The Business Guide to Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship, credit: TechCharge

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

While entrepreneurship often gets the spotlight, intrapreneurship offers a compelling alternative for those who desire the challenge of building something new but value the stability and resources of a larger company. It’s a chance to be a changemaker from within, leveraging the established infrastructure and support systems of a corporation to bring fresh concepts to life.

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 Difference Between Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs

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

Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

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.

And let’s not ignore the obvious reality of business:

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:

As a business advisor, I’ve worked with 300+ businesses across different industries. The lack of an in-house leadership in a company is a well-known flaw. It prevents scaling a business due to the risks of delegation to hires who wouldn’t take the initiative to head a department or a set of activities themselves.

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

Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail

Entrepreneurship vs. Intrapreneurship – Lack Of Education

I believe that entrepreneurship should be studied in 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. That’s why I authored a book covering the dark sides of entrepreneurship.

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 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.

How Are Intrapreneurs Different From Entrepreneurs

So what are intrapreneurs? Intrapreneurs are skilled and sharp experts who can run an entire team, division, department themselves. Similar to entrepreneurs, they have progressive growth thinking, and the ability to influence their team, increasing results over time.

There are no perfect entrepreneurs out there.

All of us excel at a number of skills or traits – such as leadership, management, strategy, marketing, technology, sales, operations, media coverage, etc.

But we don’t cover all grounds equally.

  • Oftentimes, big vision thinking results in less productivity when it comes to attention to detail.
  • Big extraverted personality isn’t ideal for reading contracts or crunching numbers on billing reports.
  • We may be great at selling but suck at reducing operational costs.

Intrapreneurs know their strong suits and can join a strong team in need of additional leadership capacity. They can leverage the extra help in areas that the business provides as assets, and focus 100% of their attention on what they do best.

It’s a powerful combination for every business.

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 into my specific business needs. I use Clarity both for offering and receiving consulting on a regular basis.

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.

How to Be an Intrapreneur

We have been extremely lucky in finding and closing several intrapreneurs across my companies.

The usual profile of how to become an intrapreneur is usually:

  • A freelancer who can’t (or doesn’t want to) scale full operations into a running business
  • The co-founder of a small team that had a couple of great years, but faced some pressing challenges
  • A manager who tried their stunt in the corporate world and gave up on all the bureaucracy
  • A small agency rockstar who didn’t have access to growth opportunities to lead their own division

If you fall into this category, intrapreneurship may be your best bet.

  1. Start with your personal SWOT analysis first. Discover what you do best and memorize it.
  2. Develop your portfolio or CV to fully outline your strong suits.
  3. Tap into your network. Look for opportunities in mid-sized to growing organizations that could use your skill set.
  4. Speak to founders and senior managers. 70%+ of all job opportunities are not available in job sites yet. If you find the right people, you can unlock your own personalized position as well.
  5. Attend events and career shows. You will be surprised how often showcasing your strong suit can create an opportunity.
  6. Try with revelant job opportunities on Indeed or Monster. The interview process may unlock a new position tailored to your skills.
Mario Peshev

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What Does an Intrapreneur Do?

Intrapreneurs take a leadership position in an organization.

Some intrapreneurs have to prove their worth by starting small first, demonstrating leadership capacities, facilitating their team, assisting in operations and strategy, and earning their supervisor role.

In any case, the end goal is supporting the business with (almost) full autonomy, through activities such as:

  • Product marketing or strategy
  • Team leadership and growth
  • Operations
  • Sales strategy and business development
  • Marketing and growth marketing opportunities
  • R&D for technical roles
  • Ambassador or partnership development gigs

Intrapreneurs take a large problem in the organization and own it. Different businesses face different problems, and I’ve outlined the most common ones in my guide here.

Lack of Explicit Intrapreneurship Opportunities

Again, a lot of intrapreneurship opportunities are not publicly available.

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 the 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 to (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. 

Mothers on warpath after Yahoo!

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 trendy startup, but we still try to do whatever we can in order to keep our team members both efficient and happy, some examples:

  • We provide growth opportunities for less experienced members showcasing intrapreneur qualities.
  • We hire based on traits and motivation first, skills second.
  • We invest in R&D opportunities that enabled DevriX to make it to the top 20 WordPress agencies worldwide.
  • 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).
  • We invented a new business model in the space called “WordPress retainers” which incorporates a recurring revenue model with consulting and strategy opportunities for everyone in the organization.

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 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.

Top challenges facing organizations

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.

Have you employed intrapreneurs within your organization yet?

If not, I’d urge you to try. It may drastically change the culture across your organization for good.

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