Repositioning Wayra for the future. Some thoughts

When I joined Telefónica to lead Wayra a few months ago, I had the initial impression that my biggest contribution could be around enhancing the operational efficiency within the team, which is what I feel I can do better. We worked hard on how to communicate better among us, align goals and KPIS and how to give more ownership and accountability to a very distributed team.

But over time, I have become more and more obsessed about our strategic purpose as open innovation arm for Telefonica. I understand that the challenge around how we define why we exist and how we can deliver the best returns for our corporation and for the entrepreneurs will never be completely solved. It will adapt and mature over time, but I wanted us to have an aspirational goal and a path forward.

We aspire to become the most global, connected and tech-driven open innovation hub in the world. Not bad to start with, right?.

While we have to acknowledge that the ecosystem is experiencing a bubble of accelerators, incubators and open innovation arms from corporates trying to understand and have a seat in the disruption game led by startups.

It is kind obvious that perpetual reinvention is needed for big corporates to survive in this frenzy of continuous technological change, and innovation is happening everywhere(yay!), so that we need to embrace cooperation with startups and developers way beyond Silicon Valley and its echo chamber.

On that quest, many accelerators and corporate venture initiatives fail to deliver on their promises. I feel that this happens mostly because not enough value is being added to the startups by the corporate and on the other hand not enough value is being captured back.

As ecosystems and entrepreneurs mature, the offering cannot be about real-estate anymore, with so many weworks and low-cost desk options popping up everywhere, in every city. Neither can it be about discounted commodity services such as legal support, office management, internet, or goodies, which will not make a difference at all. It is not even about writing seed stage checks anymore, since there is much more money flooding into the ecosystem now as there was before, when Wayra started seven years ago and $50K could certainly have a live changing impact.

And teaching wannabe entrepreneurs once and again how to pitch or set up their accounting system is becoming increasing less relevant as the entrepreneur gets access to many more information resources (mentors, 2nd time entrepreneurs, angels, blogs…). It seems that, in 2018, sophistication on the topics we cover to support entrepreneurs, focus on the business side of things and flexibility to adapt to different stages/requirements/industries/coinvestors/etc/etc is a must.

IMHO the real value a corporation can offer a savvy entrepreneur is joint business generation. We have, indeed, the access to the customers and partners, and we can become smart enablers to connect innovative startup products and solutions with our base of users across our footprint. And in order to achieve that, the corporation needs to enable a smooth interface on their end, from technology, to processes or people, almost like an API of persons & processes which works as a translator between two systems which don’t understand each other naturally.

Startups really crave for customers and market validation, and this is what a corporate can deliver, at scale. But big COs are usually very bad first customers. Hence, we believe we need to work with startups which are a bit more mature than just on ideation phase or even initial product market fit testing. They need to have a proven business model with some enterprise ready, battle tested products and processes.

Once the entrepreneurs have figured out how to deliver tangible business value to corporations, we can scale startups. Which is our new claim, here at Wayra.

We can help entrepreneurs with Tech expertise, with Sales channels, with access to partners and customers and we can do joint business. A lot. We can also give access to our global platforms, from IoT to our smart routers through open APIs and enable access to our customers worldwide. I am super happy to start our first MVP on our Open APIs ecosystem strategy today, with the IoT Activation Kit for startups.

And we can be a great customer too, which can really make the difference. $1 million in recurring revenues for a SaaS startup probably means a $12M increase in valuation and will surely mean an increase in VC’s interest all along.  And if we do it while we put skin in the game and become seed investors, it will show our commitment to the relationship with entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs become family, which is not a minor thing to navigate endless org charts.

This is not easy of course, we need to work harder on how we enable and empower entrepreneurs to work with our local and global business units, and make sure that we foster a cultural mindset shift, so that our whole organization is able to take more risks and bet on startups to create disruption.

It is a challenging task, and it cannot be achieved alone, as an isolated effort from the open innovation arm of the corporation. As with any API, both ends need to do their part to achieve a goal. The internal effort in order to smooth processes, compliance, procurement, and give startups a real, tangible, shot is vital.

We need to be able to live with failure, and learn from our mistakes quickly, so that we can find those companies who will transform markets and also transform Telefonica in the process. I love the great example we have in Telefónica Argentina, showing how our B2B team is changing the way they do online marketing, customer activation, adding new products, etc, impacting their wide business, thanks to their joint work and mutual learning with startups.

And I have written here a lot about business, hard dollars, but there is also a ripple effect on corporate innovation besides just the new revenue streams or operational efficiency savings, which goes way further, enabling Tech discovery, cultural change, high level institutional and corporate relations, etc, etc.

These are exciting times to be in this position, when it is so clear that, after seven years, the journey has just begun and the rules are not yet written.

So what exactly are we announcing now?. Well, for starters, it is a number one rule in any corporate management role, that after you come in, you need to shake up things a bit and of course change the brand slightly.

Just kidding, I hope that is not the motivation for all this effort!.

To be fair, when I came in (and also from the outside) I realized there was some confusion, amplified over the years, on what was the role of Telefonica Open Future, what was the role of Wayra and more importantly, how all the pieces played together.

And since the value proposition and a lot of the operational processes had changed a lot over the years, there was also confusion and some miss alignment in the whole network around what our coherent spiel was across the hubs.

I learnt at CARTO, that when you want to reposition your company and launch a new value proposition for your customers and audience, you need to set it in stone. And you need to make sure that everybody gets the news and understands the new strategy.

If you want to achieve a high caliber repositionin, this goal is better settled with a brand evolution and refresh, which was also kind of needed after 7 years. Our brand gets closer to our commercial brands, which is an important source of our value prop, and we mature visually, becoming a bit more edgy and “pro”.

But don´t get me wrong, while the new swag and websites are pretty cool, the key point is to send the stronger message about what really matters, so that entrepreneurs and investors know what we can offer and how we can work together, and also determine what are our goals and value add for the internal audience, as thought leaders and smart enablers.

We are wayra and we scale startups.

 

Wayra new brand video from Miguel Arias on Vimeo.