With so many inspiring and insightful leaders at last week’s sold-out Lean Innovation track at Elevate Toronto, we had to bring you five more takeaways.
1. Innovation Starts With A Solid Foundation
In his talk entitled Building A Lean Startup from the Ground Up, Mike Gettis, CEO of Endy, likened building a startup to building a house. Endy was founded in 2015 and already the mattress company is on track to earn $20 million in revenue this year.
Gettis broke down how he and his team approached building Endy:
Blueprint - The first step is to begin building the blueprint of your business. He took a strategic approach to founding Endy. He tested out numerous products in an effort to determine which product consumers will love.
Foundation - This step is all about determining product market fit. After research, Endy determined mattresses were the best product for them and they established a goal to take the pain points out of mattress buying. This is where they began to focus on how to generate sales, looked at cost vs price, and began to figure out what was necessary to make the product a success. What foundation needs to be in place before you can proceed with your product?
Framing - The testing stage. This is another user-research stage where the company looked to see what was important to consumers. What mattered most: convenience, affordability, better sleep, or a mattress made in Canada vs. elsewhere? They connected with influencers to get them to test out mattresses and launched Facebook and social media campaigns to determine which path would be more profitable.
Free standing - Now that the foundation is in place, Endy is working on optimizing their digital assets, increasing revenue through new market channels, improving the product with new mattress technology, and adding additional offerings to the portfolio, such as pillows and sheets. They’re analyzing their warehousing procedures to improve shipping and have been devoting resources to increase marketing.
Now, Endy is a market leader in Canada. There’s still lots of “gardening and maintenance of the house” to be done, but Gettis is confident in the foundation they’ve established and the support it allows for future innovation.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, part of it is trying to get out of the idea phase in terms of what should I do and more of an action phase as in what can I test. Be passionate about what you’re going to get involved in,” Gettis said.
2. Rethink Recruiting
If you want to be an innovative company, you need to rethink your recruiting strategy.
“I spend more of my time in recruiting than most cofounders because I think it’s so important,” Farhan Thawar, Co-Founder & CTO of Helpful.com, said in his talk. “It is not something that only recruiters have to think about, it’s actually every single person in the company. Recruiting is everyone’s responsibility.”
Recruiting, interviewing candidates and making the right hire can be a time consuming process, but for businesses whose success depends on moving fast, this traditional style of recruitment won’t cut it. Thawar advocates for a different style of recruiting that empowers other people in the company to make hiring decisions.
This was met with some controversy by the audience, but he shared this story: He hired eight people who visited his booth during a job conference. He gave them small tasks to compete and hired the candidates he felt were right on the spot. He went around to other vendors after to find out how many people they hired, and they reported they’d “collected resumes” or “handed out lots of promo.” He basically saw this as a giant waste of time and asked businesses of all sizes to consider why this strategy is essentially ineffective.
3. Interview Less, Hire More
This feeds into Thawar’s larger philosophy that innovative businesses need to interview less and hire more. “My hypothesis around interviewing less is some of the unconscious biases can be reduced,” he said.
A big part of his talk was about how diversity is not about filling a quote, but about winning in business. A more diverse team has more to contribute, he argues. He also said it’s faster to interview less, saving everyone time in the long run.
How can you interview less and hire more?
- Put candidates in the driver’s seat - Want to see how good somebody can drive a racecar? Watch them at a race track. Thawar used this analogy to drive home the fact that job interviews are a horrible predictor of performance. The best way to see someone’s skill level is to put them in the car and provide feedback based on that.
- Potential over experience - It’s common practice for employers to look for candidates that have done the job before, but Thawar argues potential is the most crucial trait to consider. “I don’t think you need to have the experience to learn how to do a job well,” he said. He knows, this is a man who hired a waitress to be his receptionist after he was so impressed witnessing her ability to handle multiple tasks at once. This also means you, the employer, must think about how you can foster a learning environment at your company in order to entice new hires and retain employees.
- Hire lots of interns - Speed matters not just in hiring people and giving feedback, but also as an evaluation tool in internships. “They’re a different generation, they know technology differently than you, they know different technology than you,” he said. “It’s a four-month job interview.”
4. The 3 Keys to Success: People, Process + Tools
If you want to succeed you need the right people, the right process and the right tools, Paul Crowe, CEO of Symbility INTERSECT, argued in his talk.
In a world where “the customer is moving faster than you,” having the right foundation in place is paramount. That’s why you need the right people who “think of technology as a verb not a noun.” One person needs to own the problem and they need a team of analysts/strategists, designers, developers and so on to own the solution.
Then you need the right processes in place to facilitate innovation. “People can become disenfranchised when the process of where to take things next is not properly developed,” he said. This is a big category, one that contains everything from evaluating companies in your industry and beyond, to embracing methodologies that consumers are used to. “Credit card payments should work like Uber because that’s where the expectation is,” he said.
Crowe’s favorite method is to “prototype responsibly,” which is to “Prototype, test, improve, repeat until you run out of time.” Don’t be afraid to leave your office and go outside to talk to people on the street.
“If you have the right people and the right process, you also need the right tools,” Crowe said. “If you don’t arm people with the right tools to create anything and do it effectively, it’s ultimately going to turn into a shit show. Tools empower people.”
He emphasizes collaborative tools that allow team members to work together.
5. Culture Matters
Closing the day, Shawn Mandel, VP of TELUS Digital, and Todd Copeland, SVP, Digital Channels at TD took the stage to discuss moving fast in a large company. A key theme that emerged was the importance of culture and its role in innovation.
“Leaders need to invest in culture as they’re scaling teams. One of the most important aspects of culture is dealing with adversity. Resiliency is key. You need to have and invent those attributes in the core of your culture,” Mandel said.
There needs to be security in this culture, he continued. “Do people feel safe to speak up? Does your culture work to sustain your teams? The intensity and energy of this is the secret sauce to all of this.”
Copeland agreed, and added that leaders must ask themselves, “How you can sustain that culture and ripple it through to drive true transitional change?”
He also brought up the role of creativity in culture, something that is especially important when teams are trying to innovate. “The worst thing you can do to creative people is constrain them. You need to let them be masters of their craft.” However, he acknowledged that these constraints exist, and it is the culture of a team and the culture of a company that makes up this difference. Creativity needs to be built into the culture within and despite of the constraints.
In closing, Mandel had a message for attendees, a reminder to all innovators that all of this is a journey.
“As you chart your north star and try to figure it out, don’t get so caught up in who you want to be and forget about who you are,” he said. “You get so blinded by what you want to be, this utopian version of what you want to be, but you forget about who you are and where you are on that journey. It is a journey. Don’t get too caught up in where you want to be. Make sure you’re focused on where you are.”
For more insight from Elevate Toronto and Lean Innovation, check out: