How to Futureproof Your Corporation from Innovative Startups

“The battle between every startup and incumbent comes down to whether the startup gets distribution before the incumbent gets innovation.” — Alex Rampell, a16z

The only question, will you win that race? And for Fortune 500 companies with everything on the line, that’s a costly question indeed. Yet so often, incumbents fail to innovate and fall hard.

Saving yourself

Not all companies are worth saving. A business’s obligation (at least according to Milton Friedman) is first and foremost to its shareholders. For an old school business easing into irrelevance, that often means seeking out profits as long as possible, minimizing R&D and overhead, and riding revenues until it comes to a standstill.

Killing your cash cow

Disney’s business is built on content, and ESPN (the cash cow of Disney), built on US cable subscriptions.

Source: Disney, CNBC
Source: Statista

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When to jump?

While startups are quite nimble, they have little to lose. Fortune 500 companies have thousands of employees on the line, all depending on you. The pressure is overwhelming.

The hit squad

The best company innovations occur outside the company. Between office politics and existing obligations, disruptive innovation is almost impossible within any large organization. The businesses that do it best empower teams outside the traditional change of command — special forces, so to speak.

“Only the paranoid survive…” and only the innovative thrive.

And if your innovation makes your boss’s job obsolete, it’s probably best if you aren’t sitting next to him. Getting out of the office can be a big plus. WeChat resulted from an offsite QQ team focused on upending desktop messaging to create the next generation of mobile social networking. Today WeChat’s worth $475 billion, has over 1B daily active users and dominates Chinese life.

Technological shifts

Imagine being a horse and buggy salesmen the year Ford’s Model T ruined everything.

Source: Tony Seba

Positioning for success

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Where do you place your chips? Blockchain, 3D printing, asteroid mining… every day, scientists and entrepreneurs push the envelope on what is possible. I challenge you to do the same.


Technology is a double-edged sword, just make sure you’re the one who’s wielding it.

Things can go great, or terribly wrong, it all depends on your company’s outlook and willingness to change.

Foolish is the man who fights the inevitable march of progress.

Closing thoughts and action items

Which technologies present the biggest threat to your business? Why?

  • AI, robotics and self-driving
  • Augmented and virtual reality
  • Biotech, synthetic biology and personalized genomics
  • Blockchain
  • Climate change and green/sustainable movement
  • IoT, smart cities and smart homes
  • Mobile, voice computing and 5G
  • Space exploration



Climate Syndicate Lead @ 4WARD.VC | Startup Strategy & Growth Advisor @ | Serial Founder: 3 Exits | Looking to join top Climate/Impact VC Fund

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Matt Ward

Climate Syndicate Lead @ 4WARD.VC | Startup Strategy & Growth Advisor @ | Serial Founder: 3 Exits | Looking to join top Climate/Impact VC Fund