“How many of you are using a to-do list to cope with the forces of digital disruption?”

The answer is probably, very few of you. The question is posed by Martin Bell, whose “100 Task Startup Playbook” is, at its core, a to-do list that is being used with great success across multiple industries by major corporations and organizations looking to set up systematic company building structures – launchpads or incubators – capable of launching and scaling multiple ventures.

In prep for his workshop at Innov8rs Paris (10-12 April 2019), we sat down with Martin for a conversation as summarized below.

Launching Startups from Within Major Corporations

Digital disruption is as undeniable as it is ubiquitous. While startups and would-be disruptors are popping up left and right, they are also often in direct competition with one another as much as they are in competition with the incumbent industry. Those big dogs, the major corporations of the world, must face down disruption but they are also uniquely qualified to generate new ventures from within.

Rather than waiting to be disrupted from without, corporations are seeking out intrapreneurship and innovation platforms to germinate and incubate the kind of radical innovation that will ultimately save the company.

Martin designed a system built for precisely that. It allows a major corporation to launch new companies in twenty weeks, at max. In one year, he and his team successfully lead over twenty companies through his system, one of them in only 28 days.

The field of literature on unicorn companies, David vs Goliath stories, and garage borne endeavors is expansive to the point of over-saturation. The Playbook stands apart from the sea of literature on entrepreneurship and innovation for two main reasons: It focuses on execution over ideation and it is written from the viewpoint of a major organization, not a stand-alone startup.

100 Tasks started with his quest to identify “which tasks are skipped by ventures that fail, and which tasks are essential to those that succeed.”  From there, he distilled the truly necessary steps into their most basic form in order to build a comprehensive playbook that is “industry agnostic and proven for B2B and B2C organizations.”

Having 100 concrete tasks solidifies and laser focuses the project scope, taking it from broad and amorphous ideas to actionable items that dig into the nuts and bolts of building companies.

Because the steps are broken down into their purest forms, even though it is written with corporates in mind, the framework can be applied to just about any type of organization, from stand-alone startup to university, government, or major corporation.

Zoom In – Zoom Out: Taking on 100 Tasks

The Playbook itself, despite its name, is best viewed as a large poster that lets you “zoom out to see the big picture, then zoom in to solve each step. It lets you put one foot in front of the other, while not losing track of the big picture.”

The 100 Tasks are broken down into three main stages: Setup, Launch, and Scale. Those three stages each has five elements that cover areas like staffing, functionality, and development. The stages are successive, meaning you must complete each stage before moving onto the next. The tasks within each stage, however, are set up to run parallel, keeping them agile rather than using a traditional waterfall structure.

Stage One: Setup

The foundational stage is critical because it sets the stage for the entire journey. This is where the launchpad infrastructure is built. The Setup stage is where they ideation journey happens, from culling idea lists to validation. This stage involves the planning of your mission, staffing your launchpad, collecting, then validating ideas, and making starter kits.

Stage Two: Launch

This is the commercialization stage where the validated idea is brought to market. Launch is where the company’s functions are built in, systematically, to rapidly reach “go-live (i.e. first revenues).” Even though this stage is focusing on the functions that are “launch-critical” – ALL functions should be built to last. In this stage you are ready to staff temporarily, develop your MVP, build functions, set up KPI reports, and go live.

Stage Three: Scale

Stage three is all about optimization for sustainable growth. In this stage you are leveraging data to fine tune and adjust your business model and implementing best practices. By the end of this stage, the startup should be ready to stand on its own feet. This is the part where you are staffing permanently, beginning to learn from data, optimizing your day-to-day functions, and moving towards independence.


Milestones are located across the bottom of the diagram and represent the most important achievements. Milestones, Bell explains “reflect the iterative, lean-startup methodology that is inherent in the 100 Tasks. More specifically, whenever there is a second arrow that points to a previous milestone, it means that if a certain milestone was not achieved in full one needs to go back. For example, if one does not achieve “Validated Venture”, one should dispose of that idea and pick the next best one on the “Short List”. Or: if the “Go Live” (i.e. launch) fails, then one should re-do to its “Stress Test” in a more comprehensive manner.”

The Pitfalls of Skipping and Skipping Around

Over the years, Martin has observed companies skipping critical tasks for various reasons and to varying degrees of detriment. What gets pushed to the back burner or skipped altogether can usually be traced to the leadership. For example, he has noticed that techie founders tend to skip sales and marketing tasks, while visionary founders are more likely to skip or skimp on operational tasks.

When crucial tasks are ignored or put off, the venture is more likely to falter and fail.

As an example, in his Tedx Talk, Martin points to an innovation lab where he was called in to advise. The lab had launched several startups that were essentially running themselves in circles.  The reason was that these startups had skipped the step of deciding which data to measure and how to measure it. They were using traditional quarterly presentations rather than measuring business critical KPIs. “So they were driving in the dark with their headlights turned off.”

Because the tasks run parallel to one another, each task does not necessarily need to be 100% fulfilled before you move onto the next one. While the framework is agile, not waterfall, the sequence does matter. The Playbook intentionally places some tasks early because they either have long lead or setup times or because many outcomes depend on those tasks.

Don’t make the mistake, as many intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs have, of starting some tasks far too late.

So while a task like “kick off hiring roadmap” or “incorporate legal entity” doesn’t need to be 100% completed before moving on to the next task, waiting to start tasks like these is a mistake.

Who, Where, When

The Playbook includes Task Types which refer to WHO is in charge of executing each task – This makes it easy to define ownership for each task, whether it’s Corporate + Startup together, Corporate Only, or Startup Only. By demarcating each task in this way, you clearly spell out whose court each ball lies in which helps keep things as streamlined as possible.

The Functional Areas lie along the vertical axis of the diagram, grouping the tasks into, you guessed it, functional area. This includes Business, Operations, Sales and Marketing, Product and Tech, and Cross-Functional. The latter category is especially important in the beginning as a fast-growing startup requires decisions and execution across team barriers. As the company scales, however, the structures and processes should solidify, reducing the number of cross functional tasks.

Timing is one of the features that sets Bell’s system apart from the pack. He truly believes that, with proper execution, the 100 tasks can be completed in twenty weeks. That’s an average of one task for each working day.

Martin has more than conjecture to go on here; he’s done it himself at least twenty times… once in a fifth of that time frame. To dive into the 100 Tasks playbook for yourself, download it here.

Want to explore more details? Join Martin’s workshop at Innov8rs Paris (10-12 April 2019).