Entrepreneurial Tips from a CPA CEO: Neil Berman on Founding, Leaving, Returning to and Growing Delivra

When the stereotypical entrepreneur is a 20-something with a sales or marketing background shooting for the moon, Neil Berman stands apart. He had a career in accounting before founding Delivra, an email marketing service provider that’s a “unicorn” in its own way.
The company itself is a rarity in the software world: it’s profitable. I spoke with the CEO about the advantages his accounting background gave him and what’s in store for Delivra.

Watch the full interview with Neil Berman here:

Dot-com Boom Beginnings

The year was 1999. Adoption of the Internet was rising rapidly, and Berman wanted in on “what I felt was a really big thing.” A former employer had once told him that if he could find a business that met three criteria – faster, better, and cheaper – he should go for it. Berman’s wife was working for the postal service at that time, and when he compared email communication to regular mail, Berman felt it met all three: “I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.”

Entrepreneurship, CPA-Style.

Until then, Berman was an accountant: “I still belong to the Indiana CPA Society.” Working on the public side of accounting, he gained an inner look at many companies and what made them successful… or not. When starting his own company, Berman just didn’t buy into the classic entrepreneurial model of raising money, growing as fast as possible, and selling out. Between his conservative mindset and desire for independence, he opted to not seek investors and instead grew organically, initially starting Delivra out of his own home.

“I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow, the more money they lose. Then their business collapses, and they don’t really understand why.”

-Neil Berman, Founder and CEO of Delivra

To this day, the company is opening a new regional office every three months without having to raise money or get a bank loan. When mentoring others about entrepreneurial finances, Berman said, “I find that either their eyes glaze over or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid.” He emphasized that it’s vital to understand your business’s key performance indicators, especially what you have to do to break even. “If you’re in school today, take some of those accounting classes that you hate,” he advised wryly. “I didn’t like them either, but it’ll be useful information someday.”

On Walking Away…

NeilBermanLike fellow CEOs Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz, Berman left his own company and returned, but for a very different reason. Six years ago, Berman’s wife became ill and passed away very suddenly. Devastated, he hired a team of five to run the company’s functional departments in his stead and traveled the world: “I didn’t know if Delivra was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again.”

…And Coming Back.

Two years ago, Berman did return: “Coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me. I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.” However, while the company was still profitable, competition had considerably heated up during his absence, and sales had flattened: “What we were doing previously had stopped working.” Berman jumped back into the saddle and set about determining Delivra’s future.

On Consultants and Dirty Laundry.

Since he knew the business, the market, and the competition, Berman had a vision for Delivra’s path forward but hired consultants to help him make a more informed decision. After “doing what consultants do” – surveying and interviewing customers, staff, and people both inside and outside of the industry – they presented a recommendation that aligned with Berman’s hunch but was better defined and more actionable. When working with consultants, Berman stressed transparency: “You need to be communicative about everything. Air the dirty laundry.”

“The Magic Differentiator.”

DelivraToday’s email marketing industry is competitive, but Delivra is investing a lot of money in product development to offer clients a robust marketing solution. But perhaps its biggest differentiator is its focus on building relationships with clients via its expanding network of regional offices and offering them product enablement help up front: “We find that to be a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s how we’re going to grow the business.”

A Crash Course on Email Deliverability.

Delivra takes pride in helping its customers’ emails reach inboxes the right way: “Today, delivering email with the blizzard of spam that’s out there is challenging. It’s part science and it’s part art.” Watch Berman’s crash course on email deliverability and list hygiene →

How do you try to apply a financial mindset to your entrepreneurial venture? Comment below!

See Delivra for Yourself on May 14th!

It’s pretty awesome to see what Delivra has built in Indianapolis, Indiana. We use Delivra at Verge and I’m blown away by the people at this company. Come meet them for yourself at Delivra’s open house on May 14th. Hope to see you there! Click here to RSVP →

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Looking to Learn How To Build Software? It’s Cake

Building Software is Like Baking a Cake

Building software is a bit like baking a fancy cake from scratch, for the first time, without a recipe.Fancy Cake

Unless you’re an experienced baker, you will not feel confident that you can bake and decorate a multi-tiered cake for an expensive wedding between a couple of impeccable taste. However, software developers try to do just that, regularly. We sit down in front of our computer, and write up a specification for how our product will work when all of its icing-covered tiers are formed. In other words, we make up a recipe without having baked before.

We attempt to follow that recipe to the letter, though we haven’t actually built this exact product before writing the specification. What happens?

