Kickbox is many things: an empowerment tool for employees, a blueprint for innovation, an applied MBA, and a proven framework for validating ideas.

The Kickbox method has become well-known as a program that can be implemented just about anywhere, but it began as an internal project at Adobe. Chief Strategist Mark Randall came up with the plan to foster a more innovative culture by giving employees a physical toolkit that helps them incubate and test their own idea.

Regardless of whether or not they managed to come up with a successful project, the Kickbox experience provided employees with an enriching challenge and a wealth of valuable new skills. Crucially, they also walked away with a more intrapreneurial mindset, making Kickbox a very effective tool for driving lasting cultural change.

In 2015, Adobe open-sourced Kickbox and shared it with other organizations looking to support employee-driven innovation. That's how the program made its way to Swisscom, the largest telecom provider in Switzerland, where it was embraced, adapted, and ultimately turned into a digital platform. The Kickbox software developed at Swisscom, uses technology to reduce administrative work and provide employees with a lot more resources. The added software component also makes Kickbox scalable and quantifiable like never before, with an easy way to track how employees are engaging with the program and how many ideas are progressing to an actual product.

Swisscom's Kickbox software was eventually spun out into rready, a VC-backed startup on a mission to help large organizations start, manage and automate their own Kickbox initiatives. The turnkey intrapreneurship solution offered by rready includes both a process and a system, as well as access to a trusted peer community of other organizations using the same platform. One of the many success stories for rready's Kickbox methodology is Siemens Energy, which is using the program's tools to upskill, engage and inspire employees in 50+ locations around the world.

Bringing Kickbox Online With A Digital Platform

The Kickbox method was designed to provide both a lot of freedom and a lot of structure, with a sequence of steps that guide employees to refine their initial concept into a tangible product that provides value for the company in some way. The idea can solve an existing problem, create a new product for customers, or focus on something totally different.

The RedBox Stage

All employees begin in the same place: a budget of around $1,000, a physical innovation box, an internal (or rready certified) coach, and a curriculum to systematically validate their ideas through small-scale tests. Kickboxers spend two months in this phase and, ideally, should have around 20 percent of their work time to focus on the project.

The online intrapreneurship platform helps employees along at every turn, while also linking them to an innovation ecosystem of people and services they might need, both within and outside of the company. These resources can include lawyers, marketing experts, prototype makers, no-code developers, and other specialists, who can all be accessed with "coins" within the system.

Gamification has always been essential for Kickbox, but rready's digital tools are designed to really enhance this element of the program. Not only does this structure make innovation less intimidating, it's also a way to make projects as enjoyable and engaging as possible. The final step to "beat the box" at this stage, is presenting the idea to executives and finding a sponsor willing to invest resources to develop the product further. Of course, failing to reach this stage is not actually considered a failure. Kickbox is all about the lessons that are learned along the way.

The BlueBox Stage

Projects that advance to this phase are essentially in a pilot program. Here the Kickboxers can spend four to six months building a basic prototype and gathering market research with real customers. Together with the support of a coach and a budget of around $10,000, Kickboxers can consult with technical experts and bring their idea to fruition. As Dave Hengartner, co-founder and CEO of rready, explains, "If you gather enough data points to prove that there is potential in your idea, you talk to customers, you build the first prototype, you evaluated the market, you can convince management to reallocate their budget towards your idea."

The GoldBox Stage

The most successful ideas will make it to the big leagues of Kickbox, the GoldBox stage. Here, the goal is to build a minimum viable product (or MVP) over the course of six to eight months, bring it to market, and test its viability. Kickboxers at this stage have a lot of institutional support, including a team and a much larger budget.

Some of the notable ideas that have made it to the GoldBox Stage in Swisscom's Kickbox program include:

  • Help2Type, an idea of a visually-impaired employee, which is a physical keyboard that helps visually-impaired people better navigate their smartphones.
  • A tracker that finds out when laundry machines are finished with a cycle, which is now being used as an office space management solution
  • A system to film amateur sports and make the post-production process easier, which helps content creators working in this niche get better footage of live games

From Corporate Innovation Program to VC-Backed Startup

It should be to no surprise that the idea to build an online platform for Kickbox was itself initially the Kickbox project of employees at Swisscom that really valued the program and wanted to improve it. The GoldBox idea, in this case, was to build an automated innovation project workflow with the same methodology as Kickbox but more gamified, scalable, easier to measure, and with better access to resources. There's always a lot of trial and error in the innovation process, but adding a software component also makes it much easier to find where the bottlenecks are and try to make improvements.

