Is The Venture Factory the Future of Repeat Innovation?
90% of businesses fail. Can the venture factory change that?
Innovation is one of those much hyped, painfully over-used words. Its right up there with disruptive and visionary. How does the saying go if I had a dollar for every disruptive, visionary innovation I’ve been shown I’d be a rich man. And, if that’s not bad enough, ‘innovation’ is further expanded by stratified terms like incubator and accelerator - words that are bandied about equally, almost without meaning, by poachers and gamekeepers - entrepreneurs and investors. Statistically, venture building is a veritable crap shoot with extremely low success rates. Far too many organisations fail. Perhaps it’s time for a different approach.
“Houston, we have a problem!”
Apparently 90% of new startups fail. And 75% of venture-backed startups fail - proving that money is not the answer to everything and that venture capital firms have no magic wand/bullet/rocket - whatever they say. Further, less than half of businesses get to their 5th birthday. The highest failure rate occurs in the information industry proving that they don’t use their own products enough - assuming they’re worth using in the first place. Check Facebook.
There are a few organisations that are trying to move venture building from the small, one-off artisanal workshop, that it is today, to a more ambitious model, based on the creation of a ‘venture factory’. Venture factory pioneers believe they can consistently deliver higher quality, repeat innovation and higher success rates when it comes to venture building.
“Henry Ford invented the moving assembly line for repeat, consistent quality car production - so we should be able to do the same for ventures - right?”
The back story - “venture studios”
Before the full blown venture factory came along, we witnessed a virtual proxy called the ‘venture studio’, also known as a startup studio or a startup factory. This business model focused on systematically producing new companies. Unlike traditional incubators or accelerators, venture studios don't just support existing startups; they actively engage in creating new businesses. Some of the key characteristics of a venture studio include:
Idea Generation and Validation: Venture factories often have a systematic process for generating, screening, and validating business ideas. They use their resources and expertise to test the viability of these concepts before launching them as startups.
Resource Provision: Once a concept is deemed viable, the venture studio provides the necessary resources to build the company. This often includes funding, office space, administrative services, and access to a network of advisers and potential customers.
Team Building and Talent Management: They help in assembling a team for the new startup. Most of the time this involves leveraging their network to find suitable co-founders, managers, and key employees.
Active Involvement in Development: Unlike some incubators or accelerators, venture studios are typically very hands-on with the startups they build. They may play a significant role in strategy, product development, marketing, and other operational aspects. I.e. they’re a little control freaky given they don’t actually come up with the ideas themselves.
Multiple Ventures: A key feature of a venture studio is its focus on creating several startups over time. This diversification allows them to spread risk and increase the likelihood of producing successful companies. But these companies are not majority owned by them - they are just investors.
Equity Stake: In return for their investment and services, venture studios usually take a significant equity stake in the startups they help create.
Venture studios can be efficient mechanisms for launching new companies because they can leverage shared resources, expertise, and processes across multiple startups. This approach should, in theory, increase the speed and reduce the costs of starting new businesses, though it does typically involve a trade-off in terms of equity and control for the entrepreneurs involved.
The ‘venture factory’ takes this a step further
The venture factory goes beyond a venture studio by operating a full blown factory, tooled and optimised for its own branded ventures first - only subsequently thinking about becoming a contract manufacturer for 3rd party ventures (as well). Like starting up as Google and then ending up as, well, Google Ventures - only with a real factory this time!
The venture factory has a carefully designed virtual space, a manufacturing process and methodology, specialist assembly lines, factory workers, robots, tools, quality control systems, and, most likely, a warehouse and distribution network. All designed around building and shipping ‘ventures’.
The components of a venture factory
For a venture factory to work it will likely need a number of core components:
a step by step venture manufacturing process with detailed process flows
a venture design philosophy
a venture manufacturing system with detailed data and bottleneck analysis
software tools designed and standardised for venture building - including standardised templates for key business processes such as product management and project delivery
a venture resource planning system (kind of like an ERP system for scrappy young startups - you know, like giving your toddler an iPhone)
an industrial model for venture scaling post market launch
a distribution system for a venture’s product distribution after the factory build is complete.
