Founder of the leading platform to adopt pets

Being the son of veterinarian I always felt a strong connectivity to pets and animal welfare.

In 2012, during my studies, I was lead to my first startup with broad & sustainable success leveraged by amazing nationwide media coverage, a fruitful crowdfunding campaign, and some smart business development deals.

Today, Tierheimhelden is the leading platform to adopt pets from animal shelters in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, with more than 400 registered shelters and ten-thousands of adopted cats and dogs.

  • Tasks: Ideation, Strategy, Roll-Out Management, Project management & Operations, Marketing, PR, Business Development, Funding
  • Website:


Founder of a successful pet insurance platform – acquired by Allianz group

With a decent track record as a digital entrepreneur within the pet market, I co-founded and ran a company, which successfully sells pet health insurances online via several platforms as part of a multi-channel sales funnel, in late 2013. As managing director, I was responsible for product and online marketing as the company was acquired by the Allianz early in 2015.

In consequence of this acquisition, I continued to drive the project as intrapreneur to manage a successful handover to corporate structures and processes as well as to develop and implement the growth strategy.

Utilizing internal resources as well as digital freelancers from my network, I drove this corporate startup until the summer of 2015. In this time, we managed to build one of the largest dog communities within a couple of months as part of the market penetration strategy for our platforms.



Founder of an automated underwriting platform at MunichRE

„Chris, we have to implement a fundamental change in the way we offer our services to our customers. But the daily business kills innovative ideas / projects even before achieving any tangible results“. This is how an Executive Manager at Munich Re, approached me in autumn 2015. „I want you as an entrepreneur to help me. Drive this project from scratch like you managed your startups“… Most of my intrapreneurship somehow start like this.

Discovery and Validation: I took over the lead for an innovation idea which was a result of a design thinking workshop. I constantly refined, prototyped and tested the product as well as the business model hypotheses together with the business sponsor and his team to form a corporate startup ready for investment.

Validation and Incubation: Having achieved the internal investment, I empowered the team to develop and implement a minimum viable service as a baseline in collaboration with two pilot customers as well as to develop a business-strategy to scale that service.

Scale Up: I continued to work as an interim project manager enabling the growing team to continuously adapt the service offers to the demands of a growing, global customer base, maintaining an entrepreneurial subculture within corporate structures.

As it might be of special interest, this is how we got from a blank sheet of paper to a digital product, successfully implemented and a running team within 16 months.

I started with organizing three workshops for the whole team:

–  Anticipating customer needs with design thinking methods to develop ideas

–  Evaluation of the ideas to identify the three most promising ideas

– Deciding on a mission and vision to establish an unalterable basis of who we are, where we want to be, and what values we want to serve to our internal and external customers

Using the principles of lean project management I build prototypes and used them to evaluate the potential of every one of the three ideas in interaction with internal and external customers.

Two months later I presented the results. The Business sponsor and I chose one of the service ideas as our main area of focus: „Realytix“, a platform to get quotes for reinsurance covers immediately was born.

2. In the second phase, I groomed a feasible business concept and launched a minimum viable product, supported by internal resources as well as digital freelancers from my personal network. We pitched internally for investment to Roll-Out. Successfully – a few weeks later we moved to a office at the incubator of the Technical University of Munich (TU Munich; „Techfounders“).

3. This is when the third phase started: I led the team to implement version 1.0 of Realytix as a baseline at one of our pilot customers as well as to develop a business-strategy to scale that service. In a “training-on-the-job-manner” I taught them how to use methods like scrum to establish an “entrepreneurial subculture”.

Summer 1st, 2016, after 16 months, I left an independent team of 10 people, running a service in one country, improving their product iteratively, using scrum as a project management method and prepared to pitch for the next round of investment to prove global scalability.

Since then, I constantly continued to help the team in Scale-Up to keep their customer-oriented, agile and lean working-mode.



Founder of the leading job platform for veterinarians

As a son of veterinarian, I grew up seeing my parents in daily confrontation with the daily hurdles of managing a major veterinarian clinic.

In 2013, during my studies, I decided to initiate and cofound Vetstage.

VETSTAGE, founded 2013, grew to be the leading online career platform for veterinarians in Germany. It was developed iteratively with students as well as professionals and provides a sophisticated and automated solution for job offerings, applicant management, and educational services. The well-established brand reaches more than 1/3 of German veterinarians via its direct channels every month. Combined with its long-lasting political and industrial partnerships, VETSTAGE is in the privileged situation to continue its rapid growth in Germany while expanding internationally.

Meanwhile, I´m less involved in daily operations.

  • Tasks: Ideation, Strategy, Roll-Out Management, Project management & Operations, Marketing, PR, Business Development, Funding
  • Website:



Innovation Trends: Take-aways from background interviews
at the “Intrapreneurship Conference” in Stockholm

On orphans, value factories, intrapreneur scouting and the entrepreneurs paradox

Take-aways from expert interviews at the “Intrapreneurship Conference 2017″ in Stockholm

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the keen thinkers in the intrapreneurial scene. With a thirst of knowledge and a packed catalogue of questions about innovation projects, I took a plane to the Intrapreneurship Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I entrust all of you to join this conference the next time. Being surrounded by people with the same interests and exchanging your experiences will help to push you and your innovation projects more forward.

