It’s time to swipe right and start dating start-ups

The understanding that large organisations have a lot to learn from the start-up world is nothing new, but too often within organisations there’s an imbalance between the level of talk and action when it comes to connecting with start-ups to better understand what they offer and how they operate.

It was for this reason that we started the Disruptor Series, a partnership between Brand Learning, Facebook and The Bakery technology incubator. At the heart of this first event was a start-up speed dating session pairing corporate guests with the best start-ups London has to offer.

The Disruptor Series was kicked off by Steve Hatch, VP Northern Europe for Facebook who gave an opening talk focussed on the pace and scale of technological change. During his talk, Steve shared cultural insights into how Facebook has been able to grow into a global organisation with thousands of employees whilst remaining true to its mantra of ‘Move Fast and Break Things’. A standout example was Facebook’s concept of ‘Lockdown’ used most recently to bring Facebook Live to market. During a lockdown the whole company focuses on one objective as the highest priority, an early example of the practical step and guidance that the Disruption Series aims to deliver.

Facebook BakeryThe Disruptor series

Our Brand Learning session, coming at the end of the morning was focused on sharing perspectives and experiences from our work with clients addressing how organisations can harness disruption to drive digital transformation of the customer experience. A key theme was ensuring that digital is the enabler of innovation, guided by the purpose of the organisation and based on clear objectives and customer insight. By thinking in this way organisations are taking positive steps to invest in growth driving innovation and resist the purchase of a ‘shiny new thing’- the latest technology that might detract rather than enhance the customer experience.

Being the last session of the agenda meant we got the opportunity to participate and experience the day largely as a guest would, listening to the panel discussions and joining in the start-up pitches during the speed dating phase. Below are 5 big observations from the rich and varied discussions that took place throughout the morning as the speed-dating phase happened;

Be open minded:

What was clear early on during planning the event was that The Bakery had chosen a broad range of start-ups to meet. Some such as Driftrock had clear relevance to the large contingent of retail and FMCG guests. Others, like What3words had disruptive technology where the commercial benefit wasn’t as immediately apparent. As the discussion flowed it was obvious that those who remained open-minded and probed to explore the application of the technology to their business unlocked the greatest learning and opportunity. Their openness to the disruptive ideas enabled them to think about the widest possible impact on their business and who they could connect the start-up with to further the conversation.

Don’t do all the talking:

I liked the focus of the session on speed-dating rather than pitching, as it better framed the power of the 2-way dialogue. Our 60 guests represented a range of industries, blue-chip brands and shared years of experience in common. The dating format enabled genuine knowledge sharing where organisational experience could be traded with lessons on agility and disruption. It meant everyone took something from the experience.

Park your baggage:

Bringing baggage and past experience to a date is never a good idea and the same is true with start-up meetings. What motivates these small teams to tackle relentless challenge and overcome huge barriers is the belief in the purpose of their business and the energy to make it a success. Disruption by its very nature can feel odd, different and left field, the key was using past experiences to build on ideas rather than use them as a blocker or detractor from the start up’s idea.

Invest in the relationship:

Many of the start-ups in attendance and the scale up veterans on the Panel had first-hand experience of the misery that can come after the initial agreement to partner. Captured perfectly in the quote “they want a start-up but expect you to have the resources of a Salesforce.com when you meet procurement”, it’s clear that all too often it can be an uphill struggle. What was also clear was that some organisations e.g. Unilever and Oracle have developed a solid approach to safe guarding start-ups in their dealing with the organisation, to help and assist by meeting them half way.

Don’t be Late!

It might have been the invited guests, the quote early on that ‘if it works it’s obsolete’ or Facebook’s future plan showing the role of AI and Machine learning but there was a real energy and pace within the room. It was clear that those in attendance acknowledged that we need to take positive strategic steps to embrace disruption and that the time for this is now.

The overwhelming takeout from the first event of the Disruptor Series was the power of disruptive thinking and external perspectives when looking at how your organisation needs to change. As leaders we need to play a role in driving this change and understanding how disruption should be harnessed back within our organisations.

If you’d like to talk about how your company can harness the growth potential of disruption, how you can connect with start-up thinking or drive Digital Transformation of the Customer Experience within your organisation please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.