Starting an In-House Incubator // Part 2
Initial learnings and the concept of Mito Studio
This is the second part in our series of Starting an In-House Incubator. If you found this article first, you may want to start with Part 1.
Try, Fail, Learn, Try Again
When we started to polish our idea to make an in-house incubator, we tried a few ways to do it.
First we went for brewing good ideas by picking a few great minds with good creative attitudes and hacker skills. We asked them not to work on their own but organize workshops where the open-minded and curious ones from the company can join to nurture some crazy ideas to life. It was similar to our hackathon series but intended to be organized quarter-yearly.
This initial approach was not successful as the proposed projects lived different life-spans but finally all of them got stuck in an ever-pending state and even the almost finished ones never made that last miles.
We made two conclusions here:
- One was that without true dedicated time for everyone involved we cannot make the results we were dreaming about. Of course, we tried to do our best to ease the workload of those involved, but at the end of the day client work always had priority and we cannot expect to create something awesome when we mostly plan with people’s free resources.
- The other learning was that we need dedication and organizing on a stakeholder and decision making managerial level. We don’t have a huge bureaucracy in Mito but as a minimum there are divisions and division heads. Now, if these people who control and distribute the resources don’t have the buy-in and involvement in our projects they will never dedicate to them.
Also, from the top management we need to have not just encouragement but real support and by that we mean finances. And by finances we don’t mean hard cash, but actual time from people, which translates to staffing accordingly. Do we want people to have time for extra side projects? Then we may need to hire a few more talents to have that extra resource. Although the latter part seems like the real dealbreaker here, both of the above reasons are equally important as there is no story without any of the two.
Having these realizations and conclusions from our early efforts, we pretty much had the picture of where we need to go. We need dedicated time, dedicated resources, decision making level attention, and actual financial investment to make this happen. This lead to the idea of starting a separate and dedicated unit within Mito, which solely works for this purpose.
This is how Mito Studio came to life.
The Mito Studio Concept
The real future and organizational format of Mito Studio was not carved into stone at this point. Whether it should be a separate company, a subsidiary or just a new division within Mito, we didn’t know. But this was not blocking us from making the tough calls and important decisions.
Based on our previous checklist this endeavour had to be led by people who had a say on a management level, so this is how one of the two heads of the client management team, the head of the user experience team, and one of the actual founders and partners of the company joined forces to spearhead the operation. We were aware that at some point these people had to leave their current positions to fully dedicate to their new roles but we really believed in what we were up for and had no fear in doing so.
Having the control in place we also needed a dedicated team. We were aiming to use the full force of Mito, all the talent and resources that we can get hold of but we cannot solely work based on these working hours, which are either present or not because our daily work dictates so. That is why we recruited
- a technological project manager,
- two back-end developers,
- one front-end developer,
- and accounted a UX designer, a graphic designer and a growth hacker for the half of the dedicated day.
The latter was also important to have a specific person who helps us seed whatever we might create so that it is visible for an audience.
As nicely as our team shaped up we needed just one more thing: all the rest of the company.
Having our own resources and not being fully dependent on the Mito core was spectacular but at the end of day the whole project was about this: using the greater company’s available creative grey matter and also allow people to do great stuff that they truly care about and can relate to as their own. And man, even though you have the best intentions and people really care it is still hard to encourage them to participate. To get them create concepts, pitch ideas, find a solution to a problem and start fixing it. So we needed to encourage them to
speak out loud. That’s how future product ideas come alive.
Our solution to that was saying it clear, aloud and straight: everyone has 4 hours every week to work on whatever Mito Studio project they like. That is 10% of our complete workforce every week. This allocated time enabled every Mito colleague to support the Studio in various ways if they want.
First we opened the Idea Box where everyone could drop any idea in and polish it for two months. If the result turns out to be something exciting we would pick it up for execution as an official Studio project. And the good thing about this is that the person pitching the idea in the first place would be definitely the one who can work on the execution as well. This also means that it cannot be the other way around: there is no throwing around ideas without working on making them a reality. We believe that execution is the real deal and we expect the same from whoever participates.
The other track became the Study Group to which you could join with any new skill that you wanted to learn or an idea to experiment with and have a project work around that for one month. Then in the next month you could follow up with your learning or try something completely different. This is for example how some of our graphic designers started tinkering with the newest prototyping apps or made the first steps with coding. Interestingly this turned out to be our best platform so far to nurture great new ideas. This was where our Farvel app concept came to be, and also where our Totemori game development started.
Then another leg of our Studio operation came to be. The Lab, which is pretty much the follow-up of any of the above. Our Lab is the place where already existing and established teams work on product concepts while executing it for a public release. A Lab project can come straight from the Idea Box, can be the afterlife of a Study Group experiment, but we can also pick up a project from our yearly hackathon to finish off and put it out there and not just let it sit at the bottom of a drawer. Also, we looked through all our previous internal efforts, which didn’t quite make it to see the sunlight and this is for example how we made a Labs project out of and finally released our Metamorphosis game.
Besides all of the above the Mito Studio tries to fill the role of being the innovation powerhouse within the company. The Studio crew and their coordination brings to life our hackathons now, and this is our little factory where we produce all our internal software developments aimed to ease the life of everyone working at Mito.
Looking for and Fixing Problems
One last thing to note that we came to understand about developing ideas.
A good idea is fixing a problem.
It’s easy to fall in love and hop on the pink cloud with a good idea with good garnish, which is actually not solving a problem. There are so many useless products and almost the same amount of failed startups out there, but the good ones which resonate with people are always the ones that fix a problem. It can also be tempting to create a problem instead of solving an existing one. So we came to respect people’s issues that they have with the world around them, the pains they may have in their lives. It is not hard to realize that in order to make the world a better place this is what you need to focus on and work with.
And this journey starts with understanding people’s problems, learning what is really making them angry or tired, what is tedious and a pain, what can you do for them to make their lives more pleasant and easier. This is what we got into our heads and started gathering ideas around this thought: how can we fix everyday problems with technology? For this end did we start investigating, researching and effectively collecting problems in order to develop effective ideas.
We are and will be trying our best to stay on this track of looking for the areas where fixing is needed and use collaborative problem solving methods to come up with ideas and then develop solutions around that. Areas may include everyday life, company routine, business problems from small to large organizations, public issues from education to inequality, and of course just entertainment and having fun. We will see where our path leads but at least now we know how we want to go ahead down the road.