For now though, I´ll share my take-aways from background interviews I had with Brant Cooper (CEO from Moves the Needle), Rod Ben Zeev and Patrick Leenheers (both from THNK), Tendayi Viki (Author, Founder and Principal Consultant at Benneli Jacobs) and Tristan Kromer (Lean Startup Coach and Founder of Kromatic) covering the following topics:

  • the „orphan challenge”
  • the rise of “Value Factories”
  • finding intrapreneurs within your organization and
  • dealing with the “entrepreneur-paradox”

If you want to read the whole, it might take you 20min or even more (make sure to jump to the sections that you´re interested in).

The “orphan challenge”

While being a founder of different start ups, I learned that 90% of your ideas won´t be successful in the end, and 99% of them will be pivoted (= fundamental change of the business concept). In the grind between customers, competition and investors the weak ones will be sorted out sooner or later. For intrapreneurs within corporate surroundings, there is another factor to be taken into account: “the orphan challenge”.

As an entrepreneur, you typically have to talk to plenty venture capitalists in order to raise money for your innovation project after it has reached readiness to scale. And just like you have to compete for your customers, these investors also need to compete for the best startup. Therefore, raising the money you need to scale is cracked and a transparent process.

However, the situation appears to be different within corporations: there, you only have one, two or three people who can provide your project with significant money. This could create opacity which can take a lot of time and thus making it, frankly said, to an annoying task.

The “orphan challenge”

In the end, if you don´t find anyone to jump on the bandwagon, your innovation project will die sooner or later. The initiatives that are not able to get an internal founding, even though they have successfully passed validation gates, are called “orphans”. You have an orphan under your projects? Don´t worry, this orphan issue is not an uncommon problem, and with some tricks easy to circumvent.

So what can you do against that?

Step 1:

“Don’t make decisions too early” – Brant Cooper

“There is no bad idea.” – Tendayi Viki

As “pivoting” is quiet normal, ideas shouldn´t be dismissed at day one: in this stage it´s rather an impulse than an idea.

If it´s an internal project, the best practice would be that the organization provides their intrapreneurs with coaches and mentors to give them a hand by teaching them to overcome obstacles and to navigate the internal system. They should not tell them what exactly to do but help them to find their right path. One thing you should never forget is to take care of current trends and the market situation by always keeping the corporate strategy in your mind.

Step 2:

“Think as an entrepreneur. Never stop at the first, second or 17th no.” – Patrick Leenheers

You have done Step 1, but your innovation project still died? Do not retreat yourself from any projects and start using these rejections as a sort of practice or feedback. Never be uninhibited by the expulsion and take it as a chance to develop your idea better. Who knows – maybe the next time you´ll be able to convince all of your investors and even your prior doubters after presenting them your modified idea.

Especially, intrapreneurs tend to drop their ideas once they don´t get the support they have desired or expected. As already mentioned in my last article, intrapreneurs need to think like entrepreneurs regarding their steadfastness.

Since entrepreneurs need to take big risks in implementing their innovation projects, they try harder to raise more money. They mostly make a bigger effort than intrapreneurs, they ask more often and also for a longer period. Even after the 17th no, they do not stop and still believe in their success. If intrapreneurs learn to deal with rejections just like entrepreneurs do, their innovation projects have a chance to exceed the experimental phase.

“You need a strategic guidance” – Tendayi Viki

Another reason why innovation projects can die is not starting with stakeholder management (I like to call it stakeholder development) from day 1. You can be working on a great idea, but nobody in the main system is aware or interested in it – simply just because you didn´t treat them with particular attention.

Usually, corporations have three or five year’s strategies assembled with around five priorities. Within stakeholder development, your aim is to make sure that you and your innovation projects are seen as a contribution to any of those priorities. If you miss this chance, it will be difficult to be supported by the corporate system and you won´t be provided with the money you might need.

“We should do discovering with our corporate sponsors to understand the objectives and the strategy of the business. Then we can filter out ideas that will never be accepted by the core business before spending time and money on them.” – Tristan Kromer

Start working with at least one executive sponsor to make sure that the ideas and projects you generate align with the boards’ idea of strategy, structure and culture. Try to address the key problems they care about. Moreover, make clear that your innovation project is not about current business, but into building new business and always make sure you get an early agreement of your ideas. To do so, communicate with your sponsor stage by stage.

Your corporation is following another structure? As a ray of hope, even within corporations without proper VCing structures, there is normally more than one alleyway to get funded. Sometimes there is even no need to get funded at the early stages. This brings me to my next questions: how much budget do intrapreneurs actually need for their projects? Is there any fixed budget each project needs as a basis?

Some people spend their whole time and energy preparing a bulletproof pitch to receive a certain investment, whereas in fact only your innovation lab might need a major budget. The truth is: early stage intrapreneurs just need an incremental investing -if they do so at all. Instead of searching mainly for a budget, you should start following your runway. Start building  a hypothesis and validate it. As you work always incrementally, investments should also follow in small tranches step by step.

