The lines between work and play are blurring. The exponential growth of technology is creating uncertainty in almost every industry throughout the world – yet with this uncertainty opportunity is bred.
The following conversations, moderated by Scott Henderson, executive director at Hypepotamus, delved into what is to come. The perspective is unique as it focuses on another blurring line, that line is the one between startup founders and corporate innovators.
A special thanks to Midtown Alliance for organizing the event and for the four participants James Harris, (@jharris9999) Founder at N4MD, Ashish Mistry (@AshishMistry), Managing Partner at BLH Ventures, Carie Davis (@CarieDavis2) Global Director of Innovation at Coca-Cola, and Nicola Smith (@Nicola_Smith22) VP of Mobile and Strategic Innovation at Engauge.
Scott Henderson (@ScottyHendo) takes center stage with a brief introduction:
James Harris, founder at N4MD, speaks on the struggles of developing and growing a startup:
Ashish Mistry, entrepreneur and managing partner at BLH Venture Partners, speaks on the importance of collaboration:
Carie Davis, global director of innovation at Coca-Cola, sheds light on the startup culture that is rapidly developing within large corporations:
Nicola Smith, vice president of mobile and strategic innovation at Engauge, speaks on the history of innovation and its influence on today’s startup culture:
Transcript services provided by TransciptsHQ, a proud Atlanta startup
Scott Henderson: Thank you everyone for coming out tonight. I just want to start out and frame the conversation here. We have all seen a fundamental shift in technology and how that shift is driving a huge change in how we work and how we play. That artificial wall of going home for the evening or the weekend is really blurred. I’m going on an experiment this coming week taking a six-day vacation and just unplugging and seeing if I can do it. It’s not easy to do. I think we have blurred the lines dramatically and we have gone from these disconnected silos, where there is the up and down vertical organization with the hierarchy to more of a connected networked approach. I think when you see a company being built today, it’s going to be more of a network, loose, more disconnected and distributed than the traditional scale up by going up the approach with the more traditional hierarchies.
I don’t think this has completely obliterated hierarchies, I think hierarchies still have value. It’s a great scale, there are lots of people but there is a lot more agility and nimbleness when you have more of a networked approach. I think what we are going to see tonight is a conversation between those in the entrepreneurial community and those in the corporate community and understand how this fundamental shift of technology is really changing how physical space and mental space is allotted. We will focus more on the physical space with the startups and then talk more about the mental space that is being created within large corporations that allows for creativity and innovation to happen. I think it is interesting to see the generational waves that are there.
I have always bristled at the idea. I graduated college in generation X and we were told that we are the first generation that would have a lower quality of life than our parents and the millennials are hearing that same thing too. There are definitely different experiences and perspectives in that the millennials are entering the workforce and entering management positions and bringing in a different philosophy but then Generation X has a different philosophy because of experience and I think boomers have a different experience as well and then the greatest generation, as they are called, has that impact. So it will be fun tonight to see how things have changed in this work environment and what the future work looks like based on that.
I want to start with James Harris and ask him to come up to the hot seat. Welcome James Harris, Founding Partner of N4MD.com. Not only are you the founding partner of N4MD but you were also the cofounder of Elemental, the interactive communications consultancy, proud alum of Tennessee Technological University. James has more than 17 years of experience in the interactive industry and has worked throughout his career with an extensive number of companies like AT&T, Coca-Cola, GM, Georgia Pacific, Holiday Inn, IBM, Pfizer, Turner and UPS. N4MD helps media companies, consumer brands, and professional bloggers repurpose their content into eBooks and eMagazines by leveraging publishing relationships with social magazine apps and eBook marketplaces. James is also the proud father of two daughters and is from Decatur.
The reason we wanted James Harris on today is because you have built up a very successful agency and over the years have started other businesses but as each business has been created, the size and shape of each office changed. Can you walk us through what was that first company, what it looked like, and how big of a space did you have?