The software team implements The Big Feature you’ve been dreaming of – the one that is differentiates you from everyone else in your market. You’re as excited as a bride on her wedding day, as the bakery delivers the boxed-up cake, a differentiating feature for her wedding.

Unboxed, however, The Big Feature isn’t what you thought. It’s not going to convince users to use your product. It’s not going to wow everyone.

Let’s imagine another example to really understand how building software is like baking a cake.

A Wedding (Cake) Story

One bright Saturday morning, the brass bell attached to the entrance of Kima’s Bakery sounds, and a handsome young couple step through the door. As they walk toward the counter, beaming, they barely take their eyes off each other to watch where they’re going.

Kima has seen this a thousand times before. They’re going to need wedding cake.

“We would like a 5-tier wedding cake, french vanilla with a hint of carmel, with pearls and a lavender color that matches this.” The bride-to-be thrusts forward a bolt of cloth.

Hmm. A recipe Kima hasn’t baked before. I don’t know about you, but what I heard was “a large and unique custom software project”. Did you hear that, too?

Fancier Cake

“Okay! That cake is going to take some back and forth between us, miss. If we try to deliver a cake based on what you just told me on your wedding day, we’re likely to disappoint you. I know you want it to be perfect. Can you come back tomorrow to see our work on the icing color?”

Kima takes the bolt of cloth to the back of the bakery, where Jimmy and Bunk are working. They begin mixing food coloring into small bowls of icing, encouraging each other, going back and forth until the think they have it. Of course, brides-to-be have the right to change their mind.

“That looks exactly like the color of the fabric! Um, but, could you guys make it a bit lighter? It just seem so dark.”

This happens in every software project in which I have been involved. It’s normal! We are human, and as creative, imaginative, and vast as our minds can be, we can’t always know what works before seeing it action.

Your Product Isn’t a HouseSoftware is Cake, Not House

It seems natural to think of a software product as a building, and building software is often compared to constructing a house. Buildings are planned down to the tiniest of details before ground is broken. Blueprints are created. Materials and equipment are purchased far ahead of time. Software products aren’t buildings, though.

Software is cake – highly customized, specially flavored cake. To get it right, you need people collaborating frequently, prepared to make changes.

And at the risk of stretching the metaphor, I also recommend you start with a cupcake.

Intrapreneurship Case Study: Angie’s List and SnapFix

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. Intrapreneurship Case Study: Oren Shatken of SnapFix, Angie's List

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

You can see Oren Shatken pitch SnapFix at Verge on Thursday, January 30th or via the livestream on the Verge Indianapolis Facebook page.

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.”

Angie's List SnapFix

SnapFix lets you submit photos of your home repair or service projects, find the right service person for the job, and track and pay for your project–all through one frictionless mobile app. And you don’t even need to be an Angie’s List subscriber to use it.

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.

  • Delivery date

  • Resources required

  • 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

Intrapreneurship Quote

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.

Shatken’s recipe has yielded a fresh-baked new mobile app–give it a taste for yourself: iOS | Android

“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.

Founder Story: eFamily’s David Hosei on Acquiring Private Social Network Origami

Private Social Network efamilyWhen a new Y Combinator-backed private social network is interested acquiring the startup you’ve been bootstrapping for years, your ears tend to perk up. But what happens when you flip the script and end up buying that company instead?

You have a very good day.

One family-focused startup, eFamily.com, is looking to break the social network mold. And with their acquisition of Origami, eFamily.com is well-positioned to do just that.

I got a chance to catch up with eFamily.com founder and CEO David Hosei just hours after TechCrunch broke the story. Check out what Hosei had to say about the deal, why it matters in the private social networking market, and what he has learned from several startup acquisitions.

How eFamily.com Acquired Origami

The CEO of Origami had reached out to Hosei a few months ago. He was interested in acquiring eFamily, and Hosei wasn’t positive what the path forward looked like. eFamily ran on a legacy technology platform and wasn’t capable of winning the mobile battle.

“A month ago, we had been worried about competing on their level. The software they built is absolutely beautiful,” Hosei said.

Fast forward a month, and the picture has changed.

“Combined, over 30,000 families are members of Origami and eFamily,” said Hosei. Several other acquisitions helped propel eFamily.com to where it is today. Now, the software purchase allows eFamily to excel on iPhone and Android.

And as TechCrunch notes, if eFamily can transition to 4,000 paying subscribers, they will achieve stability. That is a target that Hosei is not only happy to aim for, but as he pivots from a freemium model to a more premium paid subscription, he’s confident he’ll reach.