Even in later stages you can try to scale your project (and therefore leave the orphan stage) without major investments. This guerilla approach is mainly important for intrapreneurs whose innovation projects are not supported, but they still want to spread them.

“Mostly, it has a lot to do with leveraging networks, making things via viral, asking clients to become your co-creators or co-producers and to bring them into a movement.” – Patrick Leenheers

The key to success is to create a tribe. In addition, you can try to cut your costs to the minimum. As I said before, there are a lot of chances to accomplish your goals – even when you haven´t received a major investment or any stakeholder sponsorship from the very first beginning.

The rise of “Value Factories”

I have been now mainly talking about intrapreneurs trying to circumvent orphans, but what about entrepreneurs? Is there a difference?

There is a divide between entre- and intrapreneurship – I also like to call myself “entre- and intrapeneur”. But after taking a look at the main tasks – intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs – we all do the same, don´t we? It is more the surrounding that might separate us from being the “same”.

“People need freedom to create their new ideas.” – Brant Cooper

By introducing a “preneur” ecosystem we won´t force someone into a corner. People could decide with each project they have in mind which “side” to take, without hanging on one certain approach. “Value Factories” could be created as a place where different people with different professions and with all, corporate, cross-corporate and entrepreneurial backgrounds, could validate early stage ideas together…. scaled later on by whosoever turned out to be the best owner.

 “To become a good intrapreneur you need to adapt the mindset of an entrepreneur.” – Rod Ben Zeev

I agree with the words of Rod Ben Zeev. But in what sense do entrepreneurs have a different mindset than others? How do you know whether you´re a potential intrapreneur or not? To get an answer to this evergreen question, I asked if my interviewees know any selection criteria or methods to discover intrapreneurs within your organization.

Finding intrapreneurs within your organization

Successful intrapreneurs I got to know made every project their “personal thing”. They were crystal clear in what they wanted to achieve and what they were trying to manifest in the world. Moreover, they knew their specials talents, as well as how to leverage the assets of their organization. Their personal goals and their project targets were suitable within the strategy of their corporation. Besides that, they were also able to value the positive side-effects of a fixed income. They´ve chosen their path and their organization empowered them to do so:

“In the right culture we don’t need to select/self-select entre- or inrapreneurs because the culture selects them.” – Tendayi Viki

Self-selection is the core word: there´s no best practice for it and how to hand-pick intrapreneurs. You shouldn´t search for intrapreneurs, but offer changes for people with “preneurial” moves: who want more, who not only do their task but even more than asked, the people who are intrinsic motivated to make more out of it without money or scale and those ones who are driven by passion and natural curiosity.

“It´s about building teams of cross functional areas – all of them are entre- and intrapreneurs.” – Tendayi Viki

Also,  this one “Steve-Jobs-like” superhero who will innovate your organization into the next decade doesn´t exist. Only hundreds of teams of “preneurs” (intra- and entrepreneurs) with different identities will beat the odds. By bringing different people with different strengths and skills together, you´ll have a team of people with explorative and growth mindsets, as well as diversity. This will enable you to optimize your innovation projects. According to Patrick Leenheers, a perfect team consists of three different “preneurs” who can be divided by the following:

A team with three different types of
The 3 different types of “preneurs”
  • People from large structures with a commercial focus who are familiar to work for long scale and with a global perspective
  • People from the entrepreneurship ecosystem who are mainly more digital, but struggle to have a scaling-mindset
  • Social tribes whose main purpose is to do something good for the world and who have a big heart and big vision (they are mainly bad in finance, do not really know how to sell, and believe that marketing is bad)

“More than anything, you want people who are interested in learning new things, learning new skills. Because that´s such a part of entrepreneurship.” – Tristan Kromer

A good method to offer changes for the people you´re searching for can be informal meet-ups, mentored design sprints or kickboxes (which is a real box every employee can grab filled with tools and advice to start validating). Those people who not only show up, but also actively attend these meet-ups etc. might be the right ones for your innovation ecosystem. It doesn´t matter how senior they are, they need to have an intrinsic motivation to take hands on the project.

Nevertheless, there also exist several tests regarding your personality, your current work (CV) and other special criteria that should help to define to which “side” you belong to. Still, most of these mechanisms are not significant enough.

Dealing with the “entrepreneur-paradox”

A team of intra-and entrepreneurs, this might sound a bit confusing and make you think: “Entrepreneurs within an organization? Weren´t entrepreneurs self-employed by definition?”

Thank God, the world is not black and white and you will meet pioneers within controlling departments of organizations, as well as settlers who build startups. Still, “employed entrepreneur” sounds a little bit like a paradox and entrepreneurial thinking and acting within established organization definitely is sometimes. So how can we deal with this “entrepreneur-paradox”?

It’s again down to mindsets: true entrepreneurs know that the definition of employment is not relevant. If you´re fully committed in your project you do not care whether you´re employed or not– all you want is to see your project succeeding and reaching its goals. Having that entrepreneurial spirit makes them to stay focused.

