entreSociety

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Archive for the tag “Product development”

Large companies as platforms for enterpreneurship

Entrepreneurship is not something that often arises when we think of large companies.  Maybe that is because we think of the legacy products and large scale infrastructure when we think of a large company.  We see bureaucracy and a commitment to productivity over change.  That perception would not be wrong because in most instances that is what they are.  They have legacy products and services that absorb most or all of their resources and attention.  Some have entrepreneurial units intended to create new products for the future that are poor second cousins and often amount to nothing more than window dressing.

I have long been curious as to the mix of large and small companies and how they will fit together going forward.  There are many cases of large companies becoming irrelevant as upstarts disrupt their markets and push them out.  Others just fade away over time as their market erodes or their performance declines.  Only a few seem able to go on through all kinds of change and turbulence and that number is declining.  Most struggle with innovation and rethinking their business models.

What if we looked at big companies in a different way?  We might see the potential for real innovation.

Large companies have some resources that would be valuable to the entrepreneurs as they develop their business models and try to scale them.  Large companies often have global reach with distribution and people in markets around the world.  They have infrastructure that enables large scale production and distribution.  There are lab facilities and other means of building and testing products and services.  There are usually financial resources that can be used to fund and build new ventures.  Finally they have people used to running larger entities and systems and processes that early stage companies can graduate to once they prove their business model.

With that in mind we could look at large companies as platforms with pools of capital on which to start and grow new ventures.  Thinking from this perspective will give a whole new structure to the lifecycle of businesses and products.  The company would not be the products but would be the mechanism to create, scale and retire a constant stream of products and services.

Part of the company would continue to focus on operational excellence in delivery of active products by constantly finding ways to improve their access to markets around the world and to efficient production and delivery of products and services.  The strength of this part of the organization will be essential in the ultimate success of products being developed.

Under this model all products would lack permanence.  They would be in place until the next generation moves them aside and funds would not be spent trying to extend the life of a dying product through price cuts and advertising campaigns.  The role of senior management would be to manage a portfolio of products and ensure that the knowledge and resources flow between the venture development and operational sides of the business.

With the market access, core product and technology knowledge and scaling infrastructures these companies would incubators on steroids.

What kind of innovation is it? Increasing the chances of success.

There is a step we need to consider before we make a final decision on the product and the target customers.  We need to determine if the product will be a sustaining or a disruptive innovation.  I will once again use the concepts developed by Clay Christensen.  In future posts I will integrate concepts from multiple sources and my experience.  However the distinction between sustaining and disruptive innovations is the major breakthrough Christensen developed in his work and there is no other predictive theory that captures it as well.

A sustaining innovation is one that “targets demanding, high end customers with better performance than what was previously available.”  In this instance a company is adding features and functionality to an existing product that is being sold to its existing customers.  The jobs to be done for these customers are already being addressed.

Disruptive innovations are “simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less demanding customers.”  That is, customers whose jobs to be done are not currently being addressed by existing products in the marketplace.

The important things to note here is that the incumbents never lose in a sustaining innovation fight and almost never win a disruptive innovation fight.  In fact, the incumbents will often abandon a lower value market to a new entrant with a disruptive product so they can focus on their higher value customers.  If your job to be done is an improvement to an existing product that is serving an established customer base it is a sustaining innovation and you will fail.  You need to ensure that your product is a disruptive innovation.

There are two groups of disruptive innovations.  The first is low end disruption where a cheaper and less functional product is offered to a set of customers that don’t need the functionality of the existing product and will be happy to pay a lower price.  You need to determine if you are able to offer this product at a cost where you can make a profit.  Over time the disruptive product will improve its functionality until it will be attractive even for the incumbent’s customers.  However the disrupting company will be able to meet the needs of this market at a lower cost structure.  The incumbent will not have the ability to lower its cost base and will lose the customer base.

New market disruption is the second type of disruptive innovation.  This type of disruption targets customers that targets people that do not use any product or service for their job to do because they do not have the expertise to use the existing products in the market or cannot afford the cost.  They may also avoid the existing offerings if they are not convenient to use.

A disruption may also be a combination of the low and new market variety.  Low end customers of an existing product may move to the less expensive or complex product and a new group of customers will be brought into the market.

In the previous post we determined that the starting point was to find a customer job to done that we could address with a product or service.  In this post we qualify that selection by ensuring that the product or service is a disruptive innovation and does not try to take on an existing competitor in their area of dominance.  From there we can identify the initial customer and design the launch product.

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