• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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Intrapreneurship Is Very Real – Here Are a Couple of Examples

An article I read today titled Intrapreneurship Is A Myth – Here Is Why prompted me to draft a response because I could not disagree more with the author. Being one of those intrapreneurs, whom the author claims to be mythical, here is my counter-argument.

Large organizations innovate and renew themselves constantly. However, their innovation and renewal are focused on operational efficiency, profitability and maximizing return on investment while minimizing risk. This focus limits typical innovation in large organizations to incremental ones. Large companies rarely excel in disruptive innovation.

My first argument is that intrapreneurs are real, not mythical, but their focus is different from that of entrepreneurs. For example, Toyota’s revolutionary manufacturing system is the end-result of multiple intrapreneurs, who brought innovation in a very established sector and changed many principles that were considered “basic.”

My second argument is that intrapreneurs do deliver disruptive innovation in large organizations but not using the same approach as entrepreneurs. For example, the author states that “if intrapreneurship really worked, success as a startup would be almost impossible.” I think this is far from reality because sometimes intrapreneurs and large organizations leave certain initiatives to those who can do it better. For example, return on investment on a new initiative may not be attractive to a large organization even though they would be interested in it if someone built it. This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Recently, one of my start-ups completed a deal with a large multi-national on a product. While the multi-national acknowledged its need for the product years ago, it lacked skills, infrastructure, and logistics to develop the product. Instead, intrapreneurs at the multi-national sponsored a few entrepreneurs (I happen to be on the entrepreneurial side in this case) to develop the product. The multi-national brings in its expertise in global distribution and sales, thus creating a viable business.

And, one last example, directly from my past experience. When a multi-national organization decided to enter a new field, it hired a few people with the right skills and mindset (I was one of those new hires), established a partnership with a start-up, which was working on a promising technology and let the team go for it. The R&D team working on the project operated under its own rules, with its own leader, and separate from the company’s operational processes. The end-result was a breakthrough product in the a market that was new to this multi-national company.

In summary, intrapreneurship is real and it works. It is, however, not an entrepreneur in a large organization doing what an entrepreneur does at a start-up. An intrapreneur behaves like an entrepreneur but has to deal with a very different reality. As a result, produces different outputs.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Monitor

This is the fifth and final posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Monitor phase are:

  • Keeping an eye on how your business is performing
    As the old management adage goes, you only improve what you measure. The success or failure of your business depends on what KPIs you monitor and what you do with them. Too many KPIs and you will be stiffled with analysis paralysis, too few KPIs and you will be shooting in the dark due to insufficient information. Finding the right balance and monitoring it regularly gives you the deep insight you need to manage your business.
  • Responding quickly and effectively to what matters, and ignore all else
    In contrast to the old management adage mentioned above, E.W. Deming says “you can only measure 3% of what matters.” So, you need to pick your KPIs carefully. The next step is creating a responsive culture, where ownerships and accountabilities are clearly defined, and response plans are articulated. Reactionary responses usually do more damage than what they fix, so plan out response thresholds and maintain a culture where accountability is king. 
  • Update and modify KPIs as market/business conditions change
    Just like taxes and death, change happens whether you like it or not. Regularly review your KPIs and response plans to ensure that you are monitoring and taking action on what is relevant to your business.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Define key performance indicators and response plans
  2. Define accountabilities and responsibilities
  3. Create dashboards and monitor performance
  4. Establish a rapid-response culture
  5. Reward action, punish inaction

This posting concludes my series titled Five Steps to Technology Commercialization. I tried to give you a glimpse of a process that I have developed and have applied in a variety of cases. Naturally, devil is in the details. I hope the overview of the process helps you successfully deploy your own commercialization initiatives.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Launch

This is the fourth posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Launch phase are:

  • Learning from market response
    Customers will quickly respond to many decisions you have made until you decided put your product (either an early prototype or the final product) in front of customers. This is the best time to test all your assumptions (eg., features, pricing, distribution) and modify as needed. It is strongly recommended that you incorporate multiple launch phases rather than one “big bang” approach. Each of your launches should be designed to learn specific lessons to guide the remainder of your activities.
  • Creating awareness while building delivery capability
    Awareness building has to be done both with internal resources (marketing & sales) and external entities (customers, distribution channels). Creating both pull (customers) and push (sales) requires effort and time. Multiple launch phases, each aimed at a different group, are the recommended approach. Early adopters will help you jump over the chasm (a la Geoffrey Moore). This phase is the perfect time to start building relations with your customers and generating early sales. Early adopters are a different breed of customers, that you will need to nourish and learn from.
  • Identify key performance indicators (KPIs)
    Real market interaction is the best time to start building your KPIs, which you will use to make decisions later on. As I will cover in the next step, Monitor, your business success depends on what you measure and how you respond when they go out of your “ideals.” Launch phase is a good time to experiment with different sets of KPIs and decide which set provides you with the most complete picture of how your business is doing.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Incorporate multiple launch phases into your plan
  2. Define what you intend to learn and how you intend to do it for each phase
  3. Create a quick-response culture, modify per market response
  4. Engage customers early on to create relevant leads and convert them to sales
  5. Build and optimize operational capability (production, sales, service, support, maintenance)
  6. Manage partnerships (if any)

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Development

This is the third posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Development phase are:

  • Validate whether your target market(s)  care about your product/service, i.e., your value proposition
    In the earlier steps, you made assumptions about your target market(s) and their unmet needs. During Development, use opportunities to collect feedback from customers on features, functionality, aesthetics, form, fit, etc.
  • Validate your market penetration strategy
    Similarly, incorporate experiments into your Development phase to test your market penetration strategy. Do your marketing & sales assumptions work on a small scale? Can you attract a few enthusiastic early adopters?
  • Develop the right product/service
    It is easy to get your head down and develop (i.e., design, code, build). Instead, keep it iterative with structured customer and market feedback to identify what is important and what is nice-to-have.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Identify key technologies and skills for the product.
  2. Decide on developing or buying necessary technologies.
  3. Define production, service and support strategies
  4. Develop the product and validate it against technical and market requirements
  5. Collect as much customer feedback as possible and pivot, if necessary

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Business Design

In an earlier blog post, where I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). This posting is the first of a series of postings, where I will address each step of my commercialization framework.

I will assume that when you start this exercise, you already have a technology in mind. In other words, you have a hammer and you are looking for a nail to hammer in. Many people may argue that having a solution in mind is not the ideal way to get started but this is the case most of the time. So, rather than ignoring a fact, let’s learn to make the best of it.

The first step is Business Design and I strongly recommend you start here before jumping into development. Here is a quick to-do list at this step:

  1. Identify 2-3 target markets and their unfulfilled needs
    • Identify, as specifically as you can, an unmet and recognized need in 2-3 markets.
    • Prioritize target markets and identify your top target
    • Specifically articulate the unfulfilled need of your top target
  2. Identify key functions/features to address the unfulfilled needs and assess existing products, including yours, against these key functions/features
  3. Define business model(s) for each of the target markets
    • Business case (why this business should exist?)
    • Eco-system definition (in which the business will exist)
    • How would you make money?
  4. Define potential business structures to tackle the needs of the target markets (eg. partnerships, joint ventures, IP licensing, etc.)
  5. Identify key functions & activities your business and partners, if any, need to do
  6. Identify financing options for potential business structures and assess feasibility
  7. Identify key skills your business will need and create a simple organization structure to define how these people would operate (yes, even a start-up needs one)

That’s about it. The most popular tool to put this all together is the Business Model Canvas, which you can find here.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Intrapreneur? You mean “entrepreneur?” What is an intrapreneur?

Lately, I am going through this questioning quite a bit mainly because I am looking for my next engagement either as a full-time leadership role or as a consultant to help an organization create something new. While everybody has an idea (albeit somewhat distorted from reality) about what an “entrepreneur” does, very few understand the role of an intrapreneur. Therefore, I decided to write about it with examples from my own experience.

First, let me explain what I do for organizations: I help them enter a new business area (new market, new product, new service, new P&L), which is typically outside of their knowledge and expertise area.

Now, let’s talk about what my engagements look like. With almost no exception, I am brought in by top executives of the company. This relationship is critical to obtain and maintain sponsorship for the initiative. I dedicate a significant portion of my effort to ensure that the initiative is strongly supported by top executives and the board.

Once in the company, the first thing I assess is its culture and how it sees new initiatives. Culture, in my opinion, is the one factor that can make or break an initiative. The fact that any new initiative requires partnerships, both internally and externally, understanding the internal dynamics is crucial to success. In order to do this, I embed myself into the organization’s development group(s). From here, I reach out to all critical players (at this point, they may not even know that they are players): marketing, sales, finance, research, development, service, support, list goes on. I form a very small (3-5 people) team to work together at this phase.

