intrapreneur

Who Is An Intrapreneur? The Intrapreneur In A Nutshell

The intrapreneur is an employee which is usually assigned to innovative projects that can impact the company’s future success. As such, the intrapreneur is an employee that acts like an entrepreneur within the organisation. While the intrapreneur has access to the resources of the organisation she does not bear the risks connected to it.

How does Intrapreneurship work?

Intrapreneurs get assigned to special projects, that are extremely innovative. That is also why they are usually given the freedom to pursue them, which means the intrapreneur is extremely independent within the organisation.

Therefore, intrapreneurs can access resources from the organisation, thus organizing and working with those resources on innovative projects. At the same time the financial risks associated with the project stays with the organisation.

Intrapreneur vs. Entrepreneur

The primary difference is in risk-taking and ownership. Where the Intrapreneur does not own the company and does not take the financial risks associated with the project. The entrepreneur does.

That makes the entrepreneur more conservative, and risk avoidant. And the intrapreneur more risk-prone and in theory willing to take bolder steps that can make processes within an organisations obsolete. Thus, looking at innovations that can impact the whole organisation.

Good, in theory, what in practice?

While the concept of intrapreneurship is compelling and perhaps many companies have leveraged on it to keep innovating. At the same time the question stays open on whether the intrapreneur without skin in the game can really give a good contribution to the organisation.

Intrapreneurship example: Google’s 20% Project

Google is one of the companies that took advantage of intrapreneurs to build wildly successful products. As Brin and Page highlighted back in the 2004:

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google…This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”  

From this 20% project allocation, where employees could pursue the projects they felt compelled about, products like Google News, Gmail, and AdSense were built.

Other intrapreneurship examples

Here are just a few examples of intrapreneurship in modern companies.

Google’s Gmail

The development of Gmail is one of the finest examples of intrapreneurship at work. The service was created by Paul Buchheit who joined Google as its twenty-third employee in 1999.

Buchheit had previously worked on a web-based email platform and search engine, but the idea of replicating this combination within Google’s email service was met with internal resistance.

Indeed, some executives were worried that the company was extending itself too far beyond its core search product

However, co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page ultimately supported the project, with Buchheit using Google’s 20% time policy for personal projects to develop the Gmail platform.

History will show that when Gmail was released in April 2004, it grew rapidly to displace Hotmail and Yahoo Mail as the provider of choice. Gmail would also influence the development of Google AdSense in later years.

McDonald’s

It may surprise some to learn that the famous Happy Meal started as somewhat of a gimmick when it was first slated in 1977.

The idea for the meal is credited to Dick Brams, former regional ad manager for the St. Louis, Missouri area. 

Brams pitched the idea to senior management after witnessing that competitor Burger Chef was selling children’s meal boxes that also came with a toy.

While many believed it would never catch on, the Happy Meal became popular with McDonald’s franchise owners who desired a product that would streamline the chaotic process of ordering food for kids.

Brams is often credited as the “Father of the Happy Meal” in official McDonald’s communications, but depending on who you ask, the idea for the meal is also attributed to fellow employee Yolanda Fernandez.

She founded the first McDonald’s restaurant in Guatemala in 1974 and would add toys purchased from a local market to children’s meals. 

Sony

Despite Sony’s PlayStation division earning $24.87 billion in 2021, the company was at one point disinterested in the video game industry.

In the late 1980s, however, a forward-thinking Sony engineer known as Ken Kutaragi was watching his daughter play with a Nintendo gaming console and was amazed at its potential.

Kutaragi invited his superiors to seriously consider developing a gaming console but was ultimately rebuffed.

Undeterred, the engineer surreptitiously took on a role with Nintendo to help them develop the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

When Sony found out, executives at the company were infuriated and their instinct was to fire Kutaragi on the spot.

In the end, Kutaragi was saved by CEO Norio Ohga who believed his idea had merit and funded a partnership with Nintendo to develop the Super Famicom (known in the West as the Super Nintendo).

Sony would eventually develop the PlayStation and, after its release in December 1994, became the first computer entertainment platform to sell over 100 million units.

Kutaragi was promoted to CEO of a new division called Sony Interactive Entertainment where he oversaw the development of the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3.

Connected Business Concepts

What is Entrepreneurship

what-is-entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is a continuous quest for real-world problem-solving. The success of a business is measured by how well you helped people solve those problems. While entrepreneurs can rely on methodologies, systems, and processes, they also need to know when to revert to instinct and leverage on their experience.

Acquisition Entrepreneurship

acquisition-entrepreneurship
Acquisition Entrepreneurship (AE) starts by buying an existing business instead of starting one from scratch. Therefore, an acquisition entrepreneur masters the process of acquiring existing businesses to shorten the path to success. In short, the acquisition entrepreneur thinks like an investor in the process of buying an existing business and acts as a CEO once the deal has been closed and he needs to run the company to bring it to the next level.

Business Design

business-design
A business designer is a person that helps organizations to find and test a business model that can be tested and iterated so that value can be captured by the organization in the long run. Business design is the discipline, set of tools and processes that help entrepreneurs prototype business models and test them in the marketplace

Ramen Profitability

ramen-profitability
Serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Graham popularized the term “Ramen Profitability.” As he pointed out “Ramen profitable means a startup makes just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses.”

Business Experimentation

business-experimentation
Business experiments help entrepreneurs test their hypotheses. Rather than define the problem by making too many hypotheses, a digital entrepreneur can formulate a few assumptions, design experiments, and check them against the actions of potential customers. Once measured, the impact, the entrepreneur, will be closer to define the problem.

Solopreneur

solopreneur
A solopreneur is usually (not always) a digital entrepreneur who leverages automation, work flexibility, and creativity to develop ultra-lean business models. Those can scale over the one-million-dollar revenue mark with a minimum business overhead, no venture capital funds, and mostly bootstrapped. Those solopreneurs start by mastering profitable microniches.

Value Proposition Design

value-proposition
A value proposition is about how you create value for customers. While many entrepreneurial theories draw from customers’ problems and pain points, value can also be created via demand generation, which is about enabling people to identify with your brand, thus generating demand for your products and services.

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