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Innovation in the Collaborative Economy

Point: The collaborative economy enables new business models (and disrupts old ones).

Story: The collaborative economy is growing as individuals find new ways to connect directly with their peers to share or rent their assets and skills. The collaborative economy includes sharing assets like spare rooms (Airbnb) and cars (RelayCars) or consumable goods (CampusBookRentals, Toyswap) or services (TaskRabbit, oDesk).

The peer-to-peer rental market alone is worth $26 billion, according to Rachel Botsman, and that doesn’t include peer-to-peer-lending or crowdfunding, which is predicted to reach $5 billion this year.  Altimeter Group’s sample of 200 collaborative-economy startups revealed that one-third had received VC funding, amounting to $2 billion overall and an average of $29 million per company.

Consumers are sharing and collaborating with each other as new platforms make search easier and verification more secure.  The collaborative economy is expanding rapidly because it:

  • appeals to consumers who want to make money from their unused assets (RelayRides avg $715/mo)
  • appeals to companies who want to rent out extra office or warehouse space or equipment
  • appeals to individuals who want to earn extra income running errands or doing one-off tasks
  • appeals to individuals and companies who want to rent assets at a lower-cost or on a short-term basis
  • is good for the planet: renting a car when you need it means fewer cars need to be built. Patagonia is partnering with eBay to encourage re-sale of its used clothing rather than have it go to the landfill.

Some collaborative-economy startups are partnering with existing players. For example, Deliv partners with retailers who want to offer same-day delivery to customers.  Big companies, seeing potential disruption as well as opportunity, are entering the market as well. BMW is offering rentals from its dealership in San Francisco, and GM invested in RelayRides, which connects car owners who want to rent their cars with consumers who want to rent them by the hour, day or month.  GM gave RelayRides access to GM’s OnStar Navigation System, which is installed in 6 million American cars. Anyone who has an OnStar-equipped car and wants to rent it out can sign up on the site and then use the OnStar app to let the approved renter unlock the car via the app rather than handing over the keys.

Action:

  • Explore new business models enabled by the collaborative economy. Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang and Chris Silva offer three models: Company-as-a-Service, Motivating a Marketplace, or Providing a Platform. Or, use Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas to think through changes in the nine elements that make up a business model.
  • If you’re an established company, think about ways you could be disrupted, and consider jumping in or planning a counter-move.
  • If you’re a startup, consider providing a platform that connects and verifies the parties involved. Be aware of legislation and incumbents who may seek to legal action (bus companies blocking ride-sharing services like Ridester.com) or running afoul of licensure or insurance laws.
  • And whether you are an individual or a company, think about the under-utilized assets that you have sitting around.  Perhaps there’s a way to monetize them.

Sources:

 

The Sharing Economy, Economist March 9, 2013

Rachel Botsman, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

Ontario bus-companies trying to shut down competition from ride-sharing groups

Crowdfunding tries to grow up – May. 6, 2013 – CNN Money

Jeremiah Owyang

Chris Silva

 

1 Comment »Case study, Customers, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, Opportunity

Quick-Win Innovations

Point: Get quick wins by encouraging small experiments throughout the organization. They’re fast, inexpensive, and reduce the fear of failure.

Story: One of the biggest obstacles to innovation is fear of failure. Rarely do people want to bet their careers or companies on what might — or might not — be the next big thing.  But fear of failure becomes a self-imposed obstacle to success.

As Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos says, “Innovation is part and parcel with going down blind alleys. You can’t have one without the other. But every once in a while, you go down an alley and it opens up into this huge, broad avenue. And that’s so satisfying and, from a shareholder’s point of view, so successful, that it makes going down blind alleys worthwhile.”

The key twist isn’t to avoid failure but to avoid high costs from failure.  To reduce those costs, institute and encourage ongoing little experiments throughout your company.  For example, Google does this by testing more than 5000 software changes a year. Amazon does it by continuous A/B testing.  And CEO Scott Cook made experiments common practice at Intuit. In Cook’s experience, 89% of experiments don’t lead to a breakthrough or even to an improvement, but that doesn’t make them a “failure” — the experiments simply provide data on what doesn’t work.

These little bets cost little in terms of time and money. They don’t require weeks of planning; rather, they’re tweaks to an idea that can lead to eventual, substantive breakthroughs.  Ever hear of a company called Odeo? Most people haven’t, because Odeo was a small podcasting company of little distinction until its CEO, Evan Williams, gave employee Jack Dorsey two weeks to develop his idea of a short messaging system. That quick prototype developed into Twitter.