The Kickbox program launched at Swisscom in 2015 and went on to produce more than 21 successful innovations. That means 21 different opportunities to create more revenue for the company, whether in the form of new products and services for customers or new ways of saving money for the company. After scaling the intrapreneurship program at Swisscom to new heights, the Kickbox software team became a major resource for other organizations looking to gain the same benefits. Reto Wenger, co-founder and COO, explains the origin story of rready as the natural result of the widespread demand for effective innovation tools.

"Around 2018, more and more companies started to reach out to us and say like, 'How do you do that? Can we also do that back in our organization?'

For us, it was a lot of sharing our story and working with others. And then the point came when these companies came back and said 'Okay, now we have it up and running, but we also need the software.' There was a point for us to say either we go concentrate fully on what we do at Swisscom or we open up and start working for other companies too. And we decided on the second path."

rready became its own startup in 2021 and now offers companies a combination of the powerful Kickbox methodology and a dedicated online platform that helps them launch, manage and automate their own initiative. The team at rready has also built an innovation ecosystem that allows collaboration between organizations using the Kickbox platform in many different industries and contexts.

"Nowadays, there are over 25 companies running their innovation with the Kickbox platform every day. They're speaking the same language of the RedBox, BlueBox, GoldBox etc. They're sharing a lot of know-how with each other" says Reto Wenger.

Adapting The Kickbox Method for Siemens Energy

Siemens Energy approached rready in 2019, essentially as a brand new company with no intrapreneurship department, having just recently separated its operations from the Siemens Group. The goal was to launch a program that would boost internal innovation by helping employees develop a more agile mindset, learn to apply new methods, and gain practical experience in validating ideas. These are all essential skills in the culture Siemens Energy was trying to build and they're also so integral to the Kickbox process. Tatiana Londono is the Global Innovation Program Manager for Siemens Energy and she explains the value of launching an effective intrapreneurship campaign.

"We have seen how hard early-stage innovation is and why the methods and the support are so important. Because people can waste a lot of money and resources, just walking in a lot of directions, without the structure and the methods to validate."

Kickbox was implemented as a methodology at Siemens Energy just a month and a half before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, posing a huge obstacle to the program and almost resulting in it being cancelled. Instead, the initiatives went completely virtual and relied on rready's tools to keep the learning opportunities coming and deliver a valuable experience for employees.

"Kickbox helped bring in the cultural transformation that we needed to allow intrapreneurs to act differently. They're told, 'As of now, you're the CEO for the next two months and no one can tell you what to do'", Tatiana said.

She added, "The digital platform enabled this program. Kickboxers have ownership because they can run their budget and they can request services. An innovator can easily say "I want to speak for an hour to a prototyping expert, a marketing expert, or a legal expert.’"

Kickboxers at Siemens Energy were asked to create value for the company in one of three ways.

  • New sources of income: Lay the foundation for a new product or service that Siemens Energy can offer customers
  • Increase Revenue: Improve an existing business model in a way that creates more profit
  • Save Money: Leverage new methods or technologies to help Siemens Energy lower costs

Since its launch at the beginning of 2020, the Siemens Energy Kickbox initiative has distributed 220 Red boxes within the organization. 57 of the projects received the approval and funding to commence to the BlueBox stage and build a prototype. 12 of the ideas made it all the way to the GoldBox phase, which means there are currently 12 Kickbox innovations that are either generating revenue or saving money for the company.

In reflecting on what helped the program become so successful for Siemens Energy, Tatiana highlights the innovation ecosystem that surrounds rready's products.

"If you look back at the last year and a half, it was a lot of tiny decisions. Do we do this globally? Do we let regional teams run their own? A lot of different paths to navigate while trying to establish what intrapreneurship could be. That's why rready helped us a lot, because they had already done it and other companies were already working. So we could always reach out and say, 'How do you do this? How do you do the payment of the funds? Are there any ethical issues?' A lot of these things were really helpful."

As of 2021, every single employee in every department at Siemens Energy can come up with an idea and gain access to all the resources and enriching challenges of the Kickbox process. Tatiana Londono is part of a small core team of five people managing projects in 50+ locations across dozens of countries and over 60,000 employees.

How do they do it? By orchestrating the infrastructure of many regional Kickbox teams. This includes recruiting and training ambassadors and coaches that volunteer to provide leadership for their offices and support Kickboxers at every stage of the process. The digital platform created by rready is essential for keeping track of all the projects, while identifying gaps and potential bottlenecks across the system.

"We have a massive central calendar and all communication goes through it. However, all the regions run their own innovation, their leadership, and we support them on anything we can. We do have a broad understanding of everything that's happening in the Kickbox world at any point in time."