Innovation methodology - step by step venture manufacturing process
Mach49, a growth incubator for large corporations (is that an oxymoron?) has a simple 4 step process which includes ideate, incubate, accelerate and scale. It recently published a book about it called ‘The Unicorn Within’, which is a nice read and great if you can get one. A unicorn that is.
LettsGroup takes a more detailed approach with its innovation and venture building methodology aptly named ‘Innov@te’. Their process has 7 key stages and 49 steps that provide the basis for a genuine, repeatable venture manufacturing system. Its 7 stages include:
This 65 page manufacturing style process manual is about as exciting as reading a Boeing flight safety manual. Both crash without them - it's just the stats are worse for venture failure than aeroplane disasters. Oh, wait…
The venture factory team at LettsGroup are working on turning Innov@te into a dynamic and structured manufacturing software system. Think of it like a traditional manufacturing production system for building innovative startups rather than physical products. Move aside Oracle, hello Innov@te VRP.
Venture design philosophy
There are a number of different venture design approaches. Perhaps the best known is the Lean Startup methodology which is about putting a process and a methodology around the development of a product. It’s kind of like teaching your toddler to use an iPhone AND clean up after themselves.
The methodology is quite tightly focused on getting an initial product to its early adopter market. A closed concept phase if you will.
The Lean Startup methodology believes that every startup is a grand experiment that attempts to answer a question. The question is not "Can this product be built?" Instead, the questions are "Should this product be built?" and "Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?" They believe that this experiment is more than just theoretical inquiry; it is a first product.
It is about starting with a very narrow concept designed around solving a niche and specific customer problem. Entrepreneurs are meant to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) which is an initial straw man that a few somewhat geeky early adopters might help shape into a real live product after a bunch of data driven iterations - assuming that the hard charging, gun toting entrepreneur has the patience for all these iterations and data analysis.
Lean believes that “Startups exist not to make stuff, make money, or serve customers. They exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”
Over at LettsGroup they designed their own ‘Size Zero Philosophy’ which seems to be a broader, more structured approach to thinking about a highly efficient and automated enterprise. Their manual helps to design a focused, sustainable and more cost controlled, scaled enterprise from a small startup. Or, embeds a lean, more agile design into a larger corporation. Their Size Zero philosophy runs in parallel with Innov@te, their venture manufacturing process. Combined they could prove to be a new Kanban or a ‘Just in Time’, flexible method for venture manufacturing. Try getting your head around that one!
Manufacturing system and software tools
Apparently a true venture factory operates an advanced software system from their venture building process or methodology. It sounds a bit like fashioning ‘the Theory of Constraints’ manufacturing optimisation system from a simple book ‘The Goal’ - which actually happened and was first written by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in 1984. Today it is in its 3rd edition.
In the same vein it looks like advanced venture factories will develop their unique process and methodology into a complex manufacturing system and a set of defined, standardised software tools that are used not just to build the venture but to operate and manage it sustainably over time. AI and automation will accelerate these systems and, as a result, the very concept of repeatable, sustainable innovation.
Scaling approach and distribution systems
Venture factories will likely think beyond the venture’s initial product launch and devise extended processes and systems for the longer term development of the venture and universal, scaled distribution systems for the scaling of their ventures.
For example, LettsGroup has developed their own proprietary Web3 content management system providing highly scalable content based verification, micro-monetisation (which is micro-payments on steroids, fully embedded in the content!!) and syndication. This looks like it could become a veritable warehousing and distribution platform for information industry ventures. Meaning we don’t just build it but we can sell it as well!
The contract venture factory
It might end up that the advanced venture factory of tomorrow will initially get built and operated to manufacture branded ventures that are owned and created by the venture factory owner - as Ford developed the car assembly line for their own branded cars. But, once these venture factories mature and scale it is likely that contract factories will emerge to create, build and scale ventures for 3rd party customers like venture capital investors, funds and global corporations.
Like today the iPhone is manufactured for Apple by Foxconn in places like China, the Czech Republic and South Korea. Tomorrow venture factories from the likes of LettsGroup and others could manufacture new contract ventures for Amazon, Apple or Blackstone with the simple premise that ventures built by them will last longer and experience a success rate greater than 1 in 10. Perhaps successful, repeat innovation is not as far away as it seems.
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