Having the entrepreneurial spirit
The entrepreneurial spirit

“The ones that have succeeded have survived and still maintain the entrepreneurial spirit, but also embrace whatever this new entity is bringing them.“ – – Rod Ben Zeev

Being employed as an entrepreneur depends on your own personality. Is this entrepreneur in for a thrilling life or not? Is he or she willing to go through everything or not? In the end, it´s a choice each one has to take for themselves.

“Instead of becoming a drawer, you become an artist.” – Brant Cooper

Entrepreneurs can learn to work inside an organization if this organization has a certain philosophy (purpose, mission, measurable goals, etc.) that fits to their mindsets and is not only a vehicle for processes in order to generate revenue. Entrepreneurs will learn to respect the core business and to appreciate the efforts of the people who are working in the structures of an organization. All together, they will become skilled at completing their tasks like a harmonized orchestra without variation and failure.

To ensure this, entrepreneurs should have the ability to see that all of the other “non-entrepreneurs” can also be talented and creative. The other way around, the rest of the “orchestra” will have to learn that “free Jazz” music is also worth listening to. In that way, you can turn the “culture clash” between corporate and entrepreneurial into a mutual benefit for both. In the end, the settlers work within the organizations of today to earn the money that the pioneers spend in order to create the organizations of tomorrow.

Wow, you read through this entire article? You’re really serious about innovation! I would love to stay in touch, so join me on my journey exploring what works and what does not with two easy steps:

  1. Follow me on Linkedin and start a conversation and
  2. Sign Up for my tribe to receive new postings directly to your mailbox (scroll   down)

The keen thinkers:

Brant Cooper (Founder, Moves the Needle CEO, Bestseller Author and Keynote speaker) has set himself the goal to create new value by talking with entre- and intrapreneurs from all around the world and collecting their experiences. You want to know more about him or you want to invite him to your organization to give a talk, go and visit him on his LinkedIn page:

Rod Ben Zeev (THNK School for Creative Leadership) has committed himself in theater, film, television, large companies, non-profit and educational institutions by helping people to improve their presenting, their creativity and their entrepreneurial mindsets. You can find out more about Rod Ben Zeev and his work on his LinkedIn profile:

Patrick Leenheers (THNK School for Creative Leadership) has been working for large organizations within the last years, giving them support during the conception phase and scale-up of (digital) innovations. Together at THNK with Rod Ben Zeev, they offer programs on topics like gender equality, HIV and sustainable consumption. You will find more about him here:

Tendayi Viki (Author, Founder and Principal Consultant at Benneli Jacobs) is on the one hand helping large companies to innovate like startups, on the other hand mentoring and advising startups to get on track. To find more about him, visit his LinkedIn page:

Tristan Kromer (Lean Startup Coach and Founder of Kromatic) works closely with innovation teams – within early stage start-ups (as a volunteer), as well as in larger companies – to help them pushing their ideas through. To read more about Tristan, join him on linked in:

About Intrapreneurship Conference: Since the start back in 2011, our model has been to create a space for intrapreneurship; to curate the best stories, ideas and people in this emerging field. We host intimate events in locations all around the globe, offering corporate innovators practical insights in what’s working now, and access to a tribe of entrepreneurial leaders they don’t find at their own organizations.

Click here to get a glimpse of our past events… and make sure you don’t miss the next one!

Defining “Intrapreneurship” – simply the entrepreneurs within your organization?

Defining intrapreneurship

simply the entrepreneurs within your organization?


Dear word processing app, ‘Intrapreneurship’ is not a spelling mistake

In my last article I introduced you to a canvas I came up with for stakeholder development in corporate innovation projects (updated version). Quite often, I used the term “Intrapreneurship” – and discussions on how to define that arose …
One thing is sure, even though my word processing app still says so, “Intrapreneurship” is not a spelling mistake.
Surprisingly, ‘intrapreneurship’ is not a new term that was invented only a few years ago. Its first mentions go back to the late 70’s. Nevertheless, the definitions from the early stages have changed over the years.
In this article, I will explain you in an easy and compact way (don´t worry, it won´t take you a long time to read through it):

  • the definition of ‘intrapreneurship’ I developed
  • the main similarities/differences between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship (more specific articles will follow soon)

This one is to give you an overall understanding of the term intrapreneurship.

My definition of intrapreneurship – what it means to be an intrapreneur

“I am an intrapreneur.”, I say. “Ok, but what are you actually doing?”, is the reaction of my audience. This is a question I have been confronted with several times, and in the beginning, I was struggling to give a compelling answer.
Finding a definition of this term can be challenging. Other designations such as research and developmentinnovationcorporate entrepreneurshipcorporate venturing etc. make it even more difficult to find an all-encompassing explanation of ‘intrapreneurship’. Additionally, the appropriate and up-to-date literature on this topic is hard to find. For this reason, I started to develop my own definition which is the following:

Every purpose-driven doer within an established organization

is an Intrapreneur… whereas the profession of Intrapreneurship can be described as follows:

Intrapreneurship is the art of creating, implementing and scaling innovation projects (incremental, evolutionary or radical) within existing organizations,

thinking and acting like an entrepreneur while pragmatically leveraging the assets of the organization

to increase the speed and the quality of strategy, product, service, process or business development.

