Alessandro Tschabold brings a unique mix of international startup, corporate and consulting/coaching experience to the table.

He is a Lean Startup and Design Thinking Expert who works closely with intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, providing them with the necessary tools to quickly achieve a Minimal Viable Product. Alessandro

He has gained extensive startup experience by successfully building and heading a software development company out of Los Angeles and New York. He has been actively involved in advising and consulting a variety of companies such as Google, Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and BBDO in different parts of the world. Balancing his startup experience, he held management and product owner positions at companies such as Electronic Arts, IBM and Swisscom.

We sat down with Alessandro ahead of his talk at Innov8rs Paris to talk about his philosophy and his success.

How would you describe your role to someone who isn’t in Innovation?

My role is essentially all about empowering others to drive innovation forward.

I personally have worked for corporations and I’ve also built my own startups, so I have a good understanding of how both sides work, and I have a strong passion for connecting the two of them. On one side, my heart definitely beats for creating new things, building startups, and helping entrepreneurs grow their business successfully. Then, on the other side, I have an equal passion when it comes to building something within corporations, which is intrapreneurship; that is empowering people within companies and giving them the opportunity to build successful projects and innovations.

Whenever I can, I look for opportunities to connect corporations with external startups because I strongly believe that there are certain things that startups are amazing at and there are certain things that corporations are amazing at, and often there is a great match between them.

What, for you, is the reason to be an intrapreneur and not an entrepreneur at this point?

In terms of being able to do more within the intrapreneurship model it really depends on the setup provided to the intrapreneur. For me it really has to do with having a deeper passion for both sides. Throughout my professional life, I’ve always enjoyed connecting the two. And, after all, some startups end up becoming corporations. I’ve always been fascinated by the growth cycle of startups and what they can accomplish. And I’m still working with startups whenever possible, so there is always that entrepreneur side there.

What has attracted me to the intrapreneurship side is the fact that it has allowed me to learn about another industry and be a part of the change that is taking place within it.

You won an award for a project you’ve been working on. Tell us more?

This is exactly why I’m passionate about the intrapreneur/ entrepreneur relationship. In this particular case, I was working as an intrapreneur coach. I was going out and helping people internally initiate and launch new innovation initiatives.

There was this one intrapreneur, an employee doing his job but he was also fascinated by virtual reality and augmented reality and their applications for the field he was working in. I thought that was really interesting and, as we started talking, I realized that he didn’t have the knowledge to really dive into using these technologies because he was lacking the foundation and set up.

So, in the initial stages, before we started going out and playing around with virtual and augmented reality, we looked at video technology to see how we could practice storytelling and structure some content around it because the technology was easier to learn and test while there definitely are certain similarities to VR, for example.

We looked at desirability, met up with a few potential internal stakeholders and launched a project, which got some recognition and was helping others using the technology. Once he was familiar with the technology, we were ready to step it up and start brainstorming within internal departments about how we could help them better tell their story using something like virtual reality. The goal was to give people an emotional connection to potential investment opportunities.

We found an internal organization that was fascinated by the idea and then started looking around for startups that were specializing in virtual reality technology. Then, before we knew it, we started brainstorming together. Following that, internal project teams, intrapreneurs, and an external startup were meeting regularly and intensively to set up a plan to produce a story in virtual reality.

We came up with this really beautiful story involving a startup that produces solar suitcases that are being distributed in rural areas in Africa to places where hospitals have no electricity. The suitcases can be solar charged so that at night they produce light in these hospitals. Before, where women were having to give birth in complete darkness, all of a sudden there is light.

It’s made a big difference in their lives, so we wanted to showcase the story using virtual reality and give people interested a visual, impactful experience as if they were there.

Now, if someone is interested in supporting the startup, we have this virtual reality experience that is much closer than a normal video. You really feel like you’re there, you see and hear children play, you see how dark it gets after the sun goes down. The story both showcases the startup solution’s practicality and really drives home the human impact.

We launched it and got a lot of recognition, even ending up winning a European Excellence Award for disruptive campaigns in Brussels. This was literally after only about a year of work and I think it’s a very powerful story of what can be achieved.

You make it sound very easy… but I assume it wasn’t. Can you share some of the bumps in the road, the challenges you faced, and how you have overcome them?

With this project we got fairly lucky because things really did come together as if they were meant to be. But it’s also very exceptional and you’re totally right – I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy. It was actually a lot of really hard work and we definitely had some bumps in the road as well.

It depends on what kind of environment you work in. Often corporate environments bestow restrictions that make it difficult to work with startups. Of course, there are legal risks and compliance issues when working with outside entities. Before you know it, you can find yourself in processes that can last months or years where you’re just trying to overcome risks.

There are many risks on the startup side as well. Sometimes startups oversell themselves; they don’t have the maturity, human resources, or skills they claim they have and before you know it you’ve spent several weeks in brainstorming sessions going nowhere.

Sometimes, the startup may not live long enough to actually start the project. I’ve been in situations where startups were very excited to work with a corporation, but they weren’t properly funded and in the time it took for the corporation to get all its ducks in a row, the startup was either no longer in existence or was at severe risk of not being in existence anymore. So, there are definitely many facets that can, in an instant, completely ruin an initiative, force you to start all over again or stop altogether.

Since you’ve worked with many startups, is there a profile for startups that you look for that you think has the highest chances of success?

I always invest in people, not ideas. This is something that has really been my guiding star for a very long time. What that means is, I look at people and skills and how the team is set up. Even if their product research is not at the point where it should be, if I’m confident in the team then I’m confident that they will get there.

I’ve been exposed to too many startups with great ideas but without the true potential of actually being able to deliver.

So, I’m very careful and I do my due diligence before I work with a startup because I know what the impact is if you work with one which doesn’t have the capacity or the ability to actually get the job done.

Is that a gut feeling or is there a measurement you apply to these teams?

Of course, gut feeling is a part of it. Working with entrepreneurs or being an entrepreneur can be like marriage without love. It can be dedication and hard work and sometimes no return – it can be very tough and the joys few and far between. On the other side it can also be extremely fun and rewarding.

That’s why I also give talks about the romanticism of entrepreneurship. In this day and age, a lot of people talk about being an entrepreneur as if it’s a joy ride, but in reality, it’s probably the toughest thing you can possibly do.

To get back to your question, of course it’s chemistry and it’s gut feeling but it’s much more than that. It’s looking at their skill-set; it’s looking at how much experience they have; it’s looking at what they have accomplished. As an extreme example, if you talk to a blockchain startup and you realize that you are in front of five IT project managers who have almost no experience with the technology then you better ask twice if this is the right team.

How does your process for choosing intrapreneurs to work with compare to your process for choosing entrepreneurs to work with?

The process is very similar and it can be equally hard to find the right intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. There are differences in personality, obviously. With an intrapreneur, it’s likely they have never done a startup before and they are used to having a certain income. They have often experienced growth in organizations, and they are wired to be very well aware of legal risks and compliance issues.

On the other side, you have entrepreneurs, especially if they’re young, that don’t have any of these constraints, fears, or limitations; they just go for the opportunity. That brings its own risks as well because sometimes they just walk into the open wild and then realize they’re lost.

So, the scouting process from my side is very similar in both cases. Sometimes I go out and look for people and sometimes they come to me. I have a little bit more focus with the intrapreneur on the fact that they need to be unlimited, in terms of having an open mind. With startups I need to see that they have experience and that they’re not ignorant or arrogant.

If you look to the intrapreneurs that you work with, is that a conscious career choice or do many still see too much risk for that as a career?

I have seen people underestimate or romanticize intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship. They underestimate the workload as well as the failure rate and the risks. There is always the possibility that they will do it all and then fail, potentially even losing their day job because it was too much to handle or they lost focus.

It’s fair to say that a lot of people won’t become intrapreneurs because they are worried or reluctant to take the risk, so, if someone does embark on the intrapreneur journey it’s definitely a conscious choice, the only question that remains is how long the passion or interest lasts.

To what extent should intrapreneurs be supported on their innovation journey?

Some corporations believe in supporting intrapreneurship, others don’t. Some companies pretend that they believe in it.

Some companies claim that they have intrapreneurship programs and then, when you look at it, they don’t really have anything at all; it’s just kind of a marketing stunt.

If a company believes in intrapreneurship then there should be a support system in place. This can have different facets, for example, support in the form of time to work on innovative projects, positive remarks in an employees’ annual review, monetary support to build projects, coaching from experts or feedback and input from leaders, peers and coaches.

I invite you all to listen to my talk at Innov8rs Paris and join me for a conversation on anything intrapreneurship, because as you can see- it’s a passion of mine.