allow anyone in the company the opportunity to try something. 

Innovation is not limited to an ‘innovation team’ or a particular level of employee. To build an innovative culture and environment, you need to allow anyone in the organisation to try something, give them the time away from their normal responsibilities they need and not punish them when they go back to their role.

10. Have clear incentives for winners.

Startups are hard. The risk, pressure and energy required to make them work need to be worth the reward. The type of reward will depend greatly on the project, but there should be a rewards framework defined up front. This compensation could be in bonuses, recognition, profit share or something similar.

The bottom line is that in a corporate environment that optimises for cost reduction, failure is seen as a waste. But failure is inevitable when you are trying something that hasn’t been done before. It is better to optimise for ‘maximum learning’- which is how you optimise to come up with new innovations fastest. And we believe that creating startups is just a more reliable way to do this.

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Appdate: No wallet? No problem?

In his app roundup, SEAN BACHER highlights VodaPay Masterpass, Charge Running, South African App Integrator Directory, uKheshe Health and LocTransie.

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VodaPay Masterpass

Digital mobility is now a way of life and most are using smartphones to pay bills. 

To meet this need Vodacom and Mastercard have launched VodaPay Masterpass, which enables Vodacom customers to load any bank card into a secure digital wallet, downloaded as an app on their smartphone. Once loaded, these cards and the secure credentials associated with them are safely stored, enabling customers to start transacting immediately without the hassle of entering card details each time they make a purchase.

Vodacom customers can buy prepaid data, airtime and SMS, or voice bundles, directly through the app. They can also select the Pay Bills menu option to settle their DStv accounts, pay a utility bill or take care of a traffic fine.

With the app’s Scan to Pay functionality, users can scan a QR code to pay for goods and services wherever Masterpass is accepted, including all SnapScan and Zapper merchants. Once a QR code is scanned, users select the card they wish to use, and enter their bank PIN number on their own device to complete the transaction.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download and users will not be charged for any transaction fees.

Stockists:  Download VodaPay Masterpass for iOS here and for Android here.

Charge Running

Most running apps track data like pace and distance and, in some cases play audio designed to motivate you, but don’t give you the push you get when you run with a friend. Charge Running is an app that lets you run alongside other runners, virtually, as well as giving live coaching to help you go the distance.

The app includes features such as:

·       Unlimited access to live running classes and virtual races  

·       The ability to compete with runners anywhere in the world in real-time

·       A live leaderboard that shows where you are in the pack to keep you pushing

·       Live, personalised feedback from professional trainers 

·       Group chats with coaches and fellow runners throughout the run

·       On-demand runs for times when you can’t join the live groups 

·       A choice of difficulty levels and race types 

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free seven-day trial; thereafter R150 per month

Stockists: Visit the Charge Running site here for downloading instructions.

South African App Integrator Directory

The South African App Integrator Directory from Xero is designed to solve the complexity of choosing apps for small business owners.

The directory is now available in South Africa with six partners, including Realm Digital, Radical Cloud Solutions, Nimacc, Insights, Iridium Business Solutions and Creative CFO. According to Xero, these are all organisations with a proven track record of successfully integrating marketplace apps into Xero businesses. There are also currently over 700 apps in Xero’s App Marketplace worldwide, 21 of which are South African born.

As small businesses become more tech-savvy, they need to know exactly which apps to install on their devices and how the apps will help them. They also need to be able to install these apps from a trusted integrator so they know for what they are paying. 

Platform: Any device with an up-to-date Internet browser.

Expect to pay: A one month trial version is offered, after which the App Integrator ranges from R125 to R245 per month, depending on the company’s needs.

Stockists: Visit Xero here for downloading instructions.

Click here to read about uKheshe Health and LocTransie.

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Prize offered for drone films

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DJI and SkyPixel, the world’s most popular aerial photography community, have announced the first short film contest inviting users to submit cinematic stories shot with camera and gimbal products. The 2019 SkyPixel Short Film Contest will accept entries until 14 October 2019. It welcomes submissions from all creators, ranging from hobbyists to social media users and professional videographers. around the globe.

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The 2019 SkyPixel Short Film Contest consists of three storytelling categories—‘Big Moments Start Small,’ ‘Make Your Move’ and ‘Adventure Starts With You.’ There is no restriction on the type or brand of equipment participants use, and they can submit as many videos as they wish.

A total of 100 winners can win a range of prizes totaling $48,600 USD in categories including Recommended Films, Best Editing, Best Story, Nominated Entries, People’s Choice Prize as well as This Week’s Most Popular, sponsored by the partner SanDisk and WD brand from Western Digital Corp. This year’s Best Short Video winners will each receive the new Ronin-SC Pro Combo, Osmo Action as well as WD 2TB My Passport Wireless SSD.

Winning entries will also be showcased on the SkyPixel website as well as to DJI’s millions of fans and followers across its social media platforms.

“DJI has redefined how people capture stable video for all of life’s moments. The compact size, portability and powerful imaging system of our Osmo and Ronin series have also made it possible for anyone to take their creativity and inspirations to the next level,” said Basile David, Director of Brand and Content Partnerships at DJI. “With this contest, we hope to encourage more people to embrace and share their own creative way of storytelling.”

Since 2014, the SkyPixel online community has attracted 16 million professional aerial photographers and content creators from more than 140 countries, growing into the largest aerial photography community today. Over the past five years, SkyPixel has received over 150,000 submissions, becoming a go-to platform for original aerial masterpieces and extraordinary footage powered by other gimbal products focusing on various themes.

Details of the 2019 SkyPixel Short Film Contest

The short film contest consists of three categories:

Big Moments Start Small: Create a video showcasing the small, lightweight design of your camera device and your best cinematic scenes. Users are recommended to include at least 10 seconds of behind-the-scenes clips of their product such as DJI Osmo Pocket or other devices.

Make Your Move: Create a video showcasing the stabilized footage from your device. Users are recommended to include at least 10 seconds of behind-the-scenes clips of their product such as DJI Osmo Series or other devices.

Adventure Starts With You: Create a short, cinematic narrative film to showcase your creative skills and visual effects. Users are recommended to include at least 10 seconds of behind-the-scenes clips of their product such as DJI Ronin Series or other devices.

*Video submissions should not be longer than three minutes in length.

Submission Details

Submission Start Date: August 15, 2019, 2:00 AM (EST)

Submission End Date: October 14, 2019, 2:00 AM (EST)

Award Announcement: October 31, 2019

Interested participants can visit the 2019 SkyPixel Short Film Contest website for more information on contest rules and guidelines. For more information, contact: Skypixel.campaign@dji.com

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