Uff… Not fancy and easy to understand when hearing first, right? I´ll get back to this definition in the upcoming articles to dig deeper into the main parts of it… so far, you may also go with this simple thought: Consider those people intrapreneurs, who

“risk their job every day to achieve what they believe is best for society and the company they work for”

As this article is on “entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship”, let´s first have a look at the fundamental difference between these two designations, which is obvious but crucial: While entrepreneurs work outside established organizations and purely focus on building up new ventures, intrapreneurs work exclusively for and within established organizations. They also might develop new ventures, but their scope is wider.

The assets of organizations are what every entrepreneur dreams of, right?

As an entrepreneur who bootstrapped most of his ventures, I know that there´s one thing most entrepreneurs are envious at when talking to people in large organizations: The budget they seem to have is just another dimension. Since I turned into an intrapreneur, I realized that apart from pure cash, there are other even more powerful assets of organizations that intrapreneurs can leverage and entrepreneurs only dream of. I refer to them as the “unfair advantages of intrapreneurs”.
“An intrapreneur´s unfair advantages” (or the assets of organizations):

  • Intelligence (databases and the access to internal experts/qualified employees)
  • Resources (capital, office, techniques, business travels, etc.)
  • Customer access (brand, contacts, established relations, etc.)

This is what every entrepreneur dreams of, am I right?

Think and act as an entrepreneur

But there is also something intrapreneurs dream of – the ability to work in the way entrepreneurs do. Having all the assets ready doesn´t mean that intrapreneurs can rest on it. In order to implement an innovation project in the fastest and most effective way, entrepreneurs are the best example. Their way of developing innovation is unique and effective. For some it´s because of their personal risk they take into account, for others it´s maybe because of their nature. Anyway, successful entrepreneurs show patterns.
Over the last years, these patterns were studied and methods were developed to enable people within existing organizations to work like entrepreneurs.  These are for example Design Thinking, Scrum or Lean Start Up. But ultimately, all those methods are only tools to translate what those street-smart entrepreneurs do for the corporate environment.
“An entrepreneur´s unfair advantages” (or the mindset of an entrepreneur):

  • take fast decisions
  • be aware of iterative procedure and experiments
  • be unconditionally goal oriented
  • work customer-centric beyond buzzwords
  • inspire others to go with you

Why all this? During your project, decisions need sometimes to be done within minutes. But even under time pressure, intrapreneurs need to be able to take a wise choice for the project and the people involved (this also includes the end users!). It doesn´t matter which task you´re dealing with at the moment: always keep the main aim in your mind with the greatest enthusiasm.

This is what intrapreneurs dream of, right?

Don´t work “like a startup” – work better! 

As we´re all “preneurs” of some kind, we don´t only want to dream. Remember the definition I introduced above? I used the term “pragmatically leverage” to summarize what goal a combination of both dreams in reality could serve: How to use the best of both worlds to ensure a long-term ROI of innovation departments increasing the speed and quality of new product and service development.
In the end, we do not only want to innovate like startups – we want to do it better by thinking and acting like an entrepreneurs while pragmatically leveraging the assets of our organization.
To do so, there are crucial factors that need to be taken into account regarding professional education, processes and organizational set up. It is not only to start using those fancy methods mentioned above.
And as if hiring or developing entrepreneurial people as well as adapting processes, the organization and the culture was not enough of a challenge, there is another thing to be taken into account: Pure street-smart entrepreneurs will fail within organizations (if they can be hired at all) like pure book-smart innovation managers will do when being asked to implement a project. “Intrapreneurship” needs a stand-alone definition and a stand-alone professional education. It is a new job description and a new subject to study. We´re only at the beginning of a new age.
In depth articles will follow. Subscribe to my list to join my innovation tribe and to get the articles right in your inbox.
You have some ideas to add? Great, just leave a comment here!

This article was amongst others inspired by:

  • Antoncic, B. and Hisrich, R.D. 2003. “Clarifying the intrapreneurship concept”, in Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development (10:1), pp. 7-24
  • Antoncic, B. and Hisrich, R.D. 2001. “Intrapreneurship: Construct Refinement and Cross-Cultural Validation”, in Journal of Business Venturing 16, pp. 495-527
  • Maier, V. and Pop Zenovia, C. 2011. “Entrepreneurship versus Intrapreneurship”, in Review of International Comparative Management (12:5), pp. 971-976
  • Parker, S.C. 2009. “Intrapreneurship or Entrepreneurship?”, in Journal of Business Venturing 26, pp. 19-24
  • Seshadri, D.V.R. and Tripathy, A. 2006. “Innovation through Intrapreneurship – The Road Less Travellers”, in Vikalpa: The Journal of Decision Makers (21:1), pp. 17-29


Stakeholder development in innovation – 8 types of stakeholders crucial to success for intrapreneurs

Stakeholder development in innovation

8 types of stakeholders crucial to handle for intrapreneurs


What is potentially the biggest leverage as well as the biggest threat for innovation projects? As an entrepreneur-turned-intrapreneur, I´d say it´s politics! I learned the hard way, that it´s crucial for the success of intrapreneurs within politicized corporations to be a savvy political player – and that only “managing” your stakeholders in not enough. I realized that successful intrapreneurs act more like “stakeholder developers”. In this article I share a concept (and canvas) I created, empowering intrapreneurs to develop their political landscape to leverage the assets of their organization.

