"One of the biggest challenges was finding out how big could our business could be"

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Carlos Mendes, Co-founder and Product Manager of WeListen. WeListen offers an enterprise innovation management software tool, InnovationCast, which companies can use to drive innovation within their operation from the idea to the final product.

I asked to him to tell me more about the reasons for founding WeListen, developing InnovationCast and any challenges that they experienced during the start-up phase.

“Four of us co-founded WeListen several years ago. We were already colleagues so we had professional experience but we were looking for an opportunity to do something different. The basic idea was to join forces and start up a company together. We started as a project-based company and, at one point, we began working with Mota-Engil to help them organise their collaboration infrastructure.

“During that engagement, António Meireles, who was in charge of Innovation Management at Mota-Engil, came to us with the challenge to devise something better that would improve the way employees collaborated within the company and to support innovation management. The initial idea was to take a solution from the market and add some customisation to ensure that it was a good fit between the needs of the company and the existing product. In the end, we could not find any one solution available that could address all their needs such as:

    • How can we support all of our innovation management process within the company?
    • How can we turn our ideas into value?
    • How do we engage our people to drive innovation?

“This lack of an existing solution for all these aspects drove us to produce InnovationCast. We created a solution for this from scratch. InnovationCast is not only a way to enable innovation from within a company. Our aim is to allow companies to innovate at a sustained rate. Not only does it allow a company’s internal workforce to provide innovative ideas, but it also allows external suppliers and buyers to help address any challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges for us, and this may be shared by other start-ups, was finding out how big could our business could be. Sometimes you get customers to provide solutions to but it is not always easy to keep the company going on a sustained basis. Since we started as a project-based company, we were working with clients that had different projects and problems to address.

“We had projects coming in, which was good for us, but we had difficulty focusing on a particular area. From the beginning, we always had the idea of creating a product based on social technology. We didn’t know what that product would be. On the one hand, working on different projects for different companies was good because we were finding out as a company what was possible for us to do. On the other hand, it can be difficult to choose what you want to do as a start-up that has a clear focus area.

“We had so many ideas that it was easy to want to do it all, but obviously we had to put our mast in the ground. As a startup, you need to understand what you want to do and what real assets you have to build a business.”