When to Ask Forgiveness and Secretly Build a Product, Anyway

Notes on protecting your baby tiger

Preston Smalley
4 min readSep 19, 2018


New ideas are like “baby tigers” that need your protection. Photo: tambako via flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

It feels counterintuitive to keep ideas secret at work — and yet, we’ve all seen situations where organizations kill really good ideas. Organizations with and without models for disruptive innovation in place, doesn’t matter. If an idea is perceived to distract from the current top-down directives, it’s likely to face insurmountable opposition.

You can’t get the green light to build an idea without some sort of proof. And paradoxically, you often can’t get proof without building something.

So what do you do?

Give up?

Not if your idea is a baby tiger, you don’t.

Baby Tiger Ideas

Tigers may be an apex predator, but baby tigers need protecting until they’re more developed and able to fend for themselves in the wild. The baby tigers are those ideas that could be unstoppable, if only someone would see their potential and protect them.

A while back at eBay, someone spotted a baby tiger and a group of us took it upon ourselves to work together and protect it until it grew into a $2 billion business.

It was 2008.

“Mobile” hadn’t quite taken off yet. eBay’s mobile site was underperforming in comparison to desktop. Management decided to fire the whole team. Forget about this mobile thing, our focus should be on the core business. Soon after, Apple made an announcement to a select number of developers, inviting them to participate in a new service they were preparing to launch at WWDC: the App Store. Some of these developers were at eBay.

And luckily for eBay, these developers saw an opportunity and formed a band of renegades to get it built. One of these people was a designer on my team who came to me about the project. We got all of her work covered by other team members and she was able to focus solely on the app so we could have it built in time. By the time the launch came around and the app was built, the project was shown to management and they were quickly on board with the whole idea.



Preston Smalley

Product & Tech Leader for digital TV entertainment, two-sided marketplaces and mobile apps used every day by millions of people. http://www.prestonsmalley.com