Today, we continue with the #askthefounder series, where we'll be talking to each of the GETKICKBOX co-founders about innovation, life at GETKICKBOX, and their personal takeaways. This time we spoke to David Hengartner, Co-Founder and CEO.
You've built your career around entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. What are your top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
In my opinion, the most important thing is not to fall in love with your solution. It's essential to make sure that you're tackling a problem that is worth solving. Many people start with the solution without taking the time to figure out if there's a real problem behind it.
Once you move towards finding and creating a solution to a problem you've established, you need to stay very open to adapting and adjusting along the way. You should be prepared to throw everything overboard and start again at any point if you realize that something wasn't working and you need to pivot.
Part of this openness is also being receptive and listening very carefully to the market and potential customers. It's so easy to be entirely convinced that your idea is right and to simply look for confirmation of that. But sometimes, you establish that nobody is interested in it, and it requires a very open mind to accept that. The whole process is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage to actively ask others to challenge your ideas or go out and speak to customers, exposing yourself to their critique. It requires vulnerability, but it is precisely that which enables you to learn and grow your business.
And when it comes to intrapreneurship, what is the most critical factor in cultivating a culture of innovation in a company?
There are several key factors here. One is giving people the space and security they need to work on their ideas without being held back by fear for their position in the company. Another is again openness. Just as intrapreneurs need to stay open during the process, corporations need to foster an open culture to allow innovation to blossom. That means showing tolerance and acceptance of ideas that don't work out and appreciation for the people who are driving the ideas. Finally, support from the top is imperative. Top management needs to be on board for the whole thing to work.
How has the journey with GETKICKBOX contributed to your own personal development?
Honestly, the past six years have been a continuous journey of personal development; every single day has contributed to my personal growth.
From day one, I felt extremely humbled and excited to start and change something in a large corporation like Swisscom. I've been able to grow with the project – from the rollout within Swisscom to taking responsibility for larger budgets and a team, productizing the project and learning how to sell to enterprise customers, to spinning out. This gradual transformation from an intrapreneurship program to a commercial product to a start-up has been an enormous learning curve. There was never a moment of standing still. I never got to a point where I felt like I was "done" and I could then chill and relax; it was always one challenge followed by the next challenge, and so on. It has been a period in which I've repeatedly found myself outside of my comfort zone, which is excellent – but I won't lie; it's challenging too.
Thanks for those great insights, Dave.
We'll be talking to Dave about the journey from Swisscom Kickbox to spinout in more depth soon, so keep your eyes open for that!
Welcome to the #askthefounder series, where we’ll be talking to each of the GETKICKBOX co-founders about innovation, life at GETKICKBOX, and their personal takeaways. Today’s interview is with Reto Wenger, Co-Founder and Head of Product Lab.
Let’s start with the “why.” Why do you believe that bottom-up innovation is the way forward for corporations?
First of all, I know that the opposite, top-down, isn’t the right way to go. I’ve witnessed the failure of so many overfunded and unvalidated projects produced by top-down innovation programs that I know it’s the wrong approach.
By contrast, I’ve experienced how innovative start-ups can be in comparison to large corporations. They’re very fast, very creative (in part, thanks to the scarcity of resources), and they are so into their niche and so close to their customers that it’s tough for others to enter that niche. I’ve always found this fascinating.
And so, for me, bottom-up innovation was always a way to re-create these start-up conditions within an organization. This is exactly what we do with the Kickbox program. We create a scarcity of resources, require Kickboxers to find a sponsor or investor (internally in this case), provide external support when needed, e.g., from legal experts, and even add the community aspect through networking. All of these aspects are what would usually distinguish a start-up from a corporation. This way, Kickboxers get a chance to learn by doing, making mistakes, talking to others, and validating their own ideas. I strongly believe that this kind of bottom-up innovation is the only way to truly change the mindset of a whole organization in a sustainable way.
It does take a certain kind of person to rise to that kind of challenge! From your experience, what makes a good Kickboxer?
I’d say there are three main things that come to mind. The first is mindset. Embarking on and moving through the Kickbox program requires you to step out of your comfort zone continuously. They need to be prepared to learn, adapt, and think fast. This fundamental readiness to be open and to learn is key.
