Get your company acquired and have yourself a nice little exit. That’s the dream of many startup founders, and it’s a fine goal.
But that’s the problem with goals. There’s no clear next step. So if you get acquired, the real question is this: what comes next?
I got a chance to chat with Oren Shatken about precisely that question.
Shortly after Shatken won the Powder Keg Startup Bowl 2012 with his startup, FoundOps, it was acquired by Angie’s List. Shatken joined the Angie’s team after the acquisition, where he has since been working on building and launching SnapFix, a mobile app to help get home repairs done. It’s based around the camera on your phone, and is, in his words, quite frictionless.
I was excited to catch up with Shatken to hear about what he had learned from his transition into intrapreneurship. This intrapreneurship case study in product innovation certainly taught me a lot about what that transition from startups to corporate intrapreneurship takes, and surprised me more than once.
Intrapreneurship Case Studies: Angie’s List and SnapFix
Founders Make Great Product Managers
When it comes to his experiences with leading a startup and leading a team at Angie’s List, Shatken says, “There are more similarities than differences. The hacker mentality lends itself pretty well to Product Management in any sized organization.”
As Shatken points out, “Getting things done, at the end of the day, is what counts for any sized company.” And as Shatken navigates between large departments with their own KPIs to achieve in support of corporate goals, startup experience makes seeing the big picture a whole lot easier.
Product Innovation Can be Easier in Larger Companies
In startups, we’re used to facing new challenges and encountering problems we’ve never seen before. When that happens, we hunker down, strap our thinking caps on, and hold on for dear life. That’s how we do product innovation.
And in larger companies, as Shatken describes, there is a directory of niche experts at your fingertips. This makes getting things done a little easier–provided, as Shatken points out, that you communicate every step of the way.
“With that many people involved in projects, you just have to err on the side of over communicating. I’m used to having my six person team in a room with me, and now it’s tons of people spread over multiple campuses and cities. You have to over communicate to be successful.”
Startup Project Plans are Different than Corporate Project Plans
When building a product for release, three variables define the product release cycle and how the project is managed.
Scope of project
The Startup Project Model:
Delivery date: set
Resources required: set
Scope of project: fluctuates
This is sort of the 37 Signals model, or the Lean model, and it’s how startups tend to live and breathe.
The Corporate Project Model:
Delivery date: set
Resources required: fluctuates
Scope of project: set
In a corporate environment, you have a certain feature set that must be released on a certain date–so, the resource pool fluctuates. The company trusts individuals to go out and find the resources, internally or externally, to release the identified feature set on time.
This key difference highlights one of the limitations startups bump up against: the opportunity cost of being resource constrained. So, what can we take away from this difference as founders and startup leaders?
When you identify an opportunity you can’t pursue due to resource limitations, plan how you’ll react (on the roadmap) if one of your competitors does take that route.
Entrepreneurs Need to be Managed by Entrepreneurs
The Angie’s List story is relatively unique in that, though the company has hired many hundreds of employees and is now publicly traded, it’s still founder-run.
“Angie and Bill are still here. They founded the company almost two decades ago,” says Shatken, “But they’re still very much involved in the day-to-day.”
This, Shatken says, makes the transition from entrepreneurship to intrapreneurship much easier.
“The nice thing is that it’s a shared outlook, a shared mindset, so it’s really easy to work with them and relate to them,” said Shatken. “If you’re ever in the position of acquiring a company and you’re trying to figure out how to manage entrepreneurs–which sounds like a total Catch-22–the important part is that you have other entrepreneurs manage them.”
Whether it’s the founder, an early team member, or an entrepreneurial executive that manages intrepreneurs, the key is that they can understand each other’s concerns and ideas more easily. Entrepreneurs speak the same language.
“I’ve experienced both at Angie’s List, and for me the experience was night and day,” said Shatken.
More traditional corporate employees work their way up through their department by setting and achieving Key Performance Indicators. As the employee advances, the set of KPIs they are responsible for grows. But as an entrepreneur, Shatken can’t ignore his holistic view of the company–and his recipe for success requires teammates managing him that can understand his point of view.
“Once you’re entrepreneur, you never stop thinking about the big picture.”
There are lots of intrepreneurship examples that we can learn from, and Shatken’s experience with SnapFix is a great one. If you have questions about intrapreneurship, ask in the comments!
Or join us in-person on Thursday, January 30th to connect with Oren and get your questions answered face-to-face.