James Harris: Sure. So Elemental Interactive was started in late 1995. There was a guy called Ricky Endwool he had a small space at KingPlow and he had been consulting with Louis Gerstner who at the time was leaving American Express to go work for IBM and become CEO, and then he did some communications help and he convinced him that this multimedia thing was real. So we had worked on a project for Mr. Gerstner which was Coca-Cola’s very first website called the Galaxy Coke and we convinced IBM to let us have 80 people in a warehouse and build their first senior management communications. We were very successful – Walter Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal, said Louis Gerstner gets it and we became IBM’s defacto interactive communications team for seven years. So there were lots of flights between Atlanta and LaGuardia.
We grew the business to have 11,000 square feet of KingPlow. We opened an office in Vail, Colorado, it was a very small space and then we opened a nice house office in San Francisco as well. It was the good old days of the internet bubble. We were really fortunate to sell the company in late 1999 to a company called Grey Advertising in New York. Traditionally agencies like having space so they had lots of offices and we just became a collection. I remember the CFO of Grey Worldwide saying one day, “Well, if you guys would move up to Oakland I’ll buy you a building.” And I thought that was slightly excessive but you know, some agencies they have the cash to do that.
So in 2003, they decided to get out of the interactive business and they shuttered 15 companies. Two were left. One company had a week ? (unclear 9:53) left and I had three years and so they sold me the company back for a small sum and it became my partner in it and we reconsolidated everything to Glenwood Park. So we were one of the first tenants of Charles Brewer’s idea of creating this new urban community in Atlanta. We shrunk everything down roughly from 20,000 square feet to a thousand square feet. We also decided to make everyone full time contractors but our profits didn’t change and our revenue stayed the same. It was shocking to me, the man who spent 100 grand on a raised concrete floor at KingPlow to know that we could actually function out of 100 thousand square feet.
We learned something that holds true even at Hypepotamus, which is the idea of CPG – context, proximity, and gravity. So the people who needed to see each other everyday, they were in the thousand square feet, the programmers didn’t want to see other humans anyway – they just wanted to program at home so we allowed them to do that and they became highly productive. We really got down to the proximity question, we left our clients in the Northeast to stop traveling. I had daughters already and so 80% of our business came from Atlanta. So the proximity really helped us because we didn’t need to be in San Francisco and New York any longer, we just decided to pick new clients. Then the gravity became very important because as people move from agency to agency, we were going to pick up talent as they moved around and so we created a sense of gravity right at Glenwood Park. We had the coolest interactive office in the city so people would come to hang out and have beers with us on the weekends, and so we built enough gravity where we could really pull in great talent. So as I ended Elemental Interactive to start N4MD, we were part of the FlashPoint program and Merrick’s vision of having this bomb shelter approach of creating startups was very enlightening to us. We were extremely productive.
Scott Henderson: What is FlashPoint for those who are not aware of it?
James Harris: FlashPoint is Georgia Tech’s version of Y Combinator. It is an accelerator program and they let in roughly 15-20 companies per cohort and we were part of the very first cohort in January, 2011. During the program, you are mentored and coached and at the end you have a series of demo days that you go through that hopefully prepare you to be a better startup and prepare you for the real world. We learnt a lot from FlashPoint’s model of tables you move around, chairs roll around, you can tape on the floor or you can throw things on the wall but you need to be focused on work. So when we moved into Hypepotamus, we were the first team to actually move into this space. I mentored other FlashPoint teams and encouraged them to move across the street as well. So going back to CPG, the proximity and gravity has really helped us because now we have this cabal of FlashPoint graduates that can really be effective in making things happen. For example, in less than 48 hours, I think five different companies are going to Internet Retailer next week and it all started from one conversation and we just went around the building and decided to hop on the same flight and go together and hunt as a tribe together.
Scott Henderson: So it has gone from organizations with really large real estate footprints to smaller footprints and now you’re just shoehorning yourself into part of a five thousand square foot workspace. Hypepotamus has been around a year and started at that workspace but really has evolved into media and events. However, the proximity of having people housed in this workspace seems to have all the elements you mentioned: content, proximity, and gravity.