Secondly, they need to have that sparkle in their eyes, full motivation to bring their solution to a given problem out into the world. This isn’t just essential to keep themselves motivated throughout the journey, but to get others on board too. After all, as they move through the stages, that will be decisive for their success – at some point, you can’t handle a project all on your own any longer.
Finally, Kickboxers have to be prepared to get stuck and get their hands dirty. That means doing more than simply presenting nice slides about their idea. There are other things that aren’t as much fun, but simply have to be done, and they are equally important.
You’ve certainly seen enough Kickboxers to recognize those characteristics! What have you learned from coaching more than 300 Kickboxers?
Regarding innovation in general, I’ve learned that you can never judge a raw idea. If you have a dedicated Kickboxer who is 100% committed to the idea and goes through all the steps, their idea is likely to sound completely different in one or two months. So, it’s important to hold back from judging that initial idea, and instead to focus on supporting the Kickboxer on their journey.
As a coach, I have also learned that you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall in love with the project completely. If you do get too invested, it’s easy to become too involved in the execution, detracting from the Kickboxer’s own experience. This was a difficult lesson for me at the beginning. Coming from a start-up, I was used to pitching in – “let me do this” or “I can take that off your hands” – but now I know that it’s up to the Kickboxer themselves to make the project a success.
Overall, I’ve found that the coach's role is asking the right questions at the right time, and asking a lot of them, over and over. This helps Kickboxers gain clarity on their own vision and make it a success on their own merits.
What makes a good intrapeneur? What's the secret behind the GETKICKBOX success? Where do we see GETKICKBOX in five years?
Soooo many questions, so little time…Not! We sat down with the co-founders of GETKICKBOX Ralph Hartmeier, Reto Wenger, Vinzenz Leuenberger and David Hengartner and asked them all the questions to witch we have always sought an answer.
First up: Ralph Hartmeier. Maybe he'll reveal the secret of GETKICKBOX's success?
“Where do you see GETKICKBOX in five years?”
GETKICKBOX will help to create +1'000 new jobs on the market in the next few years. I'm not only talking about our peers being responsible for the Kickbox program in their organization and our own employees, but mainly about the Kickboxers who made it to the GoldBox phase with their raw idea and became founders or work full-time for the implementation of their idea. I strongly believe that Kickbox is the right tool to enable people to not only come up with valuable ideas but the get what they need to execute them and potentially create new jobs. Looking back, we already have created many jobs being it new hires at GETKICKBOX, Kickboxers who became entrepreneurs, team mates working for these spin-offs or Kickboxers who stayed in the mother company but having created a new job based on their Kickbox idea. Personally, I strongly believe that 'creating new jobs' is the heart of entrepreneurship.
“Which mistake do the most entrepreneurs make, and how can it be avoided?”
Many entrepreneurs, including myself in my earlier ventures, do not listen enough to the market. I know, this saying is quite common nowadays as many books, speakers and articles write about the fact that startups fail because they haven’t addressed a customer need. However, it is still a challenge to test and iterate fast as it is easier not to expose your idea or early stage product to people – feedback is sometimes rough. I like a quote from Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) a lot: "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."
We live this mindset and co-create and learn a lot with our customers. Like this we make sure that we do not develop products, features or services nobody gets a value added.
In order to make intrapreneurship work, employees need to know that such a program exists. What has been the most memorable GETKICKBOX internal marketing campaign for Swisscom Kickbox so far?”
In the past years, we have run many marketing campaigns to get the attention of the employees. In order to stand out, we need to be different. Nothing easier than that with such a memorable brand 'Kickbox'. It is always a mixture of guerrilla marketing and more classical marketing initiatives. One fun (and effective) guerrilla marketing campaign aimed for the attention of our board. On a Wednesdays, we realized that the board meeting is taking place in a meeting room behind a glass wall. Since we wanted to get their attention, we started assembly our physical toolboxes, an important piece of the program to support the intrapreneur, in front of the meeting room. We were convinced that this looks so bizarre that a few employees tinker in the headquarter that they will approach us. Nothing happened though and we had to get more creative. If you want to know how we finally got the board's attention, drop me a line./ get in contact In times of home office such physical guerrilla campaigns are were not possible anymore. We found several ways to get the employees attention while being in home office. Be it through a creative screen saver, targeted advertising on Social Media or crazy post mailings.