• 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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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 – 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.

More Thoughts on Large Companies and Innovation – An Oxymoron?

A few days ago, I posted a blog article on how large companies can (and should) leverage their strengths to create innovative solutions to problems. I was happy to see comments and two other posts in response, one in agreement, the other opposing my thoughts. I think it is fantastic to have differing opinions and wanted to share my follow-up thoughts on the topic.

Jennaromeo agrees with me in her post at  http://bizgovsoc4.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/innovation-at-large-companies-is-it-possible/. On the other hand, nyeinzawko thinks differently in http://bizgovsoc4.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/are-giant-corporations-really-a-place-for-great-innovations/#more-701.

I should clarify one of my points: I don’t make a broad arguement that large organizations are the catalysts for innovation. In fact, I don’t think that they are. My point is that large organizations have certain strengths that could make them catalysts if they learn how to leverage those strengths. Some organizations have figured out how to leverage their strengths. However, such organizations are more of an exception than the norm. I argue that all large organizations can and should create innovative arms as a way to secure future growth and, more importantly, relevance to customers.

As Drucker said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Creation of customers only happen if an organization makes a concious effort, understand the evolving needs of current customers and unmet needs of non-customers. This is not business as usual.

In closing, I will emphasize the work done by intrapreneurs at organizations across the globe. While entrepreneurs get (well-deserved) recognition for their hard work, intrapreneurs in organizations are not well-understood nor appreciated. Large organizations that recognize the value of intrapreneurs and allow them to leverage the strengths of the organization can become the catalysts of innovation.

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

 

Large Companies and Innovation – An Oxymoron?

For long, innovative and new products are associated with entrepreneurs who pursue their passion and succeed. Many think that large companies get caught up in their routine operations and are not good sources of innovative solutions.

In fact, large companies have a few advantages over their start-up counterparts to create innovation. Scott Anthony published an article to “…call to arms for corporate innovators to seize the opportunities that only a big company can realize” (http://blogs.hbr.org/anthony/2012/09/how_big_companies_can_save_inn.html?awid=6166991183274468738-3271). Scott discusses three questions companies should be asking themselves to remain active in the innovation playground. In addition to asking these questions, companies should leverage the strengths that only large companies have:

1. Access to resources

Large companies have the most important resource for innovation: cash. Many entrepreneurial activities never come to fruition because of cash-flow issues. This is less of an issue in a large organization, where mature financial management is the norm.

Large companies have people, tools, facilities and partners that are difficult for start-ups to establish. In addition, international networks of large organizations enable them to quickly and effectively assess the value of their innovations, which again is a luxury for entrepreneurs.

Finally, large companies can get the attention of distribution channels much more easily than a start-up can.

2. Established brand

Think of the difference between Google introducing a social interaction medium versus a No-Name start-up doing the same. Even if Google+ is not much of a success so far, it still has attracted a number of users, who are trying it only because it is from Google. On the other hand, we have never heard of many Facebook-like tools being created by start-ups.

A large company can put its existing brand power behind a new product or service it is introducing. An established brand does not make a sloppy product successful but it certainly ensures that the new product gets some much needed air time with potential customers.

3. Talent acquisition

I recently worked with a client, which was struggling to attract talent to a new business they wanted to introduce. While the client had a viable product, they were having difficulty convincing top-talent join their ranks because the company was not known as a development company. In contrast, IBM, for example, would have no difficulty attracting the top talent for new business ideas they are working on.

4. Create and maintain momentum

Large organizations can dedicate resources to new development while start-up entrepreneurs struggle with basic needs of life. For example, an aspiring entrepreneur I know had to pause pursuing his passion in commercializing a medical device in order to focus on making some money to be able to pay his mortgage and put food on the table. By the time he secures sufficient savings to go back to his passion, he will have lost his momentum. In the worst-case scenario, he may even lose all his progress if a competitor beats him to market.