Likewise in the animal world where it´s all about eating and being eaten, there exists a never ending fight in the business world on whether your project will casts significant seeds or not. In order to survive they have to leave their protected environment sooner or later and be confronted with nature. In the fight for life or death, they keep on searching for food to subsist themselves and their families to grow and survive… so does an intrapreneur with his innovation project.

Prepare to be confronted with nature

As your innovation project will have to take the plunge one day where it will be visible for everyone, you should better find a way to deal with this situation. You will be confronted with a lot of different types of people, some want well, some won’t care and some will want to harm you. You need to stay attentive to weed these people out, and find these people that can support you and your project. Likewise, your innovation project might fail unexpectedly, if you miss to integrate these people (stakeholders) at the right time and in the right manner. While your project develops, you’re stakeholders will develop (or be developed) with it.

In this article (see Chapter three and four), I will share with you a simple framework (canvas) which I developed over a period of time to sensitize me and my teams for politics. It is designed to structure thoughts and to help understanding the potential impact of stakeholders. Moreover, it enables intrapeneurs to keep track of the ever-changing political landscape and share a common language within their team… without over-engineering it and with a „twinkling eye”.

But before I get into the nitty-gritty, the introduction of this framework, I would like to touch on briefly what stakeholder development for innovation projects in general means (chapter one) and some personal perspectives on how to become a savvy diplomat.

I. Stakeholders are people, influenced by your project

A Stakeholder can be described as anyone who shows an interest in your project or who is (or thinks she or he is) influenced by its outcome. How many stakeholders are involved in your project and their level of influence can vary greatly. However, or maybe especially because of this reason, knowing who your stakeholders are and managing them is an essential tasks for intrapreneurs. Therefore, you need to develop a proper understanding of the organization you operate in, as well as the different types of stakeholders you have within your team.

It´s Stakeholder development – not only management

Consequently, stakeholder development (stakeholder management is not the right phrase in innovation), describes the task of developing your stakeholders. This includes finding appropriate stakeholders, matching their ideas with yours and trying to keep them for your project. I like to call it stakeholder development, because it can be seen as some sort of internal business development, which refers to building cooperation with other companies (in order to improve your sales, image etc.), by creatively coming up with ideas beneficial for both sides and continuously measuring success.

Stakeholder Development is like internal business development

I deliberately say “internal”, because stakeholder development only concerns politics within your own organization and the people who belong to it. Thus, no external company is involved in this process.

In the very first moment you might think that this limits the actions of intrapreneurs. This might be right, but nevertheless, stakeholder development enables them working together with different operational units individually. In doing so, intrapreneurs need to be able to apply the skill set of a savvy “political player” without losing sight of the original values and intentions. Depending on your innovation project, stakeholders can play a more or less important role. You need to find out who’s important and who’s not, and always keep an eye on all of them.

Diplomacy is natural

Some make the mistake by not considering stakeholder development as important. They try to keep away from politics as much as they can. Here, you should realize that the success of your project does not only rely on you, but the people who are involved in your innovation project. For this reason, you should never circumvent politics! When you try to avoid politics, you avoid people.

Instead of avoiding, you should attempt to understand what your stakeholders want. Then think about your own goals. Do they match with those of your stakeholders or do you recognize differences? Try to find a balance, but never forget the main goals of your project! You don´t consider yourself a diplomat? No problem, just get one on your team!

Note: Keep politics WITHIN your team to a minimum, but accept that your organization is highly politicized and use that. In the end, it is more about who you know, not what you know. Never underestimate the power of individuals and their connections.

II. My personal take-aways on how to become a diplomat

  • Accept politics and stakeholder development as what it is: A chance to manage the perceptions of your ideas as favorable as possible and to create, implement or improve measurable win-win situations.
  • Inhale the business model canvas of your organization in total and know about the strategic roadmap.
  • Know the official organigram but also the „who with whom“ (who are neighbors, who make holiday together, who play golf together, etc.).
  • What is the agenda of the person you deal with? What are her or his goals and threats? What does her or his routine job look like? Try to collect as many details as possible.
  • Try to build a personal relation whenever possible and stay in contact.
  • Be crystal clear about your own goals, your unalterable vision and how you will provide value to your customers – but very openly ask for feedback regarding measurements, strategy and communication („Ask people for advice and they will help you“).
  • Invite your important stakeholder regularly and provide them with updates during the project. Moreover, introduce goal-oriented discussions with them to match their goals with yours (e.g. the Scrum Review is a perfect surrounding)
  • Every team member should be able to recite the elevator pitch and benefit of your project blindfolded, to avoid misunderstandings in the office grapevine.

