Successful product and service innovation

The axis of entrepreneurial startup to large scale corporate has never been more interesting. Value is undeniably rich at both ends, however the wildly contrasting cultures and speed of operating means that when one world moves towards, or attempts to work with the other, it can too often end in failure.


Over the past eight years we’ve started businesses, invested in startups, worked closely with big corporates, participated in, and even founded corporate venturing programmes in order to accelerate innovation and get to better products and services.

We hold an infrequent closed round table event called ThreeSpeak where entrepreneurs and corporate leaders come together to discuss the way the world works — the open forum giving people the chance to share their own challenges, whilst also helping others to shape their next transformational change.

The next ThreeSpeak session is on successful digital product and service innovation in large corporations with the three lead speakers representing different perspectives from varying approaches such as investing, incubating, or trying to do innovation internally — Stuart Marks (JLAB), Dharmesh Raithatha (Forward Partners), and Olivier Binse (Deloitte Digital).

Prior to the closed round table session, they each share some personal insight and three essential ingredients to successful product and service innovation below.


Stuart Marks: serial entrepreneur turned investor and specialist in corporate innovation (accelerators for John Lewis and DPD)

“Large corporates like John Lewis recognise that neither they nor their legacy suppliers have a monopoly on good ideas”

They must embrace an agile way of working and ensure that their practises can be adopted to take advantage of the huge talent pool that is the start up scene in the UK.

John Lewis is a leading omni channel retailer, but they recognised that is could be even better by working with young, innovative start ups that would allow them to maintain and increase their competitive lead.

“New ways of doing things can be met with scepticism”

One of the biggest challenges in making JLAB happen was convincing the whole John Lewis leadership that JLAB was the right thing for the business. We resolved this by structuring JLAB as a joint venture between John Lewis and L Marks which gave them comfort that our interests were totally aligned and this more than just another project.

Stuart Marks’ (JLAB) three key ingredients of successful digital product and service innovation

  1. Keep an open mind
  2. Take calculated risks. To move on you sometimes have to break a few eggs
  3. Never underestimate who might be working on disrupting your business now and use innovation programs as an essential piece of marketing intelligence and competitive advantage

Dharmesh Raithatha: product, lean and agile specialist turned VC

Dharmesh is product partner at early stage venture fund, Forward Partners, previously at Mind Candy and BBC Imagineering.

Forward Partners invest in founders at the raw idea stage (pre-product, team and traction) and get them to series A funding in 12 months; investing earlier than most accelerators, invest for longer and aim to provide lots more hands-on help.

Companies they’ve invested in include Hailo, Lost My Name, and Thread. The strength in their offering lies in use of Lean Startup, Design Thinking and growth methodologies, with a specific focus on the ecommerce space.

“Some great founders fail because they can’t get their idea off the ground through lack of team, product and traction”

We realised that our combination of skilled team, investment discipline and sector experience could solve their problem and allow us to invest super early, create great businesses and deliver amazing returns.

Dharmesh Raithatha’s (Forward Partners) three key ingredients of successful digital product and service innovation

  1. Spend more time at the beginning understanding your users
  2. Launch early and build less product
  3. Have a strong story and vision that you can share with your users

Olivier Binse: Head of Digital Advisory, Deloitte Digital

Olivier launched and manages the advisory, design and creative group for Deloitte Digital in the UK. He has a background of digital strategy and product development in digital agencies and in the mobile and broadcast industry; passionate about design and embedding a digital culture into organisations.

“Digital is causing a radically acceleration of the innovation and development cycles”

The consequence for our consulting business is a revolution in the ways of working, requiring a fast, iterative, multidisciplinary and agile approach: for Deloitte, the transformation is multifaceted — requiring a different approach to risk, letting our talents express themselves and encouraging a “fail fast” culture, as well as blending our traditional “left brain” professional skills with new “right brain” disciplines which are critical to innovation and customer centricity.

“This changes the model on many different fronts”

Our digital team balances the need to operate under a distinctive model and brand, with the need to drive transformation for the entire Deloitte business. Therefore we have placed the emphasis on multi-disciplinary collaboration, in particular, the inclusion of skills and talents who come from a background that is new to Deloitte: creatively minded individuals with skills in design, psychology, or anthropology.

New project methodologies have been implemented based on agile development, prototyping and highly visual working techniques. This changes the model on many different fronts — our recruitment and performance management, our commercial model, our use of the physical space, and our brand and marketing.


Olivier Binse’s (Deloitte Digital) three key ingredients of successful digital product and service innovation

For us, the critical ingredients revolve around the attributes of a digital culture

  1. Cultivating digital talent by encouraging experimentation and positive failure
  2. Being more externally focused, in particular around connecting with the entrepreneur community
  3. Changing the way we are organised, and rallying people around challenges (cutting through the ‘old’ operating units)
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