In closing, I echo Scott’s appeal to large organizations. There is tremendous opportunity to take the center-stage in innovation by learning from successful entrepreneurial practices and executing them in large organizations by leveraging above strengths.

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

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.

Your Organizational Culture Determines How You Innovate on Mature Products/Markets

Everybody can visualize the organizational culture of a start-up company. A small group of dedicated, motivated people working shoulder-to-shoulder with visionary founder(s). Things are humming and dynamic. How about the organizational culture when the product matures and is adopted by a larger market segment? How does that culture contribute to further innovation?

Let me first frame the conversation using Geoffrey Moore’s four innovation zones, introduced in his book Dealing With Darwin. Moore maps these four zones to his famous market adoption curve.

Geoffrey Moore's Four Innovation Zones

Geoffrey Moore’s Four Innovation Zones

At the leading edge of the curve is Product Leadership, which corresponds to disruptive innovation. At the tail end, there is Category Renewal. In this post, I will focus on the middle section and discuss the role of organizational culture in the company’s ability to innovate in that area.

Geoffrey Moore identified two main innovation categories for mature products/services:

  • Customer Intimacy refers to improving the value of the product/service to customers,
  • Operational Excellence is about improving operational efficiency to gain cost advantage over competitors.

While many organizations claim or want to do both, typically their culture is geared towards one or the other, not both. Improving customer intimacy requires an outward looking culture whereas the attention is inside when it comes to operational excellence. In today’s bottom-line driven approach, operational excellence is where most organizations focus because:

  • One can readily quantify goals: Cost of materials, taking waste out of operations, automating processes are all quantifiable and easily understandable. Leaders can set goals (eg. “reduce warehouse floor usage by 50%”) and monitor progress.
  • Improvements are internal: Improvements are done in operations behind closed doors. They are under the control of leaders of the organization.
  • There is little risk of public failure: What happens in the company stays in the company. Naturally, operational changes may impact customer experience but, for the most part, the outside world has limited visibility to how operations are run.

Customer intimacy, on the other hand, requires a different culture, which emphasizes continuous effort to better understand customers and respond to their evolving needs. True customer insight comes through walking a mile in the customers’ shoes, understanding their pain points and improving the product/service to eliminate these pain points. This approach conflicts with operational excellence as it is outward looking, ambiguous, risky and potentially costly.

In summary, customer intimacy and operational excellence require two very different organizational cultures to do well. These cultures are inherently in conflict with each other and should be managed well to be successful. Otherwise, typically operational excellence camp wins at the expense of better customer experience.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com.

Is Your Skin Thick Enough to be an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are a rare breed of people, who are motivated by opportunities to lead corporate growth. In doing so, they typically take inordinate career risks because they are driven by “doing the right thing to create value” but such value is generated over a time frame which is mostly outside their control.  They are different from entrepreneurs because they are not doing it for their own companies.

Their personal benefits, if business becomes successful, are typically quite limited. On the flip side, intrapreneurs enjoy access to better resources and, unlike entrepreneurs, they are not encumbered by cash-flow issues. Larger organizations that employ intrapreneurs typically have deeper pockets than most entrepreneurs do.

To be successful, intrapreneurs need to change the company culture, do things differently, do it efficiently, shake the boat, and gain internal support to get things done. That is a tall order even in change-friendly organizations. The way intrapreneurs operate typically do not resemble the way daily operations work. This difference is necessary to achieve new and innovative results but it is also at odds with the typical results-driven, bottom-line focused organizations.

Abbie Griffin, Raymond L. Price and Bruce A. Vojak call such people “Serial Innovators” in their book with the same title (you can find a review of the book at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2012-summer/53419/what-it-takes-to-be-a-serial-innovator).  In spite of the enormous value intrapreneurs bring to their organizations, the authors report that a number of the serial innovators they interviewed thought that if they were just starting out today, their companies would not hire them. Fortunately, there are a good number of intrapreneurs who are not discouraged by this observation and continue to be motivated to bring in new and exciting businesses to life.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

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