The Value of Intrapreneurship Within an Organization

With the boom of entrepreneurship out there, there has been a distinct separation between the corporate work and starting a business of your own. However, most folks are not familiar with the trend of intrapreneurship that gets far less coverage than it should be.

What Is an Intrapreneur?

As Murray Newlands shared for Inc.:

The distinction between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can be seen as a difference in the level of focus. While an entrepreneur should see the company as a vision from starting point to end; the intrapreneur is a facet of this broader vision. The intrapreneur works within the company to solve a specific problem.

Thus intraprenuers should have more directly applicable skills for a given task. The intrapreneur will take risks, but within the context of their job in the company. The intrapreneur, unlike the entrepreneur, is not focused on the entire company, but rather processes within it.

Intrapreneurs are creative, motivated, proactive employees. They are eager to handle a specific division of an organization in a leading role without having to venture on their own.

The Intrapreneurial Initiative has prepared a splendid infographic that covers the difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs:

The number of intrapreneurs out there is still low. Most hustlers don’t see intrapreneurship as an option for three reasons:

  1. The media focus on successful startup founders and entrepreneurs for the past 5 years has been overwhelming.
  2. The actual scope of running a business from the ground is never covered publicly. All of the hustle and 100-hour work weeks is ignored in favor of receiving the next $50M funding by a regular Joe who had started from home.
  3. Most companies don’t have processes in place to accommodate and nurture intrapreneurs.

Most Startups Don’t Make It

The number of failed startups varies massively depending on the research study you’re looking at. Some optimists claim that nearly 50% of new businesses are successful. I firmly believe that more than 80% fail over the first few years (unless we account for freelancers and solopreneurs with lifestyle businesses).

It’s not uncommon to read about a 90%+ fail rate either:

CB Insights has also done a detailed study on the cause of failure in startups:

Entrepreneurship vs. Intrapreneurship – Lack of Education

I believe that entrepreneurship should be studied at schools.

Moreover, entrepreneurship should be covered in its entirety – exposing both the good and the bad. The hype in the digital media over the past 5 years has led to a vast number of startups and small businesses that fail (at ~90% rate) over the first years.

This wouldn’t have been the case if:

  1. Young entrepreneurs were properly prepared for what a business holds, or
  2. They have prioritized career growth in existing companies.

I support that rising intrapreneurship trend completely. There’s a major mismatch between the regular workforce and entrepreneurs trying to start a venture simply because they can’t find progression in existing companies.

Having a proper training in entrepreneurship from an early age through school and university would be invaluable for motivated, young, determined graduates eager to grow professionally and personally.

Entrepreneurship is not all rainbows and unicorns.

It’s exhausting, hard, requires a ton of experience and hustling 80–100 hours a week for months, if not over a year. That may impact friendships, health, relationships and more – and could easily be avoided by working 45–55 hours a week for an organization as a team leader, a manager, or anything else that still includes some responsibilities but offers some help from the organization.

Intrapreneurs Could Leverage Coaching and Mentorship

You can easily outline various areas where a professional coach with business expertise could be of help – restructuring the management processes, coming up with unique product ideas or actionable feedback on improvement, analyzing new monetization opportunities, reflecting on the customer support workflow.

Fresh entrepreneurs may have a hard time figuring these out for themselves. Finding the right mentor isn’t easy either.

But it’s absolutely possible as an intrapreneur working for the right organization. A proactive employee has a network of colleagues, managers, and even the C-Suite of an organization being able to help and share their business experience. That’s massively different than starting a business on your own or even partnering up with one or two co-founders on a new startup.

Based on CB Insights’ study, it’s worth noting that 42% of the startups fail due to the lack of market need.

A coach can hardly help an entrepreneur who has built a product that is not in demand. That’s another sweet spot where an experienced business owner or a senior manager can assist and prevent a disaster from happening in the first place.

Sometimes, they may find an opportunity to restructure the product plan and the marketing strategy in a way that aligns better with the customers’ needs – something that clients want and competitors don’t provide yet.

That’s a major stunt that may or may not work – but it may be worth trying if your business is failing to deliver the right results.

