Yesterday I talked with an JU MBA student interested in starting a new venture. She said, “I like what I am doing now or who I am working for now…it’s a really great opportunity to learn the business I love from the ground up”.
My recommendation: Learn everything you can from your current employer and practice “intrapreneur” skills. while you have less risk of losing your own capital, you can try out your techniques, passion, and creativity on someone else’s dime.
Intrapreneurs make things happen with small and large companies and are often the champions of key projects and strategic initiatives in both small and large companies. Intrapreneurs don’t usually own the company or risk their own capital, but put their careers at risk everyday doing what they think will generate positive movement forward and achieve success.
Intrapreneurs drive the adoption and implementation of new ideas. Because the timing in starting your own small business is critical, you can always practice those skills while working for someone else. It is a much safer enviornment to prove your skills. Deciding to go out on your own should be based on market conditions, competitive intensity, the availability of capital (financial and human), and lastly your own personal preference, it is not always the best time to quit the day job and begin your start-up. Knowing when to launch a new venture is a combination of experience, smarts, and luck.
What is the difference between an intrapreneur and a entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs are skilled at listening carefully to their customers and readily take suggestions from any level employee. However, the entrepreneur thinks he can be part of the solution of practically any problem. Plus entrepreneurs are known to bring their idiosyncrasies into the workplace and be impossible to satisfy.
Conversely, when the intrapreneur is constantly aware he/she needs assistance, or lacks the necessary capital (financial or otherwise– under the control of others) to achieve his/her goal, they know how to reach out and engender confidence and trust with their colleagues. One title often heard associated with intrapreneurs is the word “champion.”
To champion something denotes an emotional attachment to a cause that the intrapreneur believes in and takes risks to achieve the goals laid out [to bring that product or service to market]. This trust operates both laterally and with top executives in the firm. Often the peer relationships are the most important resource the intrapreneur can depend on. To succeed, he/she must win over their peers and influence people to bend the rules. Empathy is also a critical skill entrepreneurs often lack with their internal staff thinking that “if I need to work 14 hours today, then my staff should too”.
Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School wrote the following about the challenge for Intrapreneurs in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, “My primary thesis is that management practices that allow companies to be leaders in mainstream markets are the same practices that cause them to miss the opportunities offered by disruptive technologies.” In other words, most people who can drive the creation of a “better mousetrap” may not be the best person to take a good company to excellence.
Summarizing, good intrapreneurs may not be great entrepreneurs and the opposite is likely to be true. However, if you find yourself in a good situation working for someone else, you have the time and resources to practice your intrapreneur skills. You are likely to need these skills as an entrepreneur and the more you can do the less likely you will need to go out and buy that talent.
It allows you to soften the hard edges that make most entrepreneurs hard to work for.
Most people think that top management makes all of the tough calls on which new ideas or markets should be funded. Christensen makes the point that in “enlightened” organizations like Scandinavian Airlines or In and Out Burger the real power lies with the people deeper in the organization who decide what problems can be solved directly with the customer at the time/level of the break-down. .These same “foot-soldiers” drive creation of new processes and products to respond to customer needs and requests. The genesis of new ideas is often found in the process of continuous improvement, made famous by Edward Deming and his Japanese followers. The Japanese intrapreneur used the Kaizen or continuous improvement model to drive new product development and change within the organization.
“In order to be successful in venturing today, new corporate models and management practices are needed that nurture initiatives that do not show immediate profitability” (Christensen, 268-269). When the market shifts, those small companies practicing kaizen will be prepared to refine and improve profitability at a rapid pace. My hats off all of you entrepreneurs biding your time for the day when you can launch your own venture. Take advantage of the opportunity to play the role of intrapreneur in your organization. She wants to run her own show but has the patience to learn how to persuade others and get results without the “hammer”.