And now, I no longer want to beat around the bush, let´s get started with the framework designed for stakeholder development for innovation projects.

III. The Stakeholder development canvas

(© Christopher Waldner)

Its handling is as easy as riding a bike: print it and hang it on the wall, get your team together and start brainstorming. Together, you fill the blank fields with post-its. You think it´s done? – Great! But in innovation a lot changes within weeks: Add, remove and replace continually if necessary.

To keep it smooth, I matched every type with a metaphorical fable animal. So, let me introduce this canvas to you:

The Lion: „Who is your c-level sponsor“

The Lion is known for being a powerful animal. Therefore, it is not surprising that people who have a lot of influence, in society as well as monetary power, are associated w

ith a lion. Meeting a Lion can be intimidating, but you will learn how to handle them and how to convince them supporting your project.

To make one thing clear: I consider it impossible to get the commitment of all groups’ c-level board. So what you should do is try to focus on one lion and make sure that your startup fits its strategic agenda. Try to get it as a sponsor and build a personal relation to your lion. One hint: do not forget its secretary! You may wonder why, but isn´t it the secretary who has the most contact to the lion and does normally all the paperwork? Communicate frequently and informal to stay on their radar and establish a more formal reporting-cycle. I see quarterly working quite fine. Drop the lions name in e-mails, presentations, etc. in order to let your lion know that you´re counting on its support.

The Dragon(s): „Who are your (potential) investors“

Just like the mythical creatures that are hardly to be seen (of course they don’t exist – or do they?), dragons in the sense of stakeholders do not suddenly appear. You need to search closely to find them for your projects.

Step by step, there will be people investing in your project – alike early business angels do in other startups. Make sure to keep on the radar who has invested in your project and whose investments you might need in near future. Not only money is an investment: Maybe it is your line manager who invests your manpower for an innovation topic. Or it is the IT-Department developing a prototype for you.

Note that these dragons often even see your project their own (especially when you´re successful) and tend to instruct you on what to do operationally: Be careful to not blindly follow every of their thoughts and ideas, as in doubt you know best. But still, these people earn a special treatment: Make them trust you and help them with success-stories from „their project“. Ask them for their help or advice regularly and establish a formal reporting/meeting-cycle. I saw monthly working quite good, depending on the number of dragons. As an example, having lunch together is a great opportunity to keep on track – it may be helpful not to bring all of them together in one meeting. Nevertheless, do not forget to meet everyone personally to get a better understanding of their roadmap without politics.

The Donkeys: „Who are your most influential doubters?“

Alike the well-known saying ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’, there will always be people who, for whatever reason, talk badly about you and your ideas.

As donkeys are known for being a quite stubbornness species you will find plenty of them under your potential stakeholders. However, having a donkey can have positive impacts on your project, depending on which kind of donkey you´re dealing with. So far, I have been confronted with three different kinds of donkeys: the smart, the cautious and the thoroughly stubborn donkey. After a while, I was able to estimate whether one of those donkeys might be helpful for my projects or not. Here are some characteristics to detect and tips to handle them:

The smart donkey

Is your donkey eager to learn and pointing valuable critics in a more or less respectful way? Lucky you, you´ve found a smart donkey. But be careful and try not to be a donkey yourself! Respect its opinion, accept its critics (if appropriate) and do not defend yourself as a reflex. Ask questions and invite it to public or private discussion. There is a lot you can learn from this donkey!

The cautious donkey

Does she or he fear loss of status, captaincy, autonomy, relatedness or fairness? There you go: this donkey is definitely a cautious one. In these situations a donkey can easily turn to a little dog biting to protect himself (Mother Nature will forgive me for this metamorphosis). To give the dog a big bone might calm it for the moment but your aim should be making it feel secure all the time. For this reason, try to understand your biting dog and its fears to give what it really needs. By doing so, you´ll be soon able to turn it into a smart donkey. Still, you will not always be able to change how afraid a dog behaves – be understanding, but keep an eye on it.

The stubborn donkey

Is the donkey acting like a douche bag who simply doesn´t like you? Then you should try not to get influenced by its opinion and stay on your track. Or even better: try to avoid any further contact.

As you can see, there are different kinds of donkeys around the business world. If you´re lucky, you´ll find some who share your values and believes, but do not (yet) see the benefits for your customers and organization that you promote. Others in turn may feel threatened by you or your projects and again others just don´t like you. In any case, they are clearly donkeys that do not completely get your point.

However, do not ignore them and take them seriously! They could still play an important role for your project, in a positive or negative sense. Try to meet informal to build a personal relation. Ask them for advice (especially the smart donkeys), think about their doubts and express that you respect their opinion. Maybe you´ll be able to convince them, maybe not. At least, there will be no unexpected attack from somebody hidden in a bush.

The Mice: „Whose operational job will be changed by your project?”

Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Co-creation – you name it. In one or another way, the principle of integrating customers in the innovation process is no longer rocket science. It is, moreover, a common sense for corporate innovation projects. Nevertheless, your mice are the ones that are often overlooked and left behind. Hidden in their mice holes, you might not think of them at first sight. But you should never forget that most innovation project will also change the daily operations of some people within their organization. Identify lead-users and integrate these „experiment mice“ into your iterations – they will thank you for it.



The Owls: „Who are your most important carriers of know-how?”

An essential feature of innovation projects within existing corporations is the huge amount of specific know-how it can access even in early stages. Use it!

Identify your most important carrier of know-how and don´t be afraid of asking them questions. Just like the animal is known for its honesty and wisdom, they will give you always a sincere respond.

Sometimes they might seem a little bit conservative with your idea. Don´t get anxious by that, it´s in their nature. These owls normally grew up in their ivory tower and can only consult you. Use their know-how, but not every advice.

Maybe you´re lucky and you can even impassionate them for your ideas and make them work with you.

Commonly, you will find wise owls in your department for communication, compliance and legal. But depending on your project, you might search in other departments to find the right owls.

The Foxes: „Who are your most important enablers?“

You will find these kinds of people within every corporation – smart foxes who can help you to find your way around. Just like their co specifics, foxes are generous individuals who help you to guide you through your project. They´ll advise you with whom you should talk to and how to handle political hurdles. If you find the right fox, it will help you networking and additionally open you the possibilities to talk to specific persons by setting up lunch dates, etc.

Typically, these people were raised within your organizations and have built a significant network over the years. They are absolutely loyal towards your mother organization and therefore are trusted all around. Note: They are not necessarily in upper management positions.

It will take some time to identify who your foxes are, as there can be always a trickster among them. Once you´ve identified them, try to impassionate them for you and your ideas. If you´ve done so, you can lean back a little bit and let them take care about politics. But be careful, this does not mean that you´re done with your work. As I said, there can be always a swindler who wants your project to fail. Make sure you´ll really find a fox you can trust in. And do not mix it up with beavers (in the following) – Foxes will not „get shit done“ for you, they will just help you to find the right people to talk with.

The Beavers: „Who are your most important coworkers (besides the committed team)?“

Innovation Projects attract young, ambitious pioneers like bees around a honey pot. But unlike chickens (see below), who just ask questions and delegate you (instead of setting their hands on the project), beavers actively help you to “get shit done”: This is very welcome.

Likewise the animal, stakeholders who can be classified as beavers, are hardworking individuals who are willing to use their manpower in order to carry out your project. Take care to keep these people in your team and guide them if necessary. Try to give them specific tasks (e.g. in areas like research) that will help you in mid- to long-term and which do not severely touch your core business. As they will help you on top of their normal job you should give them your thanks and appreciation they deserve. By letting them know how grateful you are for their commitment, you’ll make them hard to let you down.

By the way, this is how to differ a beaver from a chicken: Ask the person to get a specific job done for you and track whether she or he does it with the same ambition and commitment they join meetings and ask questions. Like this, you will easily see who really wants to build a dam with you.

The Chickens: „Who wants to be cc?

These guys are not important for your success, but they think they are. Even though, chicken are gregarious animals with a big sense of community, they´re purported to be jumpy fellows and lazy in their nature. Thus, having a chicken in your team might be sociable but it won´t help you continue to move your projects forward.

Imagine a chicken trying to convince a pig to team up to open a new restaurant called „ham and eggs“. After some time of consideration the smart pigs denies the chicken: „I have to say no, because we wouldn´t really be a team“, the pig says. „I´d be committed – you´d only be involved“.

I´m sure that you can name tons of chickens in the macrocosm of your project: They want to stay in touch, need to be informed about this and that and support you with their smart advice arising from a unknown source of divine knowledge. All they want is being involved when things are going well. You will see them clucking around loudly without taking action. In lean times, you´ll find them hidden in their chicken coop incubating a new egg.

How to identify a chicken? They:

– will not guard you like a lion.

– will not invest resources in you like a dragon.

– do not actively help you like foxes or beavers.

– do not carry specific knowhow like owls do.

– will not operationally be affected by your project if rolled out like mice.

– , unlike donkeys, cannot cause severe harm if ignored.

If you´re nice, you should try to ignore them. Better: Tell them respectfully that you cannot see any impact today or in the future and ask them to leave their eggs somewhere else.

After meeting all your potential stakeholders, here´s the canvas as a tool to work with – arranged from top to down regarding the strategical impact they could have.

Feel free to drop me a mail to get a printable version of the canvas!

IV. Get started

Now that you now know how to classify your potential stakeholders you can get started with developing your political landscape strategically. Use it like I do to sensitize you and your team for people and politics. You´ll probably have a common language, so use it to discuss the potential impact of stakeholders and to develop a way to handle the different kinds of people – friends or predators. Like your innovation projects scope, your stakeholder landscape will be ever-changing and developing. Use the canvas to keep an eye on this landscape while your project gains traction… everything with the necessary mix of seriousness and a „twinkling eye”.

I hope it helps you to structure your thoughts when kicking off!

Any thoughts or hands-on experiences that help me to further develop this approach? Drop a comment or an e-mail to