Entrepreneur and former intrapreneur Manuel Rosso has spent his career weaving in and out of corporate and startup environments. In 2009, he founded Food on the Table, which was acquired by Scripps Networks Interactive in 2013. He has also served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Austin Ventures, was VP of sales, marketing, and product management at Bay Area startup IMVU, and ran marketing at leading companies like Colgate and Dell. With this background, he has a rare perspective into the nuanced differences between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In this fireside chat, he explores what corporations and startups have in common and where they diverge when it comes to corporate innovation.
Q: There are very few people who weave in and out of corporations and startups. Can you share what that journey looked like for you?
My career started out in the corporate world with companies like Colgate and Dell, and I moved into startups about 10 years ago. It was an intentional and purposeful transition. I joined an emerging startup called IMVU as vice president of sales, marketing, and product management. I then became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Austin Ventures. Soon after, I founded a company called Food on the Table, an interactive builder for meal plans and grocery lists, which Scripps Interactive acquired in 2013. I then joined them as a VP for their commerce platform.
Q: What's it like being on both sides of the table?
Here's what I find interesting: When you're at a big company, one of the things that you long for as an operational manager is the freedom, ownership, flexibility, and speed of the startup world. From afar, it looks like startups are moving at the speed of light. You wish you were part of the action. As a founder, you're looking at corporate America, admiring all the resources that they have. They have the market, access, and scale in production. They have all of the great things that you want in a startup. Long story short? The grass always seems greener on the other side.
Q: Can you dig a little deeper into the specific benefits and drawbacks of being part of a corporation?
Let me start with the benefits. Let's say that you're part of a big media company like Scripps. No matter what you are doing, when you're part of a big, established player, you can pick up the phone, send an email, and connect with anyone on social media, no matter who they are. You're immediately going to get a connection, reaction, and opportunity to engage with somebody. It's very easy to get access to people. That's why startups get a lot of value out of corporate partnerships.
A drawback of being part of a big corporation is that it can be hard to get everyone aligned around a particular project. In a startup, you only have to align one or two people. In a big corporation, you need to align many departments and many different constituent groups.
But once you get people aligned, then you have the full resources of a powerful entity to let you get those things done. That's one of the great things of being in a large corporation.
Q: Why should startups and corporations seek to collaborate more actively?
Startups need to spend 80%-90% of their time executing on ideas—maybe 5% of the time aligning a team on executing an idea. Corporations? The ratio is reversed. You need to spend much more time communicating concepts and getting alignment internally. Corporate innovators have counterparts in other departments. It's all about getting budget and technology aligned.
It's a complementary set of skills that yields a long-term competitive advantage. In the corporate world, it's skillful communication that makes you successful at navigating interpersonal waters. In the startup world, it's all about thinking fast, executing, and being nimble.
Q: What's especially unique to the food industry?
There's a ton of investment happening in the food space right now and disruption is going to happen. Avoid resisting it and get in front of it by driving innovation internally.
You see this pattern of resistance happen over and over in media companies. When you look at corporate investments, you'll see that they're tied up with traditional channels. The revenue that they derive from new, emerging channels is minuscule compared to what they still generate from traditional sources like TV.
Intrapreneurs may ask for millions of dollars to invest in disruption, but media company c-suites often aren't ready to take the risk. They'll take that money and invest it in the same old channels.
I'm sitting at Scripps and I may find something like Instacart, and I might say, wow, these guys are building a food delivery business that is soon going to have a valuation bigger than Scripps and they were not around five years ago — how could they possibly do that? Companies are running hundreds of millions of dollars, just to do innovation.
Don't let opportunity pass you by. Innovation is happening all around you, right now. The best way to stay ahead of the curve and navigate ambiguity is to keep learning from fellow corporate innovators.
If you enjoyed this post you may also like our post Grow Intrapreneurship at Your Company [Part I].
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