James Harris: Right. So there is a Ruby Rails meetup and we develop our platform on it. So it’s easy to walk out of the office and just sit in and listen. That’s the proximity and context. The gravity is because 80 of the top Ruby developers are sitting in a room hanging out. There is real benefit there. I think that is key because that is where the value is being created in physical space because you can use online tools to emulate that artificially but in the real world you have to make that model work for you or else it makes no sense to pay rent.
Scott Henderson: What are you seeing for the people that are coming to work for you now as opposed to 17 years ago? What are the expectations of people that are building these companies?
James Harris: They want a nice laptop, fast internet, and document storage. They want to know where the knowledge of the company is and where they can go connect to it. They also want fewer meetings. We have been successful, we have two one hour meetings and we’re probably three times as productive as we have been having daily two or three hour meetings where we artificially filled time making sure we meet and draw on the whiteboard.
Scott Henderson: So in Midtown you have a lot of real estate players that have really invested in what Midtown is. What would you say to those in the audience, what do they need to be thinking about to facilitate the growth of these startups and these emerging companies?
James Harris: Sure. Just one more story before I answer this. When I sold the internet company, my wife and I decided to get into non-technical businesses so we opened an organic market at Sarenbe so we were Harris and Clark for four and a half years. So we were the local organic market there and you learn a lot selling groceries by the way. I would run the business during the week and sell groceries on the weekend and what we realized in that thousand square foot grocery retailer, that store could have been two hundred square feet and we would have been much more profitable and had just as good of an experience. If any of you had been in the Ferry Building in San Francisco – instead of renovating that to have eight anchor tenants they have fifty tiny kiosks. So somebody comes in to buy mushrooms from a guy, but when you are there the baguette smells great so you buy one of those. So this goes back to this gravity idea. I think that instead of building a mega thirty foot, thirty story office building, you should really focus on a shorter building with smaller spaces where people can grow or shrink into and allow them to find partnerships, friendships and context and proximity with other people that will create value. In the end if they are successful they will want more real estate so it only feeds your model. So consider it more of a greenhouse than trying to build an entire farm upfront.
Scott Henderson: So context is also community?
James Harris: Right. For example Kevin and Heath said that the e-commerce school was phenomenal. I had no idea there was so much e-commerce in Atlanta but they walk into a room for people who are in the web businesses and say, “Here are the fifty big e-commerce players in Atlanta.” I know two companies here that shifted their business into thinking about e-commerce retailers as a play. So having a building that had a floor full of e-commerce people, a floor full of platform people, and a floor full of fashion people – that building is going to create a lot of value versus the New York model where there is Soho, there is Greenwich Village and you have to cross the city. If you can just simulate that in smaller and more thoughtful spaces, I think you would be able to create a lot more value and attract a lot of businesses.
Scott Henderson: So why are you in Midtown Atlanta?
James Harris: One reason is because of Hypepotamus. Another reason is because it is close to Georgia Tech. Now we had the opportunity to move up to Atlanta Technology Village and no slight against them, they are great people. But I walk to FlashPoint three times a day, we are working with Thad, the father of Google Glass. He is actually a Georgia Tech professor and hangs out at Moes. There are things in Midtown that we need to connect to so that is the primary reason we are here.
Scott Henderson: So if someone wanted to find you on twitter, how do they find you?
James Harris: Sure, I’m @JHarris9999.
Scott Henderson: So parting thought for you. What do you think does the future of work look like?
James Harris: Gravity. You have to have gravity in the building.
Scott Henderson: How do you create that gravity?
James Harris: It’s a lot of work, a lot of relationship building and mentoring. This is a question that every developer has – Serenbe, Glenwood Park. Great residence but no retail. Serenbe has phenomenal life but can anyone really live out there full time forever? All those things in development you really have to think through it and it takes the courtship of the right people to make it work.
Scott Henderson: James Harris from N4MD, thank you very much!
James Harris: Thank you.
Scott Henderson: I’m going to ask Ashish Mistry to the hot seat. Ashish is an entrepreneur and Managing Partner at BLH Venture Partners, a private investment firm. Ashish is a graduate of Emory University and obtained his BA in Religion. Ashish holds many leadership roles with high growth companies in technology, enabled services, information security and e-commerce consumer markets. He is also the President and CEO of an e-commerce company and a member of the board of directors for Hypepotamus. He also serves as a member of the board of directors for Venture Atlanta and the Atlanta CEO Council. Ashish was named on the 40 under 40 list of Atlanta Business Chronicle. Ashish, thanks for coming in.
Let’s get at it. You have been part of a number of different technology companies and serve on a number of boards and you have been very active in the Atlanta business community. What have you observed when it comes to the companies you are funding or running. What are their needs compared to when you first started in this whole startup world?
Ashish Mistry: So I have been doing this since 1999 and the things that we have to be mindful of now is that it doesn’t take a lot more space to do what we did back then as it relates to team and staff and any of those other elements. Costs have gone way down, the time has come so we can do what we need to with very little in a short period with lots less cash. What scares me the most is when any of my companies get capital and the first thing they do is issue a press release on their next new office. It is like the death knell.
Back in the day, getting a new office was the result of getting funding and that was a milestone. Today it is an anchor and so a lot of what James Harris said about modularity and flexibility are key elements we look for. And some of the things we like to hear as an investor in the early presentations when it deals with what the team is planning to do with the money, if real estate shows up on the actual bullet point, we kind of look at it and say, “Well, unless you are hiring a lot of engineers that need physical proximity to each other, we are kind of afraid of that.” So that’s the real estate answer.
Scott Henderson: Let’s talk practicality to those who do have real estate and have these old structures. They are almost an edifice to the siloed hierarchical world that 20 years ago was standard. Now you have a technological shift that has happened. A laptop, a wifi connection, and a cellphone is all you really need. 37signals is a company out of Chicago has a new book around people who work remotely and there is this idea that you don’t have to have all 40 people in the same physical space 8-5 all the time. There are different ways to communicate. It’s hard to get away from the office but easy to stay in touch with people. What kind of practical advise can you give to people who have that real estate holding? What can they do to their existing hardware to change it up with a software approach?
Ashish Mistry: The word I would use is sublet. Sublet your space. If you have a lot of space and you can get other people in it then that’s great. Let’s just look at the space we are in right now. It’s a big wide-open space with a bunch of chairs and tables and internet connectivity. There are more companies here today than there probably would have been in the last three generations of companies that I have seen in this space. It is what it is, all you do need is internet and a laptop so for some of our companies, we didn’t get to this space equation until it really mattered from a productivity standpoint. So KontrolFreek is the e-commerce company that I am the CEO of. We didn’t have an office until it made sense for four people to get together and have a brainstorming session about something or the customer support person could yell at the marketing person for not doing something. Until that interactivity actually was a necessity, we avoided it. Not because we didn’t want to have space, it’s just that we could get the work that we needed to get done without the additional overhead.
Scott Henderson: As I came in having served on the launch team for Startup America Partnership two years ago, we surveyed all the emerging technology hubs out there and we found that media companies were talking about this innovation space and there seemed to be holes that needed to be filled. What are the important gaps that we need to fill in order for us to see this shift happen even better?
Ashish Mistry: I think these collaborative environments and Hypepotamus is one of them. We have these concentrations of people working on like projects. They are not directly competitive but they can leverage off one another. By four teams not knowing they are going to Invent Retailer and within an hour booking flights, it is that sort of connectivity to one another that will create opportunity for us as a community. If you can create an environment that makes it productive for these different teams of people to be around each other whether they are working on a project together or not, the stuff within earshot ends up becoming a lot more productive to them than they would ever realize. The key thing is that real estate is great and a necessity for a company at a certain stage. Day one it is not as important to sign a lease, it’s important to be in a place where other people are doing work that may be of similarity on some shape or form to what you are doing. Working in your own office at home or your basement, it is scary sometimes. It may be a great opportunity for you to get away, but you are not getting that feedback and that socialization that is really important. I have worked with a lot of people in different companies where it’s a one-man band. Those people are the hardest working people I have ever met and you know why? Because they tell me that. They are always busy and always working hard but guess what? They are always just one person in that company. So the ability to get out of your house and show up somewhere, to hear from people who are working on similar or related products, they might be able to give you support or help. That’s an opportunity.
Scott Henderson: So your company KontrolFreek just graduated from the ATDC program. You went from a couple of guys and gals working in different locations to now be clustered in ATDC. How is that ATDC model helping you?
Ashish Mistry: It’s been great. There are these intangible elements of being part of a program that is the oldest, the best in the country. It’s great to attach your name to it because it lends a lot of credibility. However, what it also does is it helps you recruit people. It also gives you a sense of community out of the gate. ATDC is the country’s oldest technology incubator and it helps companies and entrepreneurs in Georgia build, succeed, and grow.
Scott Henderson: So you have companies there at ATDC that have gone through customer discovery, got some traction and have come through ATDC where they get too big for it. What happens now? Where do you land?
Ashish Mistry: The best and worst thing about ATDC is that every space you might potentially move to after that point is going to be worse. You can’t get class A real estate in town for the price that you are paying as a result of what ATDC brings to the table. So your options are limited in terms of finding something of equal or better quality and you have to be creative. So you find places like Hype or other collaborative spaces.
Scott Henderson: What is your short answer to what is the future of work?
Ashish Mistry: It’s a great question. It’s collaboration.
Scott Henderson: Thanks Ashish! We are now going to switch gears and push it over to the corporate world. I’m going to ask Carie Davis from Coca-Cola to come on up. Carie Davis, is the Global Innovation Director at Coca-Cola. You are working on a number of sustainability issues at Coca-Cola and you are a Georgia Tech alum. You received a BS in Industrial Design. In 2008 your team won the Singapore Red Dot Award for your recycling bin. Now you are working with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and universities to develop collective intelligence, manage external innovation networks, and develop innovation capability through the creation of competencies, methods, tools and training.
Carie Davis: Actually there is an update. So I’m part of an innovation team at Coke, there are quite a few such teams at Coke but about a year and a half ago, we were created to do business model innovations. How do we keep Coca-Cola growing and how do we monetize our assets in new ways? Anybody here who is in a corporation is probably very familiar with that. So we still have our core business but we have to create a new structure to basically grow into new spaces and our team was created to figure that out. So we figured out that we need to create teams based in our business units, because that is where the ideas come from. They have to be 100% dedicated to creating new business models that have nothing to do with our core because if you give them any opportunity to be pulled back into the core, then they will. That is just the gravity of it. That is basically what we have been setting up over the past year. About the end of last year, our CTO said, “You should not underestimate this idea of culture of innovations. The things that you are learning about how these accelerators need to work using lean methodologies, how can we bring that into everybody at Coke? Maybe it’s not everybody but let’s put some thought and energy into that.” So basically that is what I have been working on since the end of last year.
Scott Henderson: So for a large hierarchical corporation, how do you allow this more networked and agile approach? You now are implementing a startup weekend and these are programmatic approaches that are popular in the startup community. How is this going to play out in a large corporation?
Carie Davis: When I started to think about how we are going to impact culture, I started looking into ways you can build your skills and startup weekend continued to come up as something where this happens. First of all, how do you create the conditions for people to meet and interact in a different way as well as learning the lean methodologies? And at a corporation that is what you do – you get your objective, you make a bunch of plans, you ask for a lot of money and resources to deliver and you are expected to go away and come back and deliver. So I had to figure out a way to actually introduce those to some people and find who are the people who are interested in doing that anyway. So we decided to do a Startup Weekend within Coca-Cola and there are a lot of people who are really excited about it and lots people are confused by it, but so far people are very positive.
Scott Henderson: And you are not doing this on the weekend?
Carie Davis: That’s right, we are doing it from Wednesday to Friday. And I’m trying to be weird about it on purpose. We are using weird tools like EventBrite, which is weird to use inside of Coca-Cola because it’s disruptive. So part of my and my team’s role is to try things differently and make people think differently. When someone suggested that we do this event through Corporate Training, I didn’t even know who to call about these things. So it has been a lot of these grassroots efforts of trying to recruit people who are already in this space. Another thing we are doing is coworking at Coca-Cola. We have built out our entire floor to look like a coworking environment. I’m trying to make sure we don’t call it a coworking space, it’s coworking, it’s community driven. There’s going to be programming there and people can come. People are starting to catch on and think about coming by and renting a desk for a week and changing their perspectives.
Scott Henderson: Are you on twitter and what is your handle?
Carie Davis: I am and it’s @CarieDavis2.
Scott Henderson: So what is your succinct definition of the future of work?
Carie Davis: I think it would be fluidity. It’s all about people having the ability to move in and out of different roles and even at Coke, the way we engage with the startup community and how they engage with us, there’s sort of a merging of those two. There is a lot we can learn from each other and I’m trying to figure that out.
Scott Henderson: Great. Thanks Carie Davis! Next we have Nicola Smith, VP of Innovation of Engauge. She is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa. Engauge is a full service marketing agency for the digital and social age. You are fascinated by new forms of communication and technology. You drive your thought leadership around innovation and serve as a pivotal educator of emerging technologies, consumer behavior, and digital trends. You are passionate about integrating technology into the classroom and you spoke at SXSW this year about self education under the title, “The Rise of the Autodidactic Degree.” So what is this idea about self-education?
Nicola Smith: When I think about innovation I find it very interesting that when we look back historically at innovative cultures and time periods, we see similarities between things like ancient Greece or the Renaissance, the Elizabethan era. Some of these similarities are things like exposure to other cultures, exposure to different products, services, and trade. The other piece is having institutions or organizations that really enable risk taking, which in today’s culture are really VCs.
One of the other really interesting elements is that every one of these cultures of innovation actually pioneered new forms of education. So we see at ancient Greece the democratization of education regardless of where you fell in the hierarchy of rank in Greek culture. When we look at the Elizabethan era, we see that that was the first time that there was education for middle class males, which is how Shakespeare learned how to read and write. I think that today there is this missing element in innovation especially when it comes to thinking about how do we change the education system to create more people who are creative problem solvers, who are curious and lifelong learners. Figuring out how to bring technology into the classroom to enable this new form of self-education is key. I am also thinking about the tools that we have available to us and I would say that technically I am a millennial.
Recently I was at an event where an older woman was asking how is it that millennials feel that they can jump from industry to industry, job to job and one of the key answers to that is that we have access to the internet and information that was just not available to people. If I want to go and learn how to strip a pair of break pads, I can go online and there is a YouTube video that will walk me through it step by step. So personally I feel there is nothing that I couldn’t take a stab at learning because of that access to that information through the Internet. I think we should be fostering that desire to learn in our kids and employees more importantly.
Scott Henderson: Working at an agency you get to see this and you do work with large companies like Verizon, Coca-Cola, Puma, Microsoft, and HP. They all at one point were startups but now they are large enterprises so can large corporations encourage this idea of self-education?
Nicola Smith: I think it starts in hiring practices. When you look at a large corporation like Coca-Cola for example, if you don’t have contacts there and you are just applying from the street, then your resume goes through an automated system and if a college degree is not listed on there, you’re immediately kicked out of the system regardless whether or not you have the skillset to do the job. So I think the first part is reassessing how we actually hire in the skillsets that we are looking for. I look at the rate of millennials who are unemployed or are under employed and have college degrees. I have also hired a lot of younger millennials and they often come to the table and may have hard skillsets but they don’t know how to communicate in a work environment, they don’t understand how to really problem solve. So I think there are pieces that are lacking in that higher education system that should make us reassess the value of a college degree in regards to the skillsets we need in the workforce.
Scott Henderson: There are these badging systems of checking in on foursquare, answering questions on quora, being an editor on Wikipedia. There are various things that people are doing through the digital and social media that is out there that could be a credential system inside these corporations as well. What kind of lessons can we learn from these digital platforms that could be used for corporations?
Nicola Smith: Actually we have been working on essentially a social media education system for Cisco. We are their social media agency of record but one of the interesting things that we have done is actually create an education system for their employees around how to use social media. This does include gamification elements around badging and status so there are definitely lessons we can learn from those types of systems to start bringing them in as part of education.
Also, I think that not too many corporations put an emphasis on professional development so in a rapidly changing environment where technology changes everyday, we are not doing our jobs as leaders in organizations to actually emphasize education for our employees. We expect them to learn on their own time but we are taking up their personal time with work already because of the connectedness we have.
Scott Henderson: Do you see any companies using Coursera or UDacity or other online education systems for their corporate education?
Nicola Smith: I have not seen it yet. The majority of what I have seen is people who are self compelled to start taking those types of classes but yes, I think there is a huge platform there to start utilizing those platforms for internal education.
Scott Henderson: What kind of things do corporate leaders need to understand to embrace what’s possible now? Do you see a disconnect between C level executives in these corporations and what the millennials are using? Is there a technology gap between the C Suite and the rest of the company?
Nicola Smith: I wouldn’t say it applies across the board but in large capacity there is this gap. We find this just in the general knowledge of these platforms and tools. You go to 80% of C level executives and you ask them what do you think about Tumblr. I can guarantee they are going to look at you like you are crazy unless they are in the tech space. I also think that going down to more primary education, we kind of beat the curiosity out of our kids with the way that the education system is structured. Standardized testing does not encourage you to creatively problem solve, it does not encourage you to think. It encourages you to learn an answer and parrot it back. I think that has been the expectation in the corporate world as well. One of the things we find with millennials is that they do challenge authority, they want to know why. Why is the structure this way? Why is the process this way? Why can’t I do it this way? Those are the kinds of questions we get and there often isn’t a good answer. I have been in situations when someone asks why is the structure this way and no one can tell you because “it has always been this way” tends to be answer. So there is a huge disconnect in technological sophistication but I think that it’s bigger than that. It used to be that you would look at something like media and television was television for 50 years, now suddenly television is digital and interactive and that means we need to think about it differently. However, the corporations that run television and the brands that market on television haven’t caught up in the shift in technology. So the world changes everyday and if we are not empowering our employees to learn on a daily basis, both by giving them time and tools, then you are going to have a problem as a company.
Scott Henderson: Do you have a twitter handle and what do you think is the future of work?
Nicola Smith: It is @nicola_smith22. The future of work is about small, agile teams of what I like to call hybrids or mutants. Hybrid individuals. In my line of work it does not make sense to have an individual who only has one skillset, I need people who can wear multiple hats. As you’re talking about small teams being able to be more fluid and agile, that’s one of the things that helps us is that I can throw any one of my team members into a meeting and they are able to stand up and speak articulately to what we do and why we do it. We have developers on our team and often that is not their strong suit but it’s a requirement for me from a hiring standpoint.
Scott Henderson: Nicola, thank you very much! We’ll now do a quick Q/A.
Question: Are you seeing startup wise and corporate wise more ownership whether it be psychic, emotional, or mental ownership of what is going on?
Ashish Mistry: It’s about your team and in small organizations you want everyone to have buy-in. So the more ownership you can provide to the team the more buy-in you will have and the less you have to worry about your early stage risk. Your team is your biggest risk outside of your product and market so if you can de-risk one of those factors by providing ownerships whether it’s in stock options or bonuses if you are generating profit then we would do that.
Scott Henderson: What about in larger enterprises? Are employees feeling ownership over what is going on?
Nicola Smith: I think we need to rethink on some levels the way that we compensate. In the future if more people are thinking about ownerships and it’s a model where we are asking people to come up with high growth ideas, people may ask if they can get a cut of that and that’s a valid question for anyone who is going to work at a corporation and who has been charged with developing new ideas like that. It’s not something that we have implemented at all but it’s a valid thing for people to ask.
