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4 entrepreneurial lessons to become more successful

A new year is always an important moment to look forward, but also to see what you can learn from the past year, to celebrate successes and make new and ambitious plans for the New Year. We are a positive bunch: always looking for opportunities and willing to take on new challenges. We are about creating impact, not only about getting “work done”. You could say that the bigger the challenge the more excited we get as a team to make a change. In our programs we support social intrapreneurs to make a change, but we are only able to provide this support, because at Outside Inc. we are entrepreneurs ourselves. We start, launch and kickstart new initiatives throughout the year.  So when we look back on 2015, there are many results we are proud of, but at the same time there are programs and initiatives which did not succeed or which we weren’t able to get of the ground.

In this article we will share four entrepreneurial tips from one of our biggest learning experience from the past year. Maybe they are of use to your as an entre- or intrapreneur to achieve your goals.

You as an intrapreneur

One of the main characteristics of successfull intrapreneurs is that they are persistant, resilient and learning oriented. So that is what we would like to do in this short blog; to share with you some of the insights we gained this year. That way we don’t only learn from our experiences, but they might be helpful to you as an intra- or entrepreneur as well.

Some of the initiatives we started in 2015 just lacked the right timing, commitment, or the right partner-relationship. Over the years we have learnt to identify quickly if we can create the right breeding ground to kickstart new business concepts and ventures. That means we do early validation among relevant target group(s), start building active communities from the start and create viable partnerships in order to create the right ingredients for success. At the same time that also means that we sometimes have to conclude that plans aren’t feasible or that we have to put them on hold. For us, starting new initiatives is easier then pruning our portfolio and focus on the most compelling ones.

One of the things that sets social intrapreneurs apart from “regular” intrapreneurs is that they are intrinsically driven to make a (societal) impact and change something for the better. But no matter how driven you are, if you lack the ability to validate, improve and engage others in executing your ideas no milestones are reached.  However as an intrapreneur there is one specific challenge you have to deal with and that is: that you are part of larger existing structure in which you have to manouver carefully to engage the right people and take the right actions in order to successfully validate your plans and move them forward.

Co-creation for impact

We work a lot with- and for partners. In that sense, we also have to carefully deal with existing corporate structures, governance, relationships and polititics. We continuously learn and improve ourselves to adapt to these specific conditions. Since we work with a broad variety of partners different rules might apply and we always have to be sensitive about new surroundings and how to operate in them. There is one specific case in 2015 where we learnt the hard way that we weren’t able to successfully validate and execute a new program.

In October we planned to launch Brainwaves: a short challenge to generate mobility solutions for people with Alzheimer disease. One of the main activties was to organize a Hackathon to develop these solutions and to present these solutions to a broad public during a “pitch event”. As a team we were super excited about contributing to this huge societal problem and about the approach we wanted to take.

The overall approach was set by our partner and we had about two months to launch the Challenge and its supporting events. We build a website, branding strategy, kick-started active social media groups, set a clear vision and call to action, build a first community of potential participants, spread the word through various channels and partner organizations, and organized two events to generate first directions for solutions. However, there was one problem: we didn’t manage to attract enough people to sign up for the Hackathon event.

We felt, just like our partner, that organizing a Hackathon was an interesting new way to solve a relevant societal issue. We could already imagine the creativity and the innovation taking place during such an event. There was only one thing we forgot in our enthusiasm: to really validate this concept well among the potential target group. We started running with an idea of which we didn’t know if people were willing to contribute in this specific way. We found out too late that the concept of organizing a Hackathon was not feasible in such short period of time and that it did not match the needs of participants in such an event. (overall the target group weren’t students our youngsters but experienced professionals within the field, these people usually tend to have families at home and being away from home for an overnight hacketon wasn’t fitting to their social lives). In the end this did not prove to be the right instrument  to contribute to this specific societal problem.

The Hackathon was cancelled and our partner decided to go back to the drawing board without us. Ouch! 

4 entrepreneurial tips

So what did we learn from this specific case?  And what can you learn as an intrapreneur in order to create a playing ground to be effective reaching your entrepreneurial goals? Below you can find 4 tips.

1. Early validation and feedback

No matter how excited you or others are about a new project, venture or idea; don’t forget to validate the idea among others and engage them in the process. Enthusiasm is good, but it shouldn’t blur a critical mindset: is this really a solution to a problem and are others willing to contribute in a way you envision? Make sure you build-in a structure within the team to easily adapt to changes. Don’t be afraid to pivot and change your approach along the way.

2. Create room and time for autonomy

For you as an intrapreneur, there is a fine line between using an existing structure for the best and creating the necessary autonomy to operate in it successfuly. It is crucial to create the necessary conditions for success like the freedom to be able to validate your plans and pivot when necessary. But in order to create freedom, keep in mind to make clear agreements with your relevant stakeholders about when you will make certain decisions (stagegate moments) and what your decisions will be based on. You can only do this if you have planned realistically and created time to do this. Next time, we will make sure to specifically create time to explore and validate a concept and define stage gates more clearly.

3. Clear division of roles, responsibilities and tasks

Like we said earlier, you can not reach your goals alone: you need to cooperate with others. Make sure that you are in it together to make your plan a success. Only if you have an equal relationship, meaning you both feel responsible for the outcome, you can work together contructively. This means that from the beginning you need to discuss your roles and responsibilitities and who is doing what, in order to manage the right expectations.

4. Build a community of believers

Every new initiative is a new journey. You cannot change the world by yourself. From the start you have to build a community of people who believe in your approach and are willing to contribute and spread the word for you. There is no better way to validate if you are on the right track than to have people working with you and giving you feedback. Again it takes time to build your community: you need to build a relationship and gain trust through your work. Unfortunately, within this specific project we were only able to establish some short term relationships and weren’t able to build upon and engage people for a more active and long term cooperation, since we were limited by time.

Maybe as an intra-entrepreneur you recognize some of these lessons. Looking back we have learnt to focus more and be more aware of creating the right playing ground in which we can be effective. Only when the right conditions and expectations are in place; our and your entrepreneurial spirit can blossom. 

We would love to hear the entrepreneurial lessons you take with you from 2015. What are your biggest learnings and how did you deal with them?