Action

  • Don’t use uncertainty of success as a filter — the more you don’t know about your chances, the more you can learn by trying.
  • Do consider how you might inexpensively look down a possible avenue to see where it leads.  You might use a A/B testing, co-innovation with a lead customer, or a quick minimum-viable prototype.
  • Test fast, test often, but pay attention to the results, especially if the unexpected happens.
  • Learn what you can from any failures — not just that the idea failed, but why it failed and what it says about your customers, your markets, or your business environment.
  • Use each test of a new avenue to scout for other avenues. Even a blind alley can have a side-passage that leads somewhere wondrous.

For more information:

Dave Gray, The Connected Company

Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Jeff Bezos: ‘Blind-Alley’ Explorer.”

Peter Sims, Little Bets and “What are Little Bets?

No Comments »Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Productivity

GameChanger: Open Innovation through Angel Investing

Point: Create an internal venture fund to incubate revolutionary ideas.

Story: This week’s Innovation Summit at the Shell Technology Center Houston (STCH) highlighted the need for innovation and collaboration to solve society’s most pressing challenges. As the world’s problems become more complex, the best way to tackle them is with a cross-disciplinary approach.

What are some ways that companies can foster this multidisciplinary collaboration to achieve breakthrough innovation? One way is to create an open mechanism inside the company that solicits promising ideas regardless of where they come from — including outside the company — and offering seed funding that’s outside of the company’s traditional R&D programs to give them time to develop.

GameChanger

Shell is doing this with its GameChanger program, headed by Russ Conser.  GameChanger seeks out and invests in early-stage ideas that could potentially revolutionize the energy industry. GameChanger plays the role of an angel investor; a panel screens ideas and selects ones to fund. Idea submissions can come from any Shell employee as well as from outside the company.

Shell actively solicits ideas from academics and entrepreneurs alike through its web site www.shell.com/GameChanger.  Ideas that pass the initial screen receive seed money — $25,000 to develop a robust proposal and on up to $500,000- $1 million a year to actually test and develop ideas that graduate into projects.

Example

For example, Erik Cornelissen, a research scientist, was in a toy store looking for a gift for his nephews when we saw a science toy that many of us have seen before: a dinosaur that grows in size when placed in water. A nifty, fun gift. But Erik made a connection back to a perplexing problem that had plagued Shell and other oil companies for a long time. Specifically, oil wells contain water, not just oil. Over time, more and more water gets pumped up relative to oil.  Not only does that make the well less productive, but it pumps water that increasingly is becoming a scarce resource itself. The question is, how to detect that water and prevent it from mixing with the oil?

Erik realized that the same principle behind the dinosaur toy — a material that expands upon contact with water — could be applied at the oil well. Erik needed to identify a “swellable elastomer” that would seal off the pipe when water started to mix with the oil flowing through it. The idea was not difficult to articulate or explain, but finding this kind of material proved long and difficult. GameChanger provided Erik with the time and funding he needed to go through hundreds of experiments to find the elastomer that fit the demanding conditions at the oil well site.

Results

About 40% of Shell’s core Exploration & Development R&D portfolio has evolved from ideas submitted to GameChanger, and 70% of the GameChanger portfolio includes collaboration with people outside of Shell.

Since its inception in 1996, GameChanger has funded 3000 ideas, investing $350 million and resulting in 250 commercial projects, said Gerald Schotman, EVP, Innovation, R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Shell.

Action

• Publicize clear and explicit selection criteria, so external submitters know what you want and will fund.  For example, GameChanger uses 3 primary criteria:

  1. Novelty: is the idea truly and fundamentally new and different? (There’s no point in funding ideas that would qualify as traditional R&D projects.)
  2. Value: Could the idea create substantial new value if it works? (Wild ideas are welcome, but ultimately they need to deliver value if they come to fruition.)
  3. Credible Plan: is there a plan to manage risks prudently? (New ideas are risky, but many risks can be identified up front and plans can be put in place to stay ahead of them.)

• Have an end game for how you’ll commercialize an idea that demonstrates feasibility. For example, GameChanger uses 3 commercialization strategies:

  1. Move the idea into the company’s internal R&D portfolio.
  2. License the idea externally.
  3. Spin off a new company to bring the idea to market.

2 Comments »Capital, Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, open innovation, R&D, Strategy

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