• 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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Financial Post Q&A on Intrapreneurship & Innovation

My Q&A session on intrapreneurship with Dan Ovsey of Financial Post is available here.

Dan did a great job in capturing the essence of my points. This is to add a supplementary piece of information regarding the five-step process I mentioned in my Q&A with Dan. You may find more information on my process at a series of my blog posts:

  1. Overview of the five-step process
  2. Step 1: Business design
  3. Step 2: Go-to-market strategy
  4. Step 3: Development
  5. Step 4: Launch
  6. Step 5: Monitor

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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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.

Teaching Large Organizations How to Innovate

Reading Scott Kirsner’s article titled 11 Ways Big Companies Undermine Innovation (http://goo.gl/kaZFxX) brought up a number of thoughts and memories. Some of these memories support Scott’s observations and coincide with his experience. Some others, however, conflict with them. Being an eternal optimist, I tend to focus on the experiences that create a positive outcome and not dwell on those that did not work out well. “Just learn from them and move on” is my typical thought process.

Basically, I believe that large organizations have inherent advantages to be innovative. I wrote about these advantages in a few earlier blog articles (http://goo.gl/tlEU4m, http://goo.gl/UpKVGZ). This time, I want to share a few experiences. Due to confidentiality of some of the information, I will not go into much detail or reveal names of organizations.

One of my most successful initiatives was in a large organization, which operated in North America with approximately $2B annual revenues. The initiative was major both by my client’s and industry standards. It involved defining a business model and business operating system that was new to the industry, creating a place for this business system in the industry eco-system and launching a new business within this organization. This company did quite a few things right. I will share here the most important ones:

  • A clear definition of what success looks like was developed in the early phases of the initiative. The leaders of business, who brought me in, did not dump the work on me. Instead, they stayed involved and focused when I made them go through exercises to clearly define what success meant. Fortunately for me, they were already in the right mindset.
  • Commitment of resources and attention was at the highest level. After the definition phases, where leaders were intimately involved, one of the top leaders of the company remained as the sponsor of the initiative until the launch of the new business. He ensured that appropriate resources that I identified were available to the initiative, when needed. When internal resources were not available, he helped secure external skills without delay.
  • In a Skunk Works model, I was given significant leverage (or, enough leash to hang myself) in the organization. I created my own team of development, operated under my own conditions and bent rules in many occasions.
  • Early trials (alpha, beta, pilot, etc.) and learning from them were fully supported. “Try and learn” concept was contrary to the culture of this organization. Still, the leaders were open to a new way (to them) of doing things internally. Once they saw early benefits, they fully supported later market tests.

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 – 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.

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