Pick your champion

As an early stage technology company, the early deals done with big companies can set the course for the business for some time into the future. Getting them done is rarely simple, but the first step is to make sure you have the right champion.

It is a common misconception that because you are engaged in discussion with someone at a company, that you’re engaged with the company as a whole. It is rare that a large multinational invests all of its expertise, budgets and problems in a single individual or team, and frequently teams are empowered to solve their own problems in an economic way and encouraged to share their solutions with the group. This means that generally speaking there are multiple potential entry points into a company, and it’s wise to take advantage of this.

A second common misconception is that because an individual at a big company fully understands a specific problem or opportunity, that they truly care about solving it or grasping it. In actual fact, the vast majority of big companies have a real mix of cultures and sub-cultures meaning that even in the most board-mandated innovation-orientated environments, individuals can on occasion still get decapitated for taking undue risk or diverting themselves excessively from their day jobs to chase the prospect of a new technological Nirvana. Added to this, some people just don’t care as much as they ought to.

Large multinationals are generally constituted of complex and flowing networks of interests, perceptions and political capital. A good champion will help you to understand and navigate these very human elements, as well as support forward mapping the process to close. If they’re serious about wanting to get the deal done, then it’s in their interests to be open.

And so, at the risk of sounding like a Sunday supplement, a quick round-number checklist to help you to spot whether you have a good one. They:

 

  1. Understand what it does
  2. Understand the value of what it does
  3. Know to whom internally it has value and the nature of the problem it solves
  4. Can explain it to others
  5. Have real personal credibility
  6. Have a track record of on-boarding external technology
  7. Want to get a deal done
  8. Will empathise with your needs and work with you towards a shared goal
  9. Are frank about timing and will support sticking to an agreed timeframe
  10. Will help you to understand the process to getting a deal done, and all of the gates you need to pass through and the boxes to tick

If your primary engagement is with an individual with all of the above characteristics, great – you stand a chance of getting it done. If not, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to jump off that horse, but it’s well worth considering getting new blood into the stable. Early technology deals should be done as much as possible from the same side of the table, focussed on benefits and structures for win-wins. A good champion works with you towards common objectives.

Getting the right champion is just the beginning, and from there on out its essential to be building your own political capital, and understanding first-hand the inner machinations of the business, but you’ll never understand it nearly as well as when you have a talented insider with aligned interests.

“I want to take a company from the lab to its first million and beyond”: An interview with James Evangelou on his 1 year RIG anniversary

James Evangelou joined Rapid Innovation Group in September 2015 after graduating from Cambridge and spending 6 month teaching English in Colombo. He spent a lunch with RIG Engagement Manager, Ffion Rolph, talking success, challenges, and his bid to take over RIG.

First things first, are you still happy to be here?

Yes! I’m still enjoying myself and I think there’s a lot to look forward to in the next year.

Good stuff. And thinking back, what made you want to join RIG?

Well, I was fresh out of university and looking for a job. I liked what RIG does and the technology areas in which it works looked very interesting.

After I met some of the team a few times, I felt there was a good fit. The third time we met, I was torn between working for RIG and taking an opportunity to teach in Sri Lanka for 6 months. When Shields told me to go to Sri Lanka and join RIG when I came back, I knew it would be a good place to work.

Did you have any preconceptions that turned out to be wrong?

I thought that there might be more of an individual focus, or that teams would be more distinct. In reality, there’s more of a company-wide team ethos. We all maintain our own areas of expertise but we address challenges together by drawing on the collective experience.

What’s been your biggest challenge over the last year?

I suppose I could try to define my greatest challenge with a particular moment or event. More generally, however, I think a great challenge for any new recruit is understanding and managing expectations in a new work environment. This comes back to the preconceptions you just asked me about. When I joined, I was told about the lack of formal hierarchy at RIG. But I still had my own notions about how things would work in practice and, at first, I had a tendency to defer to others’ experience or knowledge.

Over time, I’ve had to challenge myself to realise that it’s not about age or experience but about who is the subject-matter expert on a particular type of challenge or technology. In my first year, it’s been a challenge to put myself forward as a leader, but one which has brought a lot of opportunity.

And how about your greatest success?

I’ve really enjoyed finding interesting new technologies that we would like to work with and establishing the relationships to facilitate that. It’s also been rewarding to identify key applications and multiple value propositions for emerging energy technologies. The opportunity to prove and develop these with some of the largest energy service companies in Europe has bestowed a responsibility on me which requires organisation while fostering creativity.

What do you think are some really exciting technology areas right now?

I recently went to a conference on the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ and this is an area I think is pretty interesting. What’s cool about it is that it overlaps with so many other things. It could be linked to advanced materials, industrial manufacturing, and a host of other things. This overlap is what makes it so interesting.

Beyond this, I’m also interested in energy infrastructure technologies – software or hardware – because of the significant macro challenges that they’re solving. The interplay of distributed generation, energy storage, and the significance of data in the wider energy ecosystem is demanding open innovation and collaboration It’s bringing out some clever technology in the process.

Any tips for some technologies to watch?

Energy storage is an area which is continuing to grow and is seen as an essential component of any electricity grid. The recent $85 million investment in the Germany battery company, Sonnen, is indicative of this perception. Storage, however, is a broad category that ranges from smaller scale home batteries to compressed air in large underground salt caverns and it will probably take a combination of these technologies to achieve a sustainable energy mix. For me, what’s really interesting is the integration of domestic battery technologies and their battery management systems with elements of device communication. This will help usher in the promised  era of smart homes and cities of the future.

I’d also like to add water technology to this list. Given the importance of water in our world and its increasing scarcity, an interesting water conservation or anti-desertification technology is something I’m keeping my eyes peeled for. The issue of water scarcity goes far beyond my interest in cool tech; it could well be one of the defining geopolitical issues of this century.

What do you think is one of the critical commercial challenges for an early stage technology company?

Finding the market before ‘finding’ the product. Tailor the product to the market and not the other way around. If the market isn’t obvious or there is no demand, then you need to look at selecting another market. How you position yourself relative to the market and the opportunity is more critical to success than how much time you spend perfecting your first prototype.

Define your ambition for us: where do you want to be in 3 years’ time?

Other than taking over RIG? I’d like to work with a really interesting technology, become an expert in that space, then develop and execute a strategy to take that company from the lab to its first million and beyond.

Finally, what’s it really like working at RIG?

Working here is both challenging and rewarding, and those two go very much hand in hand. The opportunities to work with interesting technology and be on the road mean that working here isn’t your standard office 9-5.

The people you get to work with at RIG aren’t half bad either.