Commercialization Blog Series: 10 Stage Process
Lots of academic research has been done on commercialization strategies and entrepreneurship. Peter Drucker seems to have started it all and was one of my heroes during my MBA life phase. Experience is a different teacher however. The act of working with 100’s of companies at various stages of commercial development has taught me a few practical things about getting traction in the marketplace. This blog series is a quick snap shot at some of those lessons learned and questions asked to help guide individuals and companies through the maze of decision making alternatives. Certainly it does not contain ALL the issues but, from my experience, taking these suggestions to heart will lead you to a greater probability of success than otherwise; certainly more likely than following academia into the abyss.
Stage 1: Evaluate Company Maturity
Take an honest assessment of risk profile of your overall company and your senior management. Does the company have a temperament to take real risks with the business? How might you take steps to move your great new product ideas forward? Where do you start? First, seek out executives that are interested in new ideas understand that taking risks today can be a necessity to long term health of the company. These executives can help you champion your ideas. Provide early thoughts on market potential and be sure to include opportunity costs should the company not take steps to pursue new product ideas like yours.
Evaluate the relative experience of the CEO in championing “White Space” projects. Managers and engineers find it difficult to evangelize visions that inspire others. They may micromanage their way to marginal success but can’t bring disruptive innovations into the mainstream. Just like a “visionary” can’t work processes, so too many “managers” find it difficult to work in the white space of commercialization. You need both.
Below are 4 steps to get you started down the path of commercialization success:
- Determine the level of experience in the business market/technology area of the new commercialization effort. If there isn’t a fundamental knowledge of the underlying technology within senior management then they will never know what they don’t know. Uncover if the company, and current team, have pioneered other products to full commercial acceptance. If they have, then they understand the timeframes and efforts necessary. All too often this is underestimated and leads to inflated expectations. Understand the structure and constraints of the investment climate within and surrounding the company.
- If investors are involved then you need to know the tolerance for setbacks and level of “stick-to-itiveness”. Uncover the previous history of commercialization of the currently targeted innovation; previous attempts, long-term stagnation, burnt-through teams, etc. Has this been tried before by others? Are you simply in line with others that “hit the wall”? Beware if this is the case because you are likely to run into someone in senior management or on the board who keeps making the wrong choices. It is the old: doing the same thing and expecting different results.
- Look for the underlying mitigating circumstances that will place unusual constraints on future decision making. Who or what is constraining the opportunity? Determine and confirm commercialization “runway”, early success expectations and milestone setting processes. Knowing beforehand what is expected will enable better, and more appropriate, decision making.
- Companies that have unrealistic expectations for their innovation are landmines in the commercialization landscape. Gauge the analytical acumen of the current team and determine the use of quantitative decision support methodologies. Emotional “feel” for decisions is a curse of the less disciplined. Seek out good quantitative tools to help shine light on priorities, choices, expectations and probabilities of future success. Map the company culture on a “visionary vs. processes” spectrum of entrepreneurial focus. As mentioned, is the company more interested in process improvement or creating a truly global disruptive innovation? This will get you to early momentum whichever is the case. Find and cultivate change agents; ask if the company recognizes the identifiers that point to these type of people. It is a lonely place to be in a conference room and be the only change agent.
- And finally, evaluate the company’s core competencies against the challenge of commercialization. Some companies are just not in the right place. Move them or drop them.