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Case Studies

The gro.team story started at Betfair (the online betting exchange) in the early 90’s…founder Rorie Devine recalls…

”I had been headhunted into a leadership role and it became clear that some members of the team I had inherited were part of the problem – not the solution.

I thought “wouldn’t it be great if there was somewhere I could go to bring in genuine experts to take accountability for X leaving me to focus on Y” and so on.

Unfortunately nothing like that existed.

The “management consultancy” model was (and still is) broken. It works by overcharging clients premium rates for smart but inexperienced and inexpensive people.

Some management consultancy contracts are so long and complicated that by the time a client realises that they’re not getting the value for money or effectiveness they need it is difficult/impossible to end the relationship. The news that Hertz is suing Accenture for $32m for a failed web site implementation (a product and design that apparently didn’t do half of what was specified and wasn’t finished) is one of the few failed projects that come to light publicly…most of the time companies quietly move on…wiser but poorer…

I resolved to form a company to meet the need for genuine expertise where people need it, when people need it and only for as long as they need it and TeamCXO.com was born. Unfortunately few people knew what CXO meant (it’s a generic term for CTO, CEO, CFO etc) so we changed the name to interim.team and off we went…

We were growing very rapidly (revenue went up more than 5,000% in 3 years) and people loved our relentless customer success focus at interim.team but clients kept asking us “we need some permanent people as well…do you do that?” and “can you help us grow as well?”

Eventually we decided to stop arguing with clients and relaunched as gro.team to work with people to grow themselves via coaching and mentoring, grow their teams with interim or permanent talent and grow their businesses via growth hacking.

It’s early days…gro.team is still ramping up…but it has been great to see the reaction of the people we’re working with…we’re having a lot of fun and a lot of growth is being delivered…”
 

Rorie is the only person to have featured on the cover of CIO Magazine twice, has been awarded “IT Leader Of The Year” by Computing Magazine and is featured in the books “Think Do Show” and “How To Build a Billion Dollar App” saying that the change he brought when coming in as an Interim was “truly amazing” ,”we started to feel we were firing on all cylinders” and “Rorie was relentless in his intention to make Hailo a centre of Engineering excellence. Rorie not only wanted to build the best software organisation possible, he also wanted all of Hailo to work closely together…Rorie is the kind of boss you really want to work for, demanding results but always in your corner.”

The news that Coca Cola has closed down its’ Founders startup incubator has led to the usual raft of “I Told You So’s” saying that it’s because corporate startup incubators don’t work – but are they right?

I have been involved with three big companies launching internal startup “Incubators”/”Labs” teams so far…and what have I learnt?

Firstly I think it is done for good reasons.

Startups normally have good people, energy, good ideas, leading edge tech, a low cost approach, a high risk appetite and a willingness to challenge orthodoxies. They just want to get stuff done.

Big companies normally have deep pockets, millions of customers, a great brand and experience of operating at scale.

Surely the best of both worlds would be for big companies to launch startups? What could go wrong?

Well, quite a lot as it happens.

Mistake #1 – Not defining what you want the startup to achieve

In other words what will success look like?

It sounds simple but there is spectrum of “innovation” ranging from far horizon R&D to tactical (incremental) improvements to existing products and services.

What is wanted/needed? Success needs to be defined and solved for.

In general the startup should not be given special treatment…”success” is to create a growing business that attracts and retains customers.

Mistake #2 – Not getting total organisational buy-in and executive sponsorship

Sooner or later the startup will be stopped dead in its tracks by a blocker if the whole of the organisation isn’t behind it – from the top downwards. With the best will in the world active and passive resistance will be met and the startup needs to be able to wheel in very senior people to call bulls*t and unblock things.

Mistake #3 – Integrating the startup so tightly that it effectively becomes another corporate department

The whole point of a startup is to do something different so if you insist it uses existing people, existing corporate assets and the current approaches you will get what you got. You need to achieve a loose coupling whereby the startup has the freedom to chose between doing something new and leveraging corporate infrastructure case-by-case based on what is best for the startup.

Mistake #4 – Getting the wrong people to “be” the startup

If you are going to create a startup you need to do what startups do. This is for a team to self-select great people passionate about what the startup wants to do. If you ask one of the big system integrators/consultants to create a startup within your company you might end up back in the worst-of-both-worlds territory. The people in the startup don’t need to be existing or new employees either necessarily – they just need the talent and drive to deliver the goals. Organisations like gro.team can supply high impact interim talent at short notice into these kind of situations very successfully. Possibly the best loved UK retail brand will soon be launching a new customer service (that is very different to its’ current business) using this approach and the gro.team person in that team is part of a startup that stands comparison (in terms of talent and effectiveness) with any of the many startups I’ve seen.

