Kevin Sandhu is the CEO and founder of Grow, a Vancouver-based fintech company that offers personal loans.
The future of Canadian enterprise will be defined by partnership. Success depends on both internal collaboration and the cultivation of new relationships between traditional players and startups. Organizations generate a spirit of creativity and trust when they facilitate collaboration between departments and external groups. Incumbents that partner with startups benefit from their entrepreneurial ethos. This echoes the sentiment of a recent article from Deepak Chopra, wherein he attributes the growth of Canada Post to collaborative and creative problem-solving, in part spurred by working with home-grown startup-turned-success story, Shopify.
It is not surprising to me that the seeds of change were sown by a handful of rogue Canada Post employees working in the basement, but it is inspiring that the CEO of Canada's second-largest Crown corporation believed in the "energy and enthusiasm" of a few passionate creators. He was right to do so. Some of the biggest ideas can come from the most unexpected places when you have the right people in place to cultivate them.
Innovation flourishes in conditions exactly like those of the unsung app heros at Canada Post: uncomfortable situations, small budgets and the constant push against the status quo will weed out those who don't embrace the challenge. The satisfaction of creating something that makes lives a little better, a little easier, is the payoff. One way for established incumbents to benefit from those conditions is to partner with startups that live that culture every day. But that can be tricky, too.
If you want to partner with a startup, you must think like a startup. That is the most important lesson that I've learned from our partnerships with large, traditional financial institutions. My company Grow is a startup. We build digital products for Canadian banks and credit unions. Our most successful partnerships begin with a common goal and unwavering focus to improve the customer experience in a specific and measurable way.
With Conexus Credit Union, we introduced online lending to Saskatchewan for the first time in history. We made an important member service easier to access and faster to obtain. Many established companies can similarly rewrite the playbook by working with startups to contribute not just technology, but the quick, iterative mindset that moves production along faster and with more room for experimentation. Successful startups are built on a vision. Founding teams grab hold of a core idea and throw all of their very limited resources into exploring it. They build and they test and they tweak. Things move quickly.
Finding the right partner is crucial to the success of the project. Technical requirements must be met. Due diligence must be completed. Objectives must be aligned. But I completely agree with Mr. Chopra's assessment that partnership must begin with the common goal to improve the customer experience. If both partners are not in agreement about the "Why" then the "What" and the "How" probably won't work out. Once you have collectively decided that partnering together is the best way to produce innovative solutions for your customers, it's important that the team adopt a start-up mentality. There is no point in getting here only to be bogged down by legacy platforms or bureaucracy. You're here to create something completely new, after all.
The project requires an internal champion. Empower them to drive the process. They will guide your team in this joint effort. Ideally, it's someone who understands the start-up environment and shares its core tenets of quick decision making, testing rapid iterations and creativity. When you combine the infrastructure, process and tradition of a large, established organization with the passion, creativity and innovation of a startup, you can build new products for the challenges facing Canadian consumers.
The start-up mentality can be fostered in various ways. One of my favourite strategies is having your core project team work off-site for the duration of the project. This tactic has been instrumental in some of our partnerships. The team will embrace the mission in solidarity, with few distractions to weaken their focus. A startup is a meritocracy, run on little but tenacity and talent. That attitude will drive them toward discovery better than any espresso machine or ping pong table ever would. They will come to rely on each other as they quickly build the minimum viable product to take back to stakeholders.
Lastly – and I credit Mr. Chopra for recognizing this as an important obstacle – there will be those who do not see value in the partnership. Perhaps they've had a negative experience, or fear of the unknown; maybe they're not up for a new wave of change or they just don't see the value. Engage them early. Include them in the process. Their concerns are valid and may even help you see potential issues ahead of time. If you can win them over, they have potential to be the biggest champions. If not, then you've done your due diligence. The key is managing the skepticism so that it doesn't become toxic and damage the partnership. There will be many obstacles on your path and you'll need a dedicated team to navigate the process. Naysayers need not apply. Once you have committed to working together, every problem is a collective problem.
Strong partnerships between what is established and what is revolutionary will power change in Canada. Both contribute valuable insight, experience and passion. Once you've experienced it, you're hooked. You truly feel like you're building something larger than the sum of its parts –something that will help people. Something that will change lives. The exchange of ideas between both parties can be contagious, and should be harnessed and spread throughout the organization.
It is great to see a traditional incumbent take such a public stance on how they must adopt a start-up mentality.
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