Motivating the entrepreneurial mind

You need more than software development skills to build a successful product

At madewithlove we build internet software products. However, we need more than software development skills to build a successful product. We know this, developers and designers know this, our clients know this. Software developers with entrepreneurial skills are more innovative and have a more profound insight into a product and its market.

In a previous post I wrote about how we create an attractive place to work through employee benefits. In this post I’ll illustrate how we invest in entrepreneurial skills.

Entrepreneurial skills

Creating a culture of entrepreneurship is essential for attracting and retaining talent. At madewithlove I try to implement this in the way we organise our work, as well as how we provide employees with room for personal development. This starts with a climate for informal learning, focused on entrepreneurial skills. This is of course different for everyone, but creativity, independent thinking and interpersonal skills will probably come to mind. What really matters is the sense of progress felt when working towards a personal goal. This is motivation at its core, and we want it part and parcel of our company culture. It’s a step closer to intrinsic motivation in everyday work, and it’s what people are really looking for in a career.

More specifically, we’re targeting people with an entrepreneurial itch and a conscious aspiration for autonomy. The dream is finding a job where they’re given the chance to pursue a goal they can be inspired to work towards on a personal level. Somewhere they can be engaged with a stronger sense of ownership. For hiring managers, these are the people you want to attract and these are the needs you should focus on fulfilling. We can’t all work in a startup, and we don’t all want to, but creating a trusting environment wherein employees can develop entrepreneurial skills is possible. In turn, employers will find that the very people attracted to this kind of environment are also those that will make it possible.


Innovation Friday

A big way we motivate our entrepreneurial minds is reserving each Friday afternoon to work on a project or certain skill of choice, a concept similar to 3M’s 15 percent program. We call this our ‘Innovation Friday’ or ‘Friyay time’, or whatever we feel like calling it. Simply put: after lunch, no more client work but personal projects: prepare a conference presentation, write a blogpost, work on an open source project, even start or work on a new startup. The idea is to empower employees to find motivation through self-regulated learning in a safe and supporting environment. The learning process and optimistic spirit is more important than the outcome, and projects are driven by personal interests.

Important is that these Fridays are fun and the projects are attainable. This motivates. Being active in the internet industry already has a natural potential for side projects, as an incredible amount of barriers that traditional businesses face simply don’t apply. Market entry and production costs are relatively low, and you don’t need a factory to build something, but a computer. A team of experienced developers and product managers reinforces this tenfold. If you can build a fully functional MVP in a question of days, you’ve got something going. It’s an exciting opportunity to build something big at low cost.

Nomads and Invox

After a year our Fridays have led to some cool projects such as Nomads, a startup for online management of storage, Changehub a client update tool, and a few new developer tools such as Semver. Another Friday project was creating our company blog, which we continue writing for. Our blog now averages around 500 readers per day! A more recent project is Invox. This is a new app that allows uploading invoices from PDF or photo, and have the data automatically extracted for reporting. Available accounting tools were too elaborate, so we made our own in only two Fridays. We’re now applying machine learning so the system can recognize new invoices based on previous entries.


ROI

So get started at your company. It’s fun and helps step out of everyday roles. It’s an investment in people, which encourages entrepreneurial competencies like teamwork and independent thinking in general. On the surface it seems like losing billable time for client projects, but the gained skills and ingenuity can be leveraged in client work later on.

On a technical level, these Fridays are an instrument to help stay on your toes with modern development techniques and evolutions. Combining internally built technology with external R&D -such as open source tools- will result in more complex innovations that are difficult to copy, and thus lead to a more sustainable competitive advantage in the long run.

Try it out

Innovation Friday allows employees to experiment at low risk. Putting client work aside each Friday is an investment in the skills of your employees and internal R&D. It’s an initiative that will give you an edge in attracting people who are looking for more than just a paycheck every month. You will also retain employees that value the freedom to learn and think independently. But probably most important is the autonomy you can give your employees to be an entrepreneur, and the enjoyment of solving their own problems and creating their own opportunities.

If you have any comments or questions about this or anything else related, let me know! Follow madewithlove on Twitter.