Mistake #5 – Not integrating the new product/services back into the Mothership

We created a Labs operation when I was CTO of Yell and we did nearly everything right. We hired great people, they developed a great micro-culture, they produced some really innovative products and services (including a really cool augmented reality app way back in 2010) but we never really managed to integrate the new things back into the existing business and deliver customer impact. For that reason it has to marked down as a failure overall.

Corporate startup incubators can be a graveyard for ambition (and there are a lot of traps for the unwary) but it can be done successfully – Telefonica’s launch of giffgaff and British Gas’s Hive are just two examples that come to mind.

As with a lot of things, in this area experience is a great teacher and nothing beats getting people involved who have been there, done it and have the scars to prove it.

Rorie Devine is an Interim CTO and Growth Hacker for gro.team

By working closely and regularly with customers, delivering early, iterating ideas and working cross-functionally towards a common goal Agile software development transformed the business of creating software.

 

Agile development massively increased the value delivered by the typical software development project by favouring “individuals and interactions” over specification, “working software” over pretty much everything, “customer collaboration” over contract negotiations and “responding to change” over blindly following a plan…

What would happen if we used these “Agile” principles to deliver Growth rather than Software?!?

 

We could favour “customer collaboration” and “individuals and interactions” by forming a cross functional Growth team including both “customers” and “suppliers”.

 

We should include representatives from Product, Sales, Marketing, Technology, Operations, Finance and so on…

 

We could favour “working software” or Growth in our case by giving the team the single unifying purpose of growing a carefully chosen growth metric.

 

The Growth Team could be “responding to change” rather than a plan by delivering early and taking a measure-act-measure approach to ideas through “on ramp” to “live” stages.

 

The Growth Team could communicate and meet regularly, maybe a quick “stand up” at the same time and place every day would work really well.

 

We could work to a weekly or fortnightly rhythm with the cumulative affects of the growth activities on the Growth metric being publicly demonstrated (and hopefully celebrated) at the end of every cycle or “sprint”.

So we have created a cross-functional team meeting regularly with the unified common purpose of doing anything and everything necessary to measure-act-measure the impact of their ideas on a single carefully chosen growth metric.

 

That’s cool but…

 

Maybe we could give this sort of approach a name…like Growth Hacking or something?

 

Yes Growth Hacking is the sort of term that means different things to different people but anyone familiar with Agile software development will be struck by the similarities between the approaches, rituals and rhythms typically used in both Growth Hacking and Agile Software Development.

 

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Does it all work in the real world?

 

Yes.

 

The same underlying principles that make Agile software development so effective also mean Growth Hacking can totally transform the effectiveness of a company’s growth activities.

 

I recently spent a day with the talented team at a well backed UK based energy startup called Hometree who are creating a great brand by disrupting the domestic energy market customer experience.

 

We had a really productive workshop where we honestly examined the Strength Weakness Opportunities and Threats in their current growth landscape, discussed and then selected initial and ultimate growth metrics, collected growth ideas, created a growth board, reconstituted the growth team and set up the new team’s rituals and rhythms.

 

Not bad for one day and Andreu Tobella Brunet the Co-Founder of Hometree UK commented…

 

“As a start-up that is using an innovative way to sell online, we created a growth team from scratch but were having a few challenges to structure it well and have clear objectives and team alignment. This is where Rorie stepped in and helped us understand well all the roles, define our single metric and create a high performing growth team. The whole team was extremely pleased with the improvements, I would highly recommend him”.

 

Whether you call it Growth Hacking or something else, a very effective way of accelerating your growth is to learn from agile software development and to create a cross-functional team meeting regularly with the unified common purpose of doing anything and everything necessary to measure-act-measure the impact of their ideas on a single carefully chosen growth metric.

A London based start up had attracted significant Series A funding and needed to take things to the next level…

 

Their web site had been built by an external agency and they had no internal technical people within the company.

 

An gro.teamer was brought in (part time) to act as Interim CTO and create an in-house technology capability.

 

During the first 90 days our gro.teamer:

 

– Clarified and documented the business strategy and KPIs (the “What”).

 

– Created a draft technology strategy (the “How”) and then created an API and Platform based Technology evolution strategy.

 

– Formed a strategic partnership with a recruitment agency.

 

– Hired a small but great team of in-house developers.

 

– Took ownership and control of the company’s web site and migrated it to GitHub and Google Cloud.

 

– Implemented task and product roadmap based workflow and reporting.

 

– Launched a workplace social collaboration system.

 

– Improved the web site download speed and took significant friction out of the web site customer experience.

 

– Initiated major product initiatives in both mobile and brand monetisation.

 

– Identified, hired and on-boarded a permanent CTO before handing over the baton and moving on to their next challenge.

 

As the CEO put it…”what a difference one year can make..”

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