Date: Thursday , September 05, 2013
This month’s article focuses on another breed of entrepreneur known as intrapreneur. An intrapreneur is a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product or service through proactive risk-taking and innovation.
In this article, I provide the insights and wisdom from Abnesh Raina, Founder and CEO of PlumSlice Inc., a highly successful intrapreneur and a well-respected IT industry executive. Abnesh Raina has 20 years of IT executive experience building effective global teams and multi-channel commerce solutions. An award-winning CIO in 2009, he earned CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Award for enabling business growth using technology innovation. His new company PlumSlice is a product management system that unites all players in the product development cycle as a single collaborative team on the cloud. The PlumSlice services and software make collaboration easy at all stages of the lifecycle: product design, development, product selection, vendor selection, product information, customer engagement and delivery. Knowing how the cloud works, PlumSlice supports the way people work and communicate today on mobile devices, socially, and globally. Prior to founding PlumSlice, Abnesh held CIO/VP level positions with Restoration Hardware, B/E Aerospace, and AMS (acquired by Baker & Taylor). He began his career as a software developer working for Williams Sonoma and Manhattan Associates. With special gratitude to him, here are four key take away (4KTA) points from his unique intrapreneurial experiences based on my discussions with him recently.
1. Alignment with Corporation – While there are similar characteristics in both an entrepreneur and intrapreneur, one key factor that helps an intrapreneur is having alignment with corporate goals. Many times, you as an intrapreneur may demonstrate your prototype first, then ask for permission. You, however, still need to do it within the confinement of the corporate culture. The benefits for an intrapreneur is having access to free resources, funding and infrastructure and the ability to play within a large sandbox. For instance, I felt, in a multi-billion dollar global commerce company, that driving ecommerce and mobile strategy would help it leapfrog its competitors. It will not only help position the company as the leading innovator in its market but also, may bring incremental revenue. However, at that time, company was facing operational challenges related to the supply chain. So we aligned with company’s immediate goals and demonstrated measurable success within eighteen months. By exhibiting results, I was given the approval for ecommerce and mobile project.
2. Support of the Organization – Once you are aligned with the corporate strategy, you need to have relationship, support and confidence in your competency from your organization for delivering the proposed results. You have to balance your risk taking attitude since rewards for success as an intrapreneur are not as high as an entrepreneur. The cost of failure is very high as you may get fired and hence the reason for having the support of organization, not just your higher-ups but also your colleagues at the similar level or below is a must. You can navigate the risk in a measurable way and the organization may accept some risk or small failures in a calculated way.
3. Return on Investment – In intrapreneurship, there is a saying, “making moles out of mountains”. By showing success in small steps, you can garner support for your project proposals. For example, in a large multi-billion dollar retail company, we were able to drive almost 10 percent increase in on-time delivery to customers by taking on an unpopular project. We were able to secure support as other departments saw small successes and impact to the topline and bottom-line for the company. You must exhibit success in short time increments of three to six months. The organization will usually not support a two year project.
4. Measurable Metrics – As we all know, there is so muchpositioning, team dynamics and politics that on in large organizations, it becomes imperative that you have a well-defined and measurable metrics before you embark on your project. Have alignment and buy-in from the related departments on these metrics. Everyone agrees that these metrics constitute the criteria for project’s success. Make sure that participating departments are recognized as contributing to its success and are an integral part of it. Cross the finish line with the whole team. It takes much longer to be successful as an intrapreneur than an entrepreneur due to getting pertinent buy-ins, approvals, right timing and support from the various teams. Be patient and do not give up. Maintain a positive attitude. Many organizations these days realize the significance of supporting the environment for intrapreneurship.
This helps them in keeping smart, talented and entrepreneurial employees from leaving the company. For instance, in my CIO role in a multi-channel retail company with hundreds of stores across North America, we had various challenges. The business processes, organizational structure, and tools were isolated for each channel. There were seventeen spreadsheets being used to manage the product information before being uploaded into ecommerce and ERP system. A numbers of mistakes were being made, e.g., one item worth $1700 was listed for $1 before it was caught due to disparate and manual process. The wrong color items were being shipped to the customers. We decided to take an Omni-channel approach so there was a single version of truth for the final product information across all channels. Initially there was resistance since organization structure was set up by channels. While this was one of the foundational initiatives, the company was turned around and became profitable after several years of being in loss.
As a result of this project, I recognized the market opportunity that several large retailers had the same pain point. To address this, I founded PlumSlice to help the multi-channel retailors to not only bring quality products to market faster using cloud based software tools including product information management, product research, product development and product selection modules. All this is provided with no upfront cost and only at a fraction of current implementation cost and time while helping them generate additional revenue at a much lower cost.
In summary, the four key take away points for being a successful intrapreneur are having alignment with the corporation, having support of the organization, demonstrable return on investment and measurable metrics.
Naveen Bisht is Co-Founder of Auriss Technologies, Inc, a serial entrepreneur and Board Member, Chair- Programs, The Indus Entrepreneur(TiE), based in Silicon Valley, California.