Pivoting Away from Private Social Networking

Midwestern Savvy Meets West Coast Software

Hosei is a bit of a serial entrepreneur. 3gupload.com, Hosei’s first startup, was the leading provider of ringtones in the early 2000s. With over 4m users and .5m paying subscribers, chances are good that if you downloaded ringtones in the early days of mobile growth, you’ve already been one of Hosei’s customers.

After a successful exit event, the co-founder of 3gupload.com went on to start posters2prints.com. It was his mentorship that Hosei credits as a primary reason for his success to date, and that’s why he’s invested in the company.

Founder Lesson learned: if you find truly great mentors, follow them wherever they go. Until you’re ready for your next adventure, that is.

Hosei has a few projects going right now–he also invests in real estate around Indianapolis, and is always learning about other startups as an active member of the Verge Indy organizing committee.

“Growing up in Indiana, I always learned to diversify my risk and create multiple streams of income,” he explained.

And that desire for stability is what propels Hosei to push the social networking world to redefine itself.

Don’t Compete with Facebook. Play a Different Game.

“I’m trying to rebrand us as not being a social network,” Hosei said. He wants to move away from associating with the private social networking space. And social networking in general, for that matter.

“We’re really a destination for families to connect in a secure and private environment.”

“For example,” he said, “customers that own Smithfamily.com could use us to power their website. We want to be the tool for families to connect today. “Social networking is kind of dominated by Facebook, and we don’t really want to compete with Facebook.”

David Hosei’s Advice on Acquisitions and Partnerships

As an entrepreneur who has been on both sides of the acquisition coin, Hosei offered a few key insights to help startups looking to partner or acquire, whether they’re in the private social network space or not.

  • Find good advisors.

  • Do your due diligence. Seriously.

  • Find people that are smarter than you. If they aren’t on your team, ask them for input anyway.

  • Define how you can add value to the business you’re acquiring. What’s your position? How will you grow the business and create sustainability–for you and for everybody involved?

  • It’s okay to be lucky sometimes. “Origami called me and told me they were available to be purchased,” said Hosei, “And we moved pretty quickly on that!”

  • Be ready for the opportunity. Access to capital is extremely important when you’re preparing for an acquisition, but being ready to take a chance is the first step to getting there.

Looking Back: David Hosei Pitching eFamily at Verge in 2010

Funny how things change, isn’t it?

Before Verge was Verge, David was getting after it with eFamily.

Hustle never changes.


BOOM. The Terre Haute Startup Scene Explodes!

There’s momentum in Indy. All the great startup things happening in Indianapolis like Verge Indy, DeveloperTown and The Speak Easy, plus all of the Startup Weekends and monthly startup meetups, are motivating. But, how is this affecting Indiana as a whole? Well, I can start by speaking to the budding startup scene around Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley.

And, I say it’s exploding!

Terre Haute Tech and Bizprops

Some of the Terre Haute Tech crew at the July event talking with Tony Monteleone of Bizprops.

Let me explain. After attending several startup meetups in Bloomington and Indianapolis, over the last year I found a living, breathing tech startup culture right here in Indiana – it’s a bit of a hidden secret that’s on the cusp of being nationally recognized. In May of 2012, I attended my first Startup Weekend in Bloomington. It’s an unforgettable experience of startup mania played out over 54 straight hours of full throttle, non-stop action. Soon after recovering I realized what I had to do – bring that startup adrenaline rush back to the Wabash Valley! A few days later, I called an old college buddy and fellow geek, George Bowles, to explain how the startup scene is exploding. After just a few minutes of geek talk, we had our new tech startup meetup formed – Terre Haute Tech. The next day, we had our first member, Bryan Jackson, sign up. The following day, Bryan calls me saying he just signed up on Terre Haute Tech and has wanted to do the same thing for a long time! Awesome. After just three months, membership continues to grow each week.

So who else is in the local startup scene?

I talked with Paul Cardwell, President of Anedix Technologies, a Terre Haute software development company, about the local startup scene.

“I see a number of companies starting projects. From the mobile space, I am seeing it spike up, such as: Medical Apps, Legal Apps, Game Apps, News Mobile Websites, Internal Company Apps. In short, mobile is becoming more and more prevalent (phone and tablet),” Cardwell said. “I see tech people leaving, but some staying. The problem is, there isn’t an incubator offering in Terre Haute that handles non-student lead ventures (that I know of). It would be a good thing to see one spring up to help and/or fund local start-ups.”

Paul explained that they are developing mobile apps (and cloud/network enabled) using Corona SDK for Android and iPhone. http://www.coronalabs.com/

He enjoys building mobile apps and has been working on a cloud music player with animations.

