Friday, September 14, 2018

Lessons Learned: Hugh Molotsi

Innovation within large corporations has more in common with startups than you’d think, but also comes with its own set of challenges. In The Intrapraneur’s Journey, Hugh Molotsi and Jeff Zias share their experiences at Intuit and lay out the guidelines for fostering innovation projects and also an innovative culture within enterprise companies. Here, Hugh Molotsi takes us from skunkworks to large-scale success.

I’ve been very blessed to have had a 22-year career at Intuit where I held various product roles from software developer on QuickBooks for DOS to offering leader on QuickBooks Connected Services. When I left Intuit in 2015, I was VP of Innovation and led Intuit Labs, Intuit’s internal incubator.

One of the highlights of my time at Intuit was being part of a skunkworks team in 1999 that developed Intuit’s first payment service, the QuickBooks Merchant Account Service. After months of advocating for the idea of allowing QuickBooks users to process credit card payments from their customers inside the product, we were finally given the green light to proceed but only had 12 weeks to make it happen.

We were severely under-resourced (initially the team was just a Product Manager, Scott Baird and me) and had to overcome significant organizational pushback from people who thought the whole idea was terrible and that what we were doing was dangerous. Somehow, with hard work and the help of a few key colleagues, we were able to deliver a functioning service to customers on time. Through the great work of many other Intuit employees, Intuit Payments would eventually become a roughly $1B business for Intuit and a key enabling feature for over half of Intuit’s small business revenue. I was generously rewarded the Intuit Founders Award in 2011 for helping get it started.

On reflection, I’ve half-jokingly said that the only reason our skunkworks service saw the light of day was because our group wasn’t well managed at the time. Perhaps if the big-wigs had realized the significance of what we were developing, they would have demanded more detailed plans or assigned the project to a much more senior leader. Flying just enough below the radar and plain luck seemed to be as important to our success as anything else.

Many years later, a group of Intuit employees were asked to develop a program that would give employees autonomous time as a way of increasing employee engagement. For personal inspiration, I thought back to my time on the Merchant Account Service. Imagine if we could create an environment were breakthrough innovations didn’t require luck or flying below the radar? What if the company was supportive of skunkworks projects, ensuring that small passionate teams of employees didn’t have to expend so much energy fighting against organizational pushback?

With this in mind, we started Intuit’s Unstructured Time program in 2005, where employees could spend 10% working on their own projects. The genesis of Unstructured Time was how I met my co-author Jeff Zias, who proved to be an instrumental thought leader and the key driver to getting employees excited about the new program. Jeff and I would go on to spend a decade working together helping cultivate Intuit’s innovation programs.

Unstructured Time has been an unqualified success for Intuit, yielding new offerings like mobile tax and small business applications, the move from desktop software to online “cloud” products, and numerous product improvements and internal process improvements.

Along the way, we had the privilege of spending time with innovation leaders at companies like Google, Atlassian, and LinkedIn who generously shared what has worked for them and what mistakes to avoid.

Jeff and I have shared all of these lessons in our new book The Intrapreneur’s Journey. We’ve seen the rewards of developing a culture of innovation where employees are empowered to work on their own ideas. The road to creating such a culture is riddled with challenges and pitfalls, and our book will help you avoid these pitfalls while creating an environment that empowers your employees. And empowered, energized employees innovate greatly improved experiences for your customers, ultimately driving growth.

The Intrapraneur’s Journey is available to order for a limited time (only until September 22, 2018) on Kickstarter.

You can also follow the authors on Twitter: @hughmolotsi and @jeffzias

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lessons Learned: Ann Mei Chang

We say we want to make the world a better place, so why does it seem like we’re working so hard just to stay in place? With Lean Impact, Ann Mei Chang takes us on her journey of trying to bring innovation and social good together.


I thought that my decades working at some of the most innovative Silicon Valley companies would prepare me to tackle the big problems that really matter. Now I realize all the ways the tech industry has it easy.

16 years ago, I met Eric Ries when we were both working at an up-and-coming startup that held the promise to change the way we communicate and socialize. We poured our hearts, souls, and virtually every waking hour into what we thought was the perfect vision that would captivate the world. Then we launched, and our presumptions were plunged into cold reality. Sure, we had some passionate users. But, not surprisingly for a revolutionary product, we got as much wrong as we got right. Soon, I was unemployed, lying on a beach licking my wounds and wondering what happened.

While Eric went on co-found another company and write The Lean Startup, I went on to Google. There, we didn’t assume we knew all the answers. Rather, we believed in data. Whether it was a new product, new feature, or even a simple tweak to an algorithm or color choice, we ran experiments to see how users reacted. We lived and breathed the user experience under real world conditions with real world customers. Google didn’t always have the best ideas, but what it had was the ability to learn, iterate, and improve faster than its competitors. Seven years ago, when I left to dedicate the rest of my career to social good, I thought I could take these lessons with me and use them to make a difference.

Alas, it wasn’t so simple.

As I immersed myself in my new mission, I found myself continually propelled back into the poor practices of my failed startup. In this case, it wasn’t hubris but rather a web of  perverse incentives that in combination induce organizations to draw up incredibly detailed plans in advance, then implement them faithfully without necessarily knowing what’s working. Only rarely are they able to gather feedback and data, let alone incorporate improvements. The biggest challenge was the nature of funding, which tends to emphasize predictability and discourage iteration. On top of that, it’s far harder to measure social impact than e-commerce transactions or experiment responsibly when people’s lives hang in the balance.