The next step is to clearly identify the pain point(s) of customers. In almost all cases, the organization thinks heavily in the solution domain but it is critical to articulate the problem(s) of the customers. What would make them running to our doors if they hear that we solve a major problem for them? Christensen calls it the “job to be done” for the customers. If we cannot articulate what that job is, the sexiest technology in the world is useless to most (technology junkies excepted).

Once the problem is defined, the skills required to solve the problem start to shape up. At this point, the team is supplemented with subject matter experts in critical areas.

Then comes the ideation step, where solution concepts to the problem are created. Most people are familiar with this step. Unfortunately, also most people think that this is where innovation starts. In fact, ideation is where solutions are sought to a problem. Problem definition is the first step and it takes inputs from many participants, including existing and potential customers. Ideation involves internal and external participation. At this point, the team may expand if external partnerships are required.

Next is transition to solution development and testing (validating) the solution against the problem. Almost always we find about things we missed at the first validation cycle and feel like idiots. Unearthing facts and requirements is the whole purpose of early validation. Quite a bit of effort goes into creating that “just enough” prototype (Eric Ries calls it “minimum viable product”) and validate it. There is always a struggle where the product appears too raw to the development team and they want to implement just one more thing before they put it in front of a critic (not always the customer). My effort goes into ensuring that the prototype has sufficient features to collect valuable feedback but it does not take forever to get there. Also, the team has to be managed to receive the feedback positively and not be discouraged by it. Otherwise, the team easily gets into “we knew it was too early. Next time, we need more time.” mindset.

This is a highly iterative process and requires a certain type of team to execute. Building, leading and motivating that team is what I do. The team has to be protected from and integrated with the rest of the organization. This seemingly conflicting task is tricky and requires finesse. An isolated “innovation” team, contrary to popular belief, will not be productive. They need to understand what the rest of the organization can do, how much it can evolve, and what their appetite for change is. On the other hand, the main reason the new team exists is because the organization could not do the same job in its routine business. Unfortunately, there is no recipe for the right amount of separation and integration. It depends on the team members, the phase of the project, the culture of the organization, among other things.

If I summarize under a few bullets, here is an overview of the job description of an intrapreneur:

  • Build relations with the exec team and maintain information flow
  • Facilitate the articulation of the problem to be solved
  • Build, lead and motivate a team to make it happen
  • Manage the interactions between the team and the rest of the organization
  • Establish a disciplined innovation culture in the team and maintain it
  • Build and manage internal and external partnerships

I hope I shed some light to what an intrapreneur does.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com with relevant comments, ideas and thoughts.

Secret to Building New Businesses: Ability and Willingness to Learn

Yesterday, I had a chat with a person (let’s call him Eric) I met during a squash game. After the game, while Eric and I were chatting, I briefly explained what I do for a living: build new businesses from ground up. Eric was curious what this meant and, at one point, he asked me what industry I worked in. I told him that I have been in a variety of diverse industries, such as scientific space exploration and commercial aerospace, biotechnology and life sciences, information technology (IT), and manufacturing. He was puzzled. He asked me how could I go from one industry to a completely different one and build a business. I tried to explain to him that the fundamentals were the same but each engagement I entered was a significant learning experience and that is what drives me. I told Eric that I take each engagement as a new challenge that I have to learn from the basics, but do it quickly and efficiently. I knew what to look for, how to gather the information I need, what to pay attention to and what to ignore, how to create support and raise funding. I went on and on, partially because I just love it and partially because I wanted to make it clear.

This morning, I received an email from a friend, who pointed me to a video his son recorded. As a side note, Kripparrian is entrepreneur I wrote about in an earlier posting (https://ferhanbulca.com/2012/07/25/have-a-vision-follow-your-dream-with-discipline/). Here is the video: http://tinyurl.com/9hc8u8l.

I found the most profound statement I should have said yesterday between 0:45-1:00 mark on the videa where Kripparrian states that “… the only thing you have from your previous [experience] is your ability to learn.” When I heard this, I thought this is the answer I should have given to Eric yesterday. Kripparrian summarized what I was trying to say in a succinct and eloquent way and I thought to myself “I wish I said that.”

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com with relevant comments, ideas and thoughts.

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