Our #MVPtoVIP series celebrates the inspirational journeys of some of the fantastic founders in our Farill.io network. This time, it's the turn of Pete Harris, the intrapreneurial Founder of Propel. Get to know him better below...
1. How did you find the process of launching Propel?
It was so much fun. I used to lead the Innovation and Investments team at Deloitte, where the next logical stage was to put into practice everything I’d learnt and build our own startup, but within Deloitte's business environment. A small team and I developed Propel from an idea to a successful business in a very small timeframe, and that was incredibly challenging, but doing it with a small team meant we could move at speed.
The first step in developing Propel (and any business) is to properly understand the customer problem. This doesn’t mean surveying a sample of people; it means sitting down with them and seeing how they work, think and operate. In the early days, I went to visit a glass blower at work, sat on the living-room floor of a textile maker and at the board table (aka the dining-room table) of a consultancy business. I saw and felt their problems, and this enabled us to develop a solution that resonates with most entrepreneurs.
2. What does it mean to be an intrapreneur?
For me, being an intrapreneur means challenging everything that you’ve become accustomed to in your business – from interacting with customers, delivering and recruiting to culture, brand and marketing.
When I started Propel, one of the core objectives was to challenge everything Deloitte does and to implement the future. For example, in Propel we use direct debits, electronic signatures, and everything is in the cloud. This is very different to the traditional model for professional services, but is most likely the future of the profession. Whilst in the early days these are relatively subtle changes, they will become more profound as the business grows.
3. What are the top 3 challenges faced by intrapreneurs?
- Change is hard when you're trying to achieve it within a large corporate environment – paving the way for change is like wading through treacle, but with patience and persistence it gets easier.
- The brand – all corporates will be fiercely protective of their brand, so the new startup needs to work out how to complement, but appear different (ergo Propel by Deloitte).
- Defining your own culture – this is critical, as potential customers will feel your culture, so it needs to reflect the business.
4. What would you say are the pros and cons of innovating within the intrapreneur community?
The pros are being able to get a flavour of entrepreneurship, but with the protection of your corporate home. Also being part of a corporate means that you often get asked to support wider initiatives like The Pitch and intuit’s QuickBooks Connect.
One of the major cons I’ve come across is the lack of willingness to share ideas with similar businesses. The entrepreneurial community is massively supportive, but corporates can be more protective about how they’re going about intrapreneurship.
5. 2017 saw a rapidly growing community of older entrepreneurs – people leaving intrapreneurial roles to strike out on their own. Do you think this is inevitable for many intrapreneurs?
I wouldn’t say inevitable, but it's certainly tempting. Of course there are those that believe an intrapreneur is a half-way house entrepreneur – they are pretending to take all the risks except for the main one of moving away from the security of that monthly pay check. Many believe that without that constant fear of not knowing how you'll pay rent month to month, there isn’t the same hunger to succeed. That may be true; but for me, I took the risk of leaving a 10-year career that I’d built in an area of Deloitte that was thriving to try and change the firm.
It also depends on what you mean by ‘older’ – there's something quite powerful about having a certain degree of naivety when starting out on your own, but I believe that having business experience is even more powerful. Those older entrepreneurs are more likely to have a raft of professional experience and certainly more life experience. This is invaluable. A lot about being a successful entrepreneur is being scrappy – digging deep to keep going no matter what, which is surely easier the more experience you have.
6. Is it really possible to change big business sustainably? If so, how?
Absolutely, but only if this forms part of the core strategy.
It is important that the innovative business being developed inside a corporate is given space to flourish, and is not overly influenced by existing processes and standards. That means the startup business must become ingrained 'in startup world', and have a strong management team to protect the business from outside influences.
A key element in Propel was that we moved away from the Deloitte offices and into a WeWork co-working environment, to be surrounded by similar people and communities – this helps massively when trying to think differently. However, we balanced this with a board that kept us thinking about how the wider firm could exploit the changes and experiences we’ve made.
Are you an intrepeneur like Pete? Which of his points did you find most relatable? Tweet it using the hashtag #MVPtoVIP.