Working as an internal entrepreneur – or ‘intrapreneur’ – on a specific project within a much wider business can pave the way to leading the whole organisation, Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud has revealed in a recent Business Insider podcast.
In the piece, Sud notes that prior to joining Vimeo, she had a job as a consultant helping entrepreneurs to come up with ideas for how to grow their SMEs, and the experience rubbed off on her. After Sud joined Vimeo, she was placed in charge of its creator-services division, which provides Software as a Service (SaaS) tools designed to help filmmakers with post-production. At the time, though, Vimeo was trying to position itself as a more entertainment-driven challenger to the likes of YouTube and Netflix.
Sud advises young business leaders that one way to create their own opportunities is to “look where others aren’t looking”, explaining: “One of the reasons I was given ownership of the creator side of the business is because it wasn’t, at the time, the area that was getting all the focus and attention, so they could take more of a chance on me. That’s not a bad strategy. It gives you an opportunity to own something yourself – especially if you're passionate about it – and maybe get an experience that you wouldn’t normally get if you just went down the standard track.”
As a result of her department’s success, Sud was eventually promoted to CEO – and the SaaS division became the firm’s focal point. As she explains, “we pivoted away from this strategy to build Vimeo as an entertainment destination.” The firm is also eagerly exploring ways of creating opportunities for people “to throw themselves in the deep end … and own things that they might not normally get a chance to own”, on the basis that it “rewards results and talent over pedigree”.
With that in mind, what can young project or division heads do to win over senior figures who may not fully believe in – or see immediate strategic roles for – those particular ventures or parts of the business?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This really reminds me of research by Professor Susan Vinnicombe, who found that one major success factor that prepares people to lead is the opportunity to take charge of a project. That’s essentially what Anjali Sud is talking about here: the chance to do something that, in her case, is away from the core of the business. As the project isn’t what you would call ‘business as usual’, it requires a ‘champion’ who can bring in the types of energy and enthusiasm that transcend age or experience.
“That’s very much what Vimeo were doing here: creating a safe environment in which Sud could take risks. And of course, we know that the relationship between risk and reward is directly proportionate: if a venture is particularly risky, then it certainly stands a greater chance of failing – but by the same token, if it works, then the rewards will be significant. Enabling that dynamic to play out without risking a tried-and-tested, core business model is, by any measure, a sensible path for any organisation to take.”
So, what should be the personal approach of the individual who is leading the charge on a non-core project such as this? “Crucially,” Cooper notes, “the likelihood of success is not determined by age or experience, but by openness to new ideas and a desire to run with the project in a creative fashion, so all its various threads of potential can be fully explored. That’s the personality type: someone who can tolerate the prospect of failure without it interfering with their imagination. Someone who knows that failure isn’t going to destroy them – who can pick themselves up if things go wrong.”
She adds: “Part of being open to new ideas is listening, adapting and changing – and that could even mean adapting to the project itself, if it starts to move in unexpected directions. Whatever you end up with may not be quite the same thing that you conceived or imagined in your initial vision. But it was your openness to criticism, your flexibility and your market awareness – ‘Is anyone doing anything similar? Is it working? What do customers think?’ – that enabled you to bring it over the line.
“You need to be resilient – but at the same time, not so single minded that you lose sight of the need for the project to be a commercial success. So, all told, there’s a lot going on in there – but I can see why certain individuals would thrive within that nest of opportunities.”
For further thoughts on the entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial mindsets, check out these learning resources from the Institute
Image of Vimeo mobile icon courtesy of Twin Design, via Shutterstock