Lance Gahimer has been working with local tech companies for several years and recently started a LinkedIn group for local IT folks to meet, greet and collaborate each month called Wabash Valley IT & Technology Council. Lance hosted the group’s first event in July and had a great turnout.  Many of the IT folks are also startup minded.

And there’s more. Our friend Bryan Jackson is taking an educational approach and has started a new meetup group called Tech Haute and has held a seminar on how to create a killer facebook fan page for your business. The group’s next meetup is about how to add Twitter to your social media arsenal.

Finally, a startup for startups is in the works in Terre Haute. The yet-to-be-named micro-incubator/co-working space will cater to tech startups by offering a great space to work and hang out with other like minded individuals, secretarial services, fast internet access, an in-house developer and evening mentor sessions with professionals of various business disciplines. It’s first startup is already in the works, a doctor-oriented medical application. I’ll be working with a local business owner to bring this space to fruition and, at the same time, ramp up the medical app.

While participating in Startup Weekend Bloomington this spring, I met several startup enthusiasts from around Indiana. Team EV Racing, one of the six teams chosen to compete, was a group of students from Rose Hulman. They had a great startup idea for an electric race car team that competes against gasoline and diesel vehicles. They even had a professional race driver interested in driving!

David Fisher, a Rose Hulman professor and member of Terre Haute Tech has been on a year long ‘tech sabbatical’ at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Sounds great, huh? Just to add some more pizazz, he also spent the three previous summers at Apple helping develop an Apple-Nike interface to be built into certain Nike running shoes. He brings those iOS, Android and Silicon Valley experiences back to Terre Haute to share with the next generation of Rose students.

Mitchell Landiss from Rose Hulman Ventures attended the July Terre Haute Tech event. He gave a great introduction on how his organization can help local startups, not only with product development at the 35,000 square-foot facility, but also with funding by offering venture capital through the Rose Hulman Ventures Success Fund.

“Rose-Hulman Ventures successfully collaborates with companies of all sizes – start-ups, growth-stage, and global corporations. Our client base operates locally, regionally, and at the national and global levels. The majority of our clients are located across Indiana. However, we also work with companies outside Indiana that bring a unique learning experience for our students,” Landiss said.

With all of the Regional Colleges and Universities the potential for tech startup talent is huge!

Ball State University
DePauw University
Indiana State University
Ivy Tech State College
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Harrison Business College
Vincennes University
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

When you combine startup talent with local tech meetups, co-working spaces, micro-incubators, angel investors and VC funding, there’s no where to go but up!

So get up, meetup and make your startup happen!

The Five Steps to Launching a Product In Less Than 3 Days

I don’t have enough capital. I don’t have that perfect idea yet. I don’t know enough about the market.

We’ve all heard excuses like these. But there’s one thing that truly holds us all back from launching our next big thing.

It holds us back because it’s the only resource we have that is not renewable. It’s the same for you as it is for me and for everybody else.

It’s time. And we all have 24 hours of it each day.

Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend looks to make the most of our days by creating an environment of action and by setting constraints on time—54 hours to be exact. Armed only with creativity and professional skills, participants at Startup Weekend are challenged to take their ideas from pitch to product in less than three days.

You’ll find these events all around the world but the most recent Startup Weekend was held up in the college community of Greater Lafayette, Indiana. As with all Startup Weekends, a panel of judges collaborated on the last day to pick a winning startup team. Last weekend’s start-up-a-thon spawned the event’s winning idea, Next Round—a novelty app for drink selection, toasts, and beer runs.

Team spokesperson, Andrew Gouty, gave us a glimpse of a successful Startup Weekend launch in this video interview:

1.) Nail the basics.

Pick a space that’s open for collaboration, maintains a comfortable climate, and pumps in blazing-fast Wi-Fi.  Lafayette chose a new co-working space called the Lafayettech HUB, and it was not only packed with start-uppers last weekend but was also filled with plenty of food and water—essential for keeping the work sessions going late into the evening.

2.) Define your problem.

Before you go building things, you have to know what you’re trying to solve. Next Round picked something they knew they would have fun developing and designing over the weekend. If you’re in need of inspiration, Startup Weekend provides interactive brainstorming games with random word pairings.  Just don’t forget to ask your potential audience if this is something they really want. In other words—get customer feedback and initial validation!

3.) Force yourself to refine.

Startup Weekend IdeasYou’re an entrepreneur. So, it’s your job to come up with all kinds of great ways to create value for your user and wow the customer. But it’s also your job to narrow down your ideas and pick the few that you’re confident will make the most impact. Remember that, in this exercise, you only have two and a half days to come up with a functioning product. It’s better to have 2 well-functioning features that your customers love than having 5 buggy features that prompt shoulder shrugs from your users.