Mission-driven organizations face immense hurdles in keeping up with, let alone getting ahead of the ever-accelerating pace of change in the world. But, given the pressing problems facing people and the planet, I wasn’t about to give up. My search led me to the Global Development Lab at USAID. In the heart of one of the largest and most established organizations working to end global poverty, the Lab nurtures groundbreaking social entrepreneurs and designs new ways of funding that can better support learning, risk-taking, and experimentation. In my years there, I encountered more and more trailblazers both at nimble startups and in pockets at larger institutions who were breaking the mold. Still, these were by and large early adopters.

As my appointment at USAID came to an end, I began to pursue a number of opportunities to lead nonprofits in the global development sphere. When I got my first offer, I knew I had a tough choice – would I do more good by working within a broken system to make what difference I could or by trying to change the way the system worked altogether? I decided to plunge head first into the latter. Given the perverse incentives, deeply ingrained culture, and difficulty of adopting widely used innovation techniques in the world of social good, I simply couldn’t convince myself that I’d be able to make a meaningful dent on the problems I cared about without first addressing some of the barriers to social innovation. Thus, Lean Impact was born.

To learn from those who had pioneered new models for designing solutions, accelerating learning, and financing social good, I asked the smartest people I knew to tell me about the best organizations they had heard of across the US and around the world. In the course of my research, I was lucky to interview over 200 of them.

They include Summit Public Schools, a nonprofit that was unwilling to wait potentially years to see full academic results and found ways to dramatically speed up its feedback loop so it could more quickly iterate and improve its transformative approach to personalized learning. Another great story came from One Acre Fund, a social enterprise that learned from a failed big bet and introduced staged experiments to test and improve new ideas with its smallholder farmers before investing in a large rollout. Still others, like Civilla, have worked hand-in-hand with government to drive change – in its case taking a human-centered approach to make access to social services in Michigan far simpler.

Companies like M-Kopa Solar, Off Grid Electric, and d.light are not only innovating on their home solar systems for low-income families, but also the business models that allow them to become profitable and expand. And, cutting edge funders like the Global Innovation Fund are deploying the increasingly flexible and blended financing that is needed to allow and encourage rapid learning.

It turns out that social good is no longer the exclusive purview of nonprofits and foundations. Increasingly, I’ve found that the most promising solutions are coming from hybrid organizations and funders – whether they be social enterprises, B corps, venture philanthropy, impact investing, or some combination. As individuals choose where to work, buy, and invest based on their values, businesses are taking notice. And, to achieve sustainable impact at scale, government and policy often must play a crucial role. I wrote Lean Impact for anyone pursuing a social mission, so that we can all work together in concert to drive much needed change.

What it comes down to is, how do we create a system so that the pursuit of social impact and scale becomes as relentless as the pursuit of profits in the corporate world?


Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good (Wiley, Oct 30) is available for pre-order at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books-A-Million | 800ceoread.

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Lean Startup Conference 2018 is Coming to Las Vegas

After eight years in San Francisco, the Lean Startup Company's annual flagship conference is moving to downtown Las Vegas. From November 14 - 16, at the Zappos Campus, Lean Startup Conference 2018 will feature all-new workshops, speakers, and networking events covering all the latest Lean Startup insights and innovations. I'm excited to tell you more about it.

When Zappos approached Lean Startup Co. a little while back about hosting our conference in Downtown Las Vegas, we saw it as an opportunity to further expand our mission beyond Silicon Valley. South Bend, Indiana went from Rust Belt to Tech Belt with EdTech in the Bend. Detroit has Technology in Motion (TIM). Austin has SXSW. Revolutionary work can be done anywhere, and that's part of what this move is about. In addition to iconic hotels, casinos and restaurants, DTLV, just north of the strip, also has the Downtown Project: a thriving scene of tech startups, arts, culture, and education. Conference attendees will be staying at the Downtown Grand Hotel, one block from the conference venue, and right in the middle of DTLV--immersed in the city’s entrepreneurial culture day and night.

We’ve also made some changes to how the conference is structured. Instead of organizing workshops by company size as we have in the past, we've created more focused topic tracks that will highlight entrepreneurs in every industry. These workshops and keynote presentations will put you in the same rooms as innovators from across the world, representing businesses of all sizes, from many fields.

And because learning from peers is also such a critical part of Lean Startup, this year's conference will place a special focus on bringing together the Lean Startup Community, allowing enterprise executives, nonprofit leaders, NGO’s and of course startups at all stages to meet like-minded colleagues, share stories, and form lasting relationships.

With Zappos’ support, we've created a higher-end, more intimate conference centered around hands-on learning by doing and making meaningful connections with fellow Lean Startup practitioners. As a result, tickets are more limited than in the past and we expect them to sell out quickly.

I'm really looking forward to the changes, as well as the chance to learn myself. I hope to see you there.

Lean Startup Conference 2018
November 14 – 16, 2018
Zappos Campus, Downtown Las Vegas

Click Here to Register