The reason I love working with consultants, coaches, and mentors is their insight on my specific business needs. Entrepreneurship is like a puzzle – there are tons of actionable tips and strategies – but they are not always applicable, can’t be tested simultaneously, and largely depend on a specific business at a time.

That’s exactly what an established organization does through internal meetings and management/leadership roles.

A professional coach or a mentor working in the management tier can analyze a business plan, identify the weaknesses and optimize the right processes. The specific caveats that require attention are better identified by the entrepreneur or intrapreneur – although they may be unaware of details that could, in fact, be a major obstacle.

Lack of Explicit Intrapreneurship Opportunities

Before growing my own business, I’ve tried to venture as an intrapreneur several times at my previous jobs.

I appreciate the entrepreneurship trend and I’m glad that I had an opportunity to start at a less conservative time. Baby boomers and Gen X have been raised with a totally different mindset; in a world when many have worked a single job throughout their entire career until retirement.

That’s not necessarily bad – just limiting for people eager to build something on their own.

But the main problem I have with entrepreneurship is the dual contrast that it projects on the younger generation. This creates a context of “You’re either hustling as an entrepreneur or merely working in a boring cubicle”.

The critical moment arises when creative, motivated, determined people feel constrained in a corporate environment and feel obliged to venture on their own. After all, the entrepreneurship wave doesn’t nurture any other successful environment, does it?

Which leads to different financial and business bubbles together with the lack of manpower (staff) in the IT industry.

According to different surveys, 35% of the US workforce is now comprised of freelancers. Add that to the percentage of failing startups at scale. Burnouts are a major topic across media outlets. It feels like most business owners have simply started because they see no other alternative – but they aren’t inclined on (or capable of) running an entire business.

Remote working is a good middle ground. But IBM and Yahoo have closed their remote job openings and called everyone at the office. I’ve discussed the underlying problem and the evolution of remote working in the Quora answer above.

I firmly believe that many of those failing business owners would be more than happy to work an interesting job for a paycheck. And that’s where intrapreneurship comes in.

The culture of proactiveness and motivation really hasn’t been firmly established in most organizations. I’ve conducted over a thousand interviews over the past few years and I’m profoundly disappointed, sometimes outright disgusted, by some of the applicants we have been talking to.

We are not a sexy startup, but we still try to do whatever we can in order to keep our team members both efficient and happy, some examples:

  • 60% of our staff works remotely 100% of the time (with more enjoying home office or cofficing at times).
  • We have flexible working hours for the most part.
  • Our office offers bean bags or a stand-up desk, a couple hookahs, occasional free lunches, and is dog-friendly.
  • We promote an “open door” policy for whatever, whenever.
  • We do comply with last-minute university exam notices or taking care of employees’ children (parent-teacher meetings, doctor appointments).

There’s a lot more we try to cover despite being a small team of 30 people. But all of our job descriptions and employment-related posts stress on proactivity, motivation, self-driven attitude. Not only do we have a nearly impossible time finding that profile, but:

  • 35% of applicants don’t even show up for their interview appointments.
  • Oven 70% haven’t even browsed our site before an interview (beyond the homepage at best).
  • CVs are often sloppy and incomplete.
  • The initial interview questions generally revolve around working hours and paycheck, rarely anything about the work or the team.

I could go much further but it gets depressing at a certain point. It gets even worse when dealing with wanna-be developers with absurd payment expectations or teenagers who believe that their time spent on Facebook and Snapchat qualifies as marketing seniority.

Sure, it’s not a rule of thumb – but there’s scarce interest by most applicants/interviewees in a particular job opening. The status quo of traditional, old-school managers doesn’t help a lot. But if people are looking for jobs only for the sake of earning a paycheck and slacking in the meantime, how would that work?

And yes, that’s different for Google, Uber, Amazon, Netflix – any of the top giants that receive tens of thousands of CVs every year. But they represent a tiny portion of the companies operating worldwide, or even in the US alone.

My Hope For Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurs could be the next best thing for the world of entrepreneurship. Industry experts with practical business expertise. Creative people who get empowered and supported by an organization. Future co-founders or C-level folks at growing startups.

I’d be really excited to see the intrapreneurship trend scaling massively. Small teams can also finally team up and build outstanding solutions together instead of competing for small niche markets.

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