4.) Create a cohesive team.

You can’t do it alone. So, seek out people with skillsets that are complementary to your own. Above all, make sure you have the bigger bases covered: graphic design, software development (front and back end), copywriting and marketing, and project management. Let people select their own roles because no one’s getting paid for this (at least not until you’ve all worked together to build something worth charging for). You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so get this step right.

5.) Go all in.

Once you have your big pieces in place, lay out a basic plan. Then, slam your foot on the gas. You don’t have time to write a full-blown business plan, so just jot a few quick goals down—along with a couple of key benchmarks—and go! You can rip, pivot, and refine further on the original idea, but avoid calling a complete audible. Make something happen in the direction of your initial inertia. If you got steps 1 through 4 right, I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome.

In the end, we’ve all built things and hit goals on limited timelines. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

So, I’m curious… what works best for you?

How Factory Week Taps Into Intrapreneurship for Product Innovation [Video]

Intrapreneurship by Factory WeekIntrapreneurship vs. Entrepreneurship

If you look hard enough, you’ll find intrapreneurship right where the comfort and resources of a corporation meet the innovation and empowerment of entrepreneurship. Intrapreneurship is essentially corporate innovation that results in a profitable final product. In companies that practice intrepreneurship, ambitious and assertive team members can work on their own projects in their favorite intrapreneurial teams.

Small Box, a Midwest web firm based in the hip Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis, infuses their team with the startup spirit twice a year for a product innovation period they call Factory Week.

This past week was the team’s second annual Factory Week, when Small Box-ers put on their intrapreneur hats for five full days to develop the product ideas that most inspired them. The passion of the fifteen team members pulsed through the entire off-site workspace. This year’s Factory Week was held at the recently opened Speak Easy co-working space for startups (this video really showcases the unique energy of the venue). Read on after watching to learn how to implement intrepreneurship at your company:

New Product Innovation Fueled By Culture

Talk to any Factory Week participant and you’ll experience the entrepreneurial energy—the kind that proactively solves problems and identifies opportunities—pumping through their veins. This isn’t a norm for people working at the average web design agency. So, how does Factory Week fuel this competitive edge on new product innovation?

By dedicating a week to working on personal project concepts, members of the Small Box team diligently track and record their business ideas. That means that the company is in a constant state of brainstorm that ebbs and flows as they collaborate on client projects through the year. Ideas aren’t trashed or ignored, because Small Box-ers know that there’s a dedicated time when those creative sparks could ignite something into existence.

Year-round communication is essential as people find themselves working in new teams and leading their own projects. Anyone at Small Box can (and is encouraged to) lead new product innovation on their own project during Factory Week.

“It helps us develop and identify leadership ability,” said Small Box CEO, Jeb Banner. “It also helps each person develop their project management skills. Everyone on a team should be able to track and manage progress.”

In leading and managing projects, intrapreneurial individuals develop higher levels of personal accountability. As they hit deadlines and release new products, team members benefit from confidence boosts that bring the team to higher levels of performance. Product innovation just doesn’t happen without product development.

Product Development Process: Practice What You Preach

Product Development Process

Photo by the Factory Week team

Can you fully understand product development and the product development process if you don’t sit on both sides of the table?

During Factory Week, Small Box team members walk a mile in the shoes of their everyday clientele. Businesses always benefit from viewing things from new perspectives, and for Small Box, that means building functional, profitable products by using a streamlined product development process.

Factory Week projects are prepped during the months leading up to the five-day work sprint. The Small Box team voices ideas during their weekly all-hands lunches and they use project management software to create threads for keeping the discussion going online. Projects and ideas are curated through a democratic voting system, then planned and scheduled.

After working through intrapreneurship projects, intrapreneurial team members often contribute new skills and product development processes back to the main business. With fresh perspectives and a new environment, it becomes easier to work on processes rather than the constant state of working in the processes.

The overall business grows in both the core business and in their new areas of opportunities (which are often blue oceans). And clients benefit by having a more experienced and empathetic team building their products.

Small Box looks to open their next Factory Week so a few other companies can participate in their intrepreneurship process. As the team gets more innovation weeks under their belt, they hope to spread the Factory Week system to other business, cities, and industries. Pretty cool, huh?

What intrapreneurial strategies have you tried?

Update: Learn about more intrapreneurship examples in this interview with Eric Tobias, founder of Scribblr, a 2-day product innovation.