Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

I first heard the term Intrapreneur from Guy Kawasaki and its something that has stuck in my head ever since. The term has been around for a very long time and simply represents:

The spirit of entrepreneurship within an existing organization.

Intrapreneur is a person who focuses on innovation and creativity and who transforms a dream or an idea into a profitable venture, by operating within the organizational environment. Thus, Intrapreneurs are Inside entrepreneurs….

Before I took my new job, I thought a lot about doing my own startup or joining others just starting our on their own. I’ve long had the entrepreneurial bug and I wondered if this was the right time.

This new job I’ve taken within Yahoo allows me to be entrepreneurial within a large company. It’s my startup within this 10,000+ people company. And, while I was thinking it through, I realized that I had long been an “Intrapreneur”. Over my career, I’ve worked a number of startups and a few big companies. Everytime I worked at big companies, I always found a way to go a bit against the grain to make interesting things into reality.

As an intrapreneur here at Yahoo, I made the biggest business impact of my career (so far). I took over Yahoo Search just as the .com crash was hitting Yahoo. I inherited a business that was making 1/2 of what it made the previous year and each month it got worse. At that time, the prevailing thought was that we should change Yahoo Search to ONLY search the Yahoo Directory and make money by forcing all websites in the directory to pay us an annual fee. I thought this was a very bad idea (duh). So, I got to work with the help of some amazing people and laid out the argument for why full web search with sponsored listings was the way to go. At an exec offsite in Sonoma, I showed exactly how we were going to make it happen, and that we could do it in only a few months. Terry had just joined and realized that there was something to what I was saying and gave me and my team the chance to do it (oh, and he gave us some of the brightest people to help). It was was extremely fun to make this 3,000 person company see things a bit differently and move quickly to re-make itself after the downturn. You all know how that business has turned out for Yahoo and I’m happy to say that the intrapreneurial spirit made that happen.

More recently, I had the chance again to work for change within the company. Early on, people in the company had said “you really ought to look at RSS”. In fact, one of the best My Yahoo engineers had already built a My Yahoo RSS reader on his own time. RSS wasn’t well known at the time (very few newspapers or sites had feeds) but we knew it could be really big. There were a LOT of people in the company who still felt that we should be a walled garden and that doing this would kill our media business. So we quickly (in three months) created a scaleable RSS platform for Yahoo and shipped it (Jan 2004). We purposely kept it hidden and just let it leak out to the blogosphere. The growth was tremendous – users and traffic grew in multiples every month. It grew so fast that we got the nerve up to go ask major papers & sites to start publishing RSS (Newsweek, Time, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal all launched in July of that year, and all with some form of “Add to My Yahoo” buttons). And like any entrepreneurial group, we realized that we were onto something, so we redesigned My Yahoo around RSS, and by that time, the company had caught up and realized it would help Yahoo for us to fully embrace RSS.

Now I have a new job. In this job, I get to play with new ideas every day and look at how to use that entreprenuerial spirit to do some exciting things, learn about new things, and find the next big ideas. I know I’m up for the challenge.

18 thoughts on “Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur”

  1. Hey Scott,

    Remember when we first saw My Netscape & RSS 0.91 back in 1999?! :) My Yahoo didn’t bite .. it was way early, hardly any feeds existed, and the walled garden argument was even louder back then. But it wasn’t the right time for a big player to get involved. RSS had to go “underground”, and gain traction from bottom up adoption, blogs, etc.

    Now I’ve been totally wowwed by how My Yahoo, and Yahoo have adopted RSS .. and GeoRSS.

    Great stuff .. I’m sure you will have even more successes in your new position.

    -Mikel

  2. Scott, this is a nice account, showing that intrapreneurship can work.

    I think you have highlighted some important points which I will try and learn from in my ‘intrapreneurial’ role inside a mid-size enterprise software vendor.

    1) innovative or disruptive ideas are most easily adopted by organizations when they are forced to do something (50% drop in revenue is a good example you give) – otherwise there can be too many barriers put in place to allow anything new to be adopted.

    2) work in an organization that encourages intrapreneurship, rather than one that just suffers it. Some companies like the idea of idea-ism, just that their afraid of it.

    3) for any idea, build a convincing business plan before investing too much in it. Only with continued buy-in from the execs will you be able to get the other organizational changes that are required to fully deliver.

    4) Get a prototype, beta, or working thing out of the door and in front of customers fast. Ideas that need many months to bring to fruition will never fly in this model. Maybe better said, pick ideas that are as agile as the organization would like to believe it is.

    Great post, and good luck with your new job. I’m going to return to my little world, where the ideas not adopted by employer get quickly jotted down in my blog.

    Cheers
    Phil
    Improving New Account Opening blog

  3. You’re entirely too modest! I work with you and I had no idea of the depth of your experience. It’s only when you tip your hand like in the post above that I get a full appreciation of your perspective and knowledge. Thanks for being so accessible and, as the title of your blog connotes, open to learning new things every day.

  4. Hi scott, I am doing my final year in master of engineering entreprenurship and innovation. If I want to work as a intrapreneur, which companies are well known for hiring new grads?

  5. Hi,

    Just need help from you guys…
    “Characteristics of a typical entrepreneur are irreconcilable with corporate career”, can you give some inputs and pointers for such arguments ? Survey the argument for and against.

    Thks !
    TY

  6. I just have a couple of questions which i would kindly appreciate it if u can answer them.

    1 The 2 biggest challenges u face as a intrapreneur and what type of thinking is required from the young job seeker in this regard

    2 The 2 most important characteristics for success in the work environment.

    3. Which stumbling block restricts u, (for e.g fear of failing) and how have u overcomed it

  7. I like this idea of the intrepreneur. It’s great for those of us who want to make a difference and build a great business but who aren’t to fond of starting from the ground up. There’s a ton of great work to be done within already existing business (as you have proven).

  8. Hi Scott,

    Also I first heard the term Intrapreneur from Guy Kawasaki. I truly believe this is the way to go for an employee to get fullfillment out of his/her job, and being a real asset to the company she/he is working for.

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