A large number of aspiring entrepreneurs currently work for big companies. Like all entrepreneurs, they dream of creating innovative products or services and wonder if this can be done internally. The answer is yes.
Guy Kawasaki experienced the “best-case” scenario: of internal entrepreneuring: the Macintosh Division of Apple. In his book “The art of the start” he came up with a list of recommendations for internal entrepreneurs.
Put the company first
The internal entrepreneur’s primary, if not sole, motivation should remain the betterment of the company. When you have a good idea for a product or service, it will attract a large number of employees, from the bottom up. They will support you if you’re doing it for the company, but not if it’s for your personal gain. Internal entrepreneurship isn’t about grabbing attention, building an empire, or setting up a way to catapult out of the company.
Kill the cash cows
Don’t announce this widely, but your charter is often to create the product or service that would put an end to existing products or services. Still, it’s better that it’s you who’s killing your company’s cash cows than a competitor or two guys in a garage. If you don’t kill the cash cows, someone external will.
Stay under the radar
Entrepreneurs should try to get as much attention as they can. However, the opposite holds true for internal entrepreneurs. You want to be left alone until either your project is too far along to ignore or the rest of the company realizes that it’s needed.
Find a sponsor
There are people who have paid their dues and are safe from everyday petty politics. They are relatively untouchable and usually have the attention and respect of top management. Internal entrepreneurs should find a sponsor to support their projects by providing advice, technical and marketing insights, and protection.
Get a separate building
An internal entrepreneur, sitting in the main flow of a big company, will die by a thousand cuts as each department manager explains why this new project is a bad idea.
Give hope to the hopeful
Good people in big companies are tired of being ignored, forgotten, humiliated, and forced into submission. Inside every corporate cynic who thinks that “this company is too big to innovate” is an idealist who would like to see it happen.
Anticipate, then jump on, tectonic shift
Whether caused by external factors such as changes in the marketplace or internal factors such as a new CEO, tectonic shifts signal changes and may create an opportunity for your efforts. Effective internal entrepreneurs anticipate these shifts and are ready to unveil new products or services when they occur.
Build on what exists
Don’t hesitate to utilize the existing infrastructure to make innovation easier. You’ll not only garner resources, but also make friends as other employees begin to feel as if they are part of your team. If you try to roll your own solutions, you’ll only make enemies. You don’t need internal enemies—there will be enough enemies in the marketplace.
Collect and share data
The day will inevitably arrive when a bean counter or lawyer is suddenly going to take notice of you and question the reasons for your project’s existence. Prepare for that day by collecting data about how much you’ve spent and how much you’ve accomplished.
Let the vice presidents come to you
Quick question: Do you think that your first step should be to get your vice president to sign off on your project? It shouldn’t be. This is one of the last steps. You may have to ensure that a vice president “accidentally” makes that discovery when the time is right, but this is not the same as seeking permission to get started.
Adapted from The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki, Penguin