It’s time to play the role of the VC within your digital team

I was fortunate enough to attend the Le Web Technology Conference in London last month, the first time it has been staged outside of Paris, which brought together an eclectic mix of people around a shared passion for digital and technology. The audience comprised the great and the good from now famous internet brands, seasoned venture capitalists as well as bright young entrepreneurs from Europe's own burgeoning start-up community, and digital marketers from a number of well-known global brands.

With an agenda packed with inspirational speakers across a broad range of topics it proved to be a truly stimulating and thought provoking couple of days. Presenters ranged from Jamie Oliver and Kevin Systrom giving first-hand experience on content that connected with audiences via Instagram, through to the founder of Klout whose business exists to give people an 'influence score', a measure of social value.

The biggest draw for many, however, were the start-up stories. These ranged from 16 year-old Nick D'Aloisio whose iPhone app, Summly, summarises and simplifies the content of web pages and search results – and which has just attracted a big investment from a Chinese billionaire – to tech superstars Kevin Rose and Chad Hurley who have made billion-dollar fortunes from their initial start-ups like Digg and YouTube respectively.

What can we learn?

Arguably there are a lot of lessons that big organisations can learn from successful start-ups such as these. Perhaps one of the greatest and easiest lessons to transpose is the value that senior, strategic commercial thinkers can offer. In start-up culture this role is often performed by the venture capitalist management teams. These senior mentors offer strategic thinking, deep experience and commercial advice in the growth phase.

There is a clear read across from the role that venture capitalist investors play in start-ups and the opportunity for senior buy-in and involvement around digital initiatives within large organisations. Youth seems to be a key attribute when it comes to recruiting and resourcing digital talent. On the one hand this makes perfect sense - these individuals have grown up in the highly connected digital world and their passion for digital coupled with their open mindedness for and understanding of the technology plays a crucial role in successful digital activities. However, digital has reached an inflection point in its use by customers and organisations alike. As businesses look to rapidly scale and monetise digital opportunities and integrate efforts to form a seamless customer experience, the challenges for these young digital teams are such that they require greater senior expertise and support. Furthermore, digitally created opportunities such as 'big data' mean that the need for strategic leadership and senior sponsorship has never been so pronounced.

As with the experienced and worldly-wise venture capital investors, senior leaders within organisations need to step up to the digital challenge themselves by building their own confidence and competence with digital, and then use this understanding to place digital at the heart of their business strategy and planning. Increasingly there is also a need to monetise existing digital activities and identify commercial metrics to steward success – which go beyond likes or downloads into measures of real value creating activities.

Increasingly the way of maximising the opportunities of digital lies in cross-functional teams, new approaches to delivering customer value and a shift in the culture of the organisation. The organisations that are having the greatest success are the ones who look at it strategically and holistically and where digital has senior buy-in and sponsorship. The skills of the passionate digital natives are still very much in demand – what is critical is that they are paired with senior figures who can provide the strategic guidance, mentoring and commercial context that the venture capitalist bring to the start-ups.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s digital capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @StephenIngram01. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Digital.

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