What Innovation Looks Like at Twitter and Canadian Tech Outposts
Prior to his arrival at Twitter Canada as the Managing Director, Rory Capern spent the better part of the last two decades in Canada’s digital media and technology sectors. Most recently, he ran the partnerships team at Google Canada, responsible for bringing the full breadth of Google’s products and services to its largest Canadian partners.
Before Google, Rory spent most of his career in sales and business development roles for companies such as Microsoft, Torstar and Bell Canada, save for an entrepreneurial adventure in an online market research startup and a few years in strategy consulting with Boston Consulting Group.
In his talk, Rory highlighted the advantages of Canadian outposts (the Canadian offices for large global businesses). He’s learned these through experience over the years.
- Ideas come from everywhere
During his time at Boston Consulting Group, Rory learned that great innovative ideas can come from everywhere. The consulting group itself has a diverse set of experts, from engineers to history professors, providing different perspectives and approaches. On the client side, he saw that solving challenges didn’t always come from the C-suite. It was often the people dealing with the clients and/or those who worked on the product who introduced solutions that could scale and win.
- Intrapreneurial projects will not succeed under the status quo
Part of the reason why large companies have difficulty innovating and creating convergence is their inability to bring new thinking when it comes to tracking and measuring success.
When Rory was at Bell Canada, the company ambitiously mandated that 10 new businesses be created within itself within the year. Six bled horribly and the company had to decide whether to shut them down or spin them off. One of the reasons these companies didn’t succeed was that they were being measured with metrics that worked for a company the size of Bell and not a new, smaller business. The expectations and success criteria were unrealistic for these new ventures.
Furthermore, only existing Bell employees worked on these new companies—no additional talent was brought in. These companies were too embedded in the traditional operations of Bell and did not have the arms-length perspective to offer the mothership new insights.
- When your industry is being disrupted, you need to adapt
Lavalife was a leading competitor in its field. Within 24 months, Plenty of Fish dominated the market. Lavalife was so focused on continuing to generate revenue that they wouldn’t re-evaluate their business model. They failed to adapt fast enough against a model that was clearly winning and it cost them their market lead.
- Know the rules so you can innovate successfully
When Rory was at Microsoft, he learned that innovating in Canada is a global business. When you are part of a Canadian outpost, you need to ask headquarters about its playbook. The playbook will dictate how the Canadian office works in the context of HQ and how much control you get in the region. If you’re in a position where you’re asked to innovate, you need to know the rules and how much influence and control you have. The cost of moving slowly—whether it’s due to politics or finances—is deadly. The first person who is through the gate, testing and iterating and learning what’s wrong, is going to have the advantage. And in order to support that speed, you need to know the road ahead.
- Open is better
At Google, Rory learned that open is better than closed. Don’t assume your internal team is faster or smarter than partners who can innovate on your platform in an open ecosystem. At Google, the company encourages developers across the globe as well as its own employees to create new things on its platform.
- Smaller is faster
Canada and Canadian outposts have a small-team advantage. At Twitter, Rory is able to fit a whole division in one room for meetings. For an equivalent in the US, it can take longer to schedule such a meeting and entail more opportunities for disagreement. With smaller teams, staff can better focus and mesh.
- Canada is a test market
Canada is an important test market for Twitter. The Canadian market will never be bigger than the US, but its real value lies in what the Canadian outpost can teach the business. Because the Canadian market is smaller, outposts can take more risks and report back to HQ and de-risk a new initiative.
If you want to implement a new idea at your own company, you first need to establish trust with a small project or product to show proof of concept, and then incrementally scale to larger initiatives.