Prolonging the Runway to Success

As an intrapreneur, you’ve got to have a long enough “runway for success.”

This is probably the number-one issue that leaders of business incubators within large organizations deal with. Some executive committee will, on at least an annual basis, make some kind of go/no-go decision about your business venture.

The routine is always the same. The executives cannot see success early enough and as an intrapreneur, you defend your venture, “Well, you know, it’s different. It’s a new market we’re going after, so we have to build capabilities and infrastructure. We might need more time.”

You constantly fight for prolonging the runway.


I think that some of the traditional ways in which we articulate business success—through traditional metrics and key performance indicators, for example—are not conducive to convincing executives to continue, because most of the indicators are lagging indicators. When it comes to new ventures (i.e. business incubators), softer and more predictive indicators are very powerful—even if they are not scientific, and even if they are based on judgment.

My business development clients have successfully used indicators like funnel growth; what is the opportunity the sales rep or sales organization sees as a whole? Is that growing? If it is, that is a great indicator. It is not set in stone—it is still based on potential opportunities that might not happen—but you can turn it into a compelling graph. 

Or you might have indicators demonstrating field engagement. Simple ratings like yellow, green, orange—just checking whether your people are engaged about what you are doing and what you are trying to bring to the market. That is another way of showing progress.

Showing progress becomes key to expanding your runway. Most corporate leaders, as well as those who lead incubators, are used to measuring. But there is a profound difference between measuring and assessing. I think that is why very few people assess.

Measuring is e.g. going up to a thermometer, reading what the thermometer tells you, and then recording that number. There is no risk involved for the person doing the measuring. Assessing is a very different story. If you as a leader make the assessment that we are getting traction in the marketplace based on a number of soft or semi-soft indicators, your reputation is on the line, because you might be wrong.

Welcome to the business of making new things successful faster.

If you want to create a new business venture within your organization, you have to be comfortable enough to assess. And you have to put your own reputation—your own brand—on the line, because if you limit yourself to just measuring, it is going to take too long. The needle will not move that fast, and people will take away your runway.

To summarize: What you measure are outcomes, things you can count, things you can see. Revenue, cash, all that kind of good stuff. But that takes a while to be generated.

Therefore, you have to look for leading indicators—things that move the needle quickly—so that your executives see that you are making progress, even if no outcomes are created yet. And that is an art. The art is to show and display those leading indicators in a way that demonstrates a plausible link to future monetary outcomes.

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Image(s): Anna Lvova for SBI