5 key takeaways about entrepreneurship in large enterprises

The most successful large organizations never forget their startup roots. Instead, they find ways to preserve their entrepreneurial mindset, even in the face of growing scale and maturity. I’m honored to work for Comcast, which is such a company, surrounded by leaders who are driven by a collective passion to create innovative experiences that change customers’ relationship with technology.

As business leaders, we recognize that if we can create amazing customer experiences, then we will also build long-term value that grows the company. That growth is fueled by a healthy tension between optimizing existing, proven lines of business and creating exciting – but untested – new businesses.

While there are some common threads that connect entrepreneurs everywhere, being an effective entrepreneur within a mature organization requires a special set of skills and circumstances. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my experience:

#1: New business needs to be on the front burner

At its highest levels, a successful company needs to make new business creation a priority. It sounds obvious, but it must be clearly outlined that the goal of acquiring new business needs to be followed with actions and investment.

The first step is to identify an operating team whose full-time job is to develop new ideas and explore new market opportunities. That team should be held accountable for proposing a new portfolio of investments, and then be expected to lead any new businesses that are green-lit. They need to be focused on net new businesses rather than just line extensions and come up with solutions that leverage core corporate assets and provide material market advantage. In addition, they should be given the freedom to examine the data, assess technology trends, and gain user insights. In short, the operating team needs to be able to try and fail, and learn and then try again. Then, once one of those bets begins to pay off, it’s time to really lean in and invest.

#2: Balance grit with collaboration

Assembling the right operating team will always be a challenge. It’s not enough to identify talented individuals who are willing to zig when everybody else zags, so to speak. At the same time, an “us against the world” mentality may not work well in a large enterprise.

One should never understate the importance of grit, the will to make change happen, and the ability to forge partnerships both internally and externally. In founding a new stand-alone company, grit is critical, but it is also and especially needed to counteract the “this is the way it’s always been done here” mentality that creeps into established, more risk-averse enterprises.

Balancing sheer force of will with the ability to partner up is what separates the good from the great. The most successful teams that I have been lucky enough to be part of were not external hires but made up primarily of insiders. They had the courage to take risks and make change happen within a large organization.

#3: Freedom to fail (responsibly)

As this operating team executes on its new business charter, there are some basic protections and freedoms that need to be given. Independence from the core business priorities gives the team both flexibility and permission to challenge the status quo. The new team also must be liberated to explore creative solutions, challenge existing norms, fail responsibly (but quickly learn and adjust), and make independent decisions without the threat of penalty from the mother ship. This takes a lot of guts, trust, and leadership, but the payoff, in the end, can be huge.

#4: It takes time — and money

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Comcast. New business teams also need a sufficient amount of time, as well as financial independence, to turn their strategy into execution. As each quarter’s close approaches, it’s easy to prioritize core business lines at the expense of new business growth. But by giving your entrepreneurial teams a comfortable leash and financial independence, they’ll have the power and latitude to maintain a longer-term view of their new business regardless of other short-term factors. As long as they have full accountability for meeting their financial performance goals, then these new business groups should be given the resources and the time it can take for them to flourish.

#5: Full financial accountability

The biggest benefits of being an entrepreneur within a large enterprise are the assets you have access to. Large companies often rely on a shared services model. For example, some may have consolidated sales channels, marketing, customer care and support, and installation technicians. It’s easy to prop up a new business by allowing it to take advantage of these core services. However, in order to drive the proper operational behavior for this new business team, every expense, no matter how insignificant, needs to be accounted for. This helps create the “ownership mindset” that is aligned to the cultural norms of the already established business teams.

It may seem straightforward, but the day to day practice of the above, along with a willingness to invest for long-term growth, is surprisingly challenging. Nothing should ever get in the way of a good idea, no matter where it comes from. At Comcast, opportunities are always available to those who think differently about how to approach business. At the end of the day, we will stand behind those who see new opportunities, the will to make change happen, and an ability to partner internally and externally to bring our customers the best experiences.

Daniel Herscovici, the author of this article, is the SVP and GM of Xfinity Home. It was produced in partnership with Comcast.

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