Ashish Mistry: I also think it’s geographically and more company dependent. We don’t do as much ownership at KontrolFreek from a stock option standpoint because we are set up as an LLC but we do bonuses because we are generating revenue and profit. This goes back to what Nicola was saying about millennials and what their structure is. In the Valley and in those places where you have companies that have the potential to IPO, stock options are much more adequate for them whereas in some markets where revenue and profit are the delta, then we would probably sway to that side.
Nicola Smith: One of the things that we see with big corporations is that no they are not giving stock options or ownership in that capacity, but when you are talking about mental ownership, a big challenge for brands is how do you turn employees into brand advocates. So I think there is an ownership element there of “Do I have a voice within this organization? Do I understand the organization well enough to be able to speak to it articulately and am I compelled to do so?” I think ultimately this comes down to how people treat their employees. Is it a good work environment? Do you enjoy working there? To me it’s really a bigger question when we talk about ownership from a mental perspective that requires an infrastructure change on the company side.
Question: Are companies encouraging entrepreneurship by allowing employees having businesses on the side or within it?
Carie Davis: At Startup Weekend we told people you can bring an idea that is outside or inside. It doesn’t have so much to do with the idea as much as we encouraging people to practice that skill and the assumption is that we will use those same techniques to your everyday work. That’s the way we are doing it at Coke right now, we are experimenting.
Question: Four out of the five of you talked about real estate and all of you seem to be working in the mindset that whether it’s a startup or big company, that all you need is good wifi and good coffee. There’s a lot of companies both big and small that need drill presses, microscopes, loading docks or physical infrastructure. What do you think that means for real estate and reconfigurable places and do the companies like that belong in Midtown Atlanta?
Ashish Mistry: Not all companies are web based. When you talk about primary research, grants from the federal government for other research, they are setting the requirements that are there so to the extent that pockets of innovation are surrounded or at least connected to universities – that’s an important component of it whether it’s Emory of Georgia Tech. Having the foresight and the vision and the ability to attract funds from the university to support those activities is essential because not everything is a facebook, tumblr, or KontrolFreek. So a lot of the companies that have been successful for Atlanta and our region are in the medical, healthcare and life science space and those require resources and tools that you can’t fund with an internet connection and a website.
Scott Henderson: James, what other setups do you need than simply having a wifi connection?
James Harris: I think there is a place for that in Midtown, Albany, GA, or Cookeville, Tennessee where Tennessee Tech is located. When I was at Tennessee Tech, one of the largest businesses was Averitt Express, a shipping company where the guy took a database class and decided that that was going to be the future of trucking. So he was able to organize trucks efficiently and make lots of money. So I think that yes, there is a place for that in Midtown but if we efficiently organize ourselves and save a lot of what people consider the dying part of America, the rust belt. I think it’s important for us to realize that as well.
John Avery: What are the key performance indicators for innovation? How are you justifying spending the money that you are spending?
Carie Davis: The way we are looking at it right now is we say that we will spend 70 percent on our core business, 20 percent on adjacent businesses and 10 percent on what’s the new thing. That is basically how we think about if we are being successful in how we innovate, accepting that a lot of the things that we do in that ten percent space are probably not going to come to fruition. But if you can deliver one high growth idea over three years, is that good? I think we will continue to experiment with that and that’s why we like to talk to other corporations to better grasp this question on how do you structure this innovation system.
Nicola Smith: I think one of the things that should be a KPI is not the success of a specific idea but whether a person is learning from it. That’s a little harder to justify but it’s things like documentation, are there processes that you can share with other teams in your organization? One of the things our team has found is that there are huge efficiencies of having hybrid people on our team that can handle multiple roles and proximity. We all sit close together and we have a very collaborative workspace and small team, but we can make decisions really fast. We have been able to document that and share it with the rest of the organization so they can also shift the way that they do business. So documenting and educating, these are really important KPIs regardless of the success of the individual ideas.
Scott Henderson: Thanks for that! This was great.