At first sight, it might appear a budget airline and a plumbing service don’t have much in common.

Yet as with every single industry, disruption is looming. Forward-looking companies don’t wait until it’s too late, but pro-actively look to disrupt themselves- and intrapreneurship helps them do so.

Here’s what Transavia Airlines and HomeServe have done so far, as shared by their innovation leaders Vincent Thamm and Craig Foster. Fasten your seatbelts…

About Transavia

Founded in 1965, Transavia is a Dutch low-cost airline. As part of the AIR FRANCE KLM Group, they are a member of the largest aviation group in Europe. Its main base is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and has further bases at Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Munich Airport, and Eindhoven Airport. Transavia maintains Transavia France as its French subsidiary. They have over 1700 employees, and flew over 10 million passengers to their destinations in 2015.

Innovation Drivers

In 2016, Transavia celebrated it’s 50th birthday and decided they needed to do some things differently. Disruption was coming, and not just from other low-cost competitors; tools like Google flights and other companies were emerging, trying to become the Uber of flights, and Tesla’s Hyperloop loomed on the horizon. Vincent and his team needed to figure out what all this meant for their current business model.

Their Approach: Collaboration on Customer Experience

Vincent had worked with agile processes and the scrum framework in the IT department, and wanted to bring some of that into their work on customer experience. He realized that one of the issues he’d had in IT, particularly when creating the new website, was a lack of access to and input from other departments. So he created an innovation team consisting of twelve people from twelve different departments. From there, they split into three teams, each with their own focus.

Facing Fears

At first, the idea of getting out of the building and actually talking to customers was intimidating – even for management. To make it a little easier, the team created a Customer Experience Index, which gave them a reference point for customer conversations. The index measured all of the customer contact points throughout their buying journey.

Validating Assumptions Pays Off

An initial assumption the team had was that customers whose flights were delayed would appreciate a small gesture, like a free cup of coffee. Traditionally, upper management would have made a top-down decision to go ahead and invest in vouchers; but this time, the team waited for flight delays and then took the bus down to the airport to ask customers if that was, in fact, something they wanted. Turns out, it wasn’t – what customers wanted was a real time information network, so they knew what was going on. The team rolled one out, and it was a huge success.

Impactful innovation happens from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. Get out and talk to customers…and listen.

Prototyping and MVPs

The team also learned how to quickly test and validate ideas. In one instance, they sent out an email to customers describing an app that would let them more easily plan group travel, with a mix of flight schedules and personal agendas. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so they went ahead and built an app.

In another, they wanted to explore customer reaction to in-flight VR entertainment. They rented a VR system to test response, and then scaled by using cardboard boxes that customers could hook their phones into, downloading a VR app from Transavia.

Open Innovation

To boost innovation further, the team created a development portal with open API’s, and invited external developers to take part in hackathons. They also began leading workshops for employees in different locations, and reaching out to startups and exploring how they could work together.

The Outcomes (So Far)

Transavia is now working towards being Europe’s best digital airline. In addition to customer experience products, the team is looking at their own employees as end users, and developing apps and tools that help them communicate with passengers quicker, and make their jobs easier. We’re curious to hear about their journey!

About HomeServe

HomeServe was established in the UK in 1993 as a residential plumbing emergency repairs service. They built a network of experienced, committed contractors, offering customers the reassurance of approved engineers, a prompt response, generous cover and claims limits and the convenience of having one number to call in an emergency. They now have over 7.8 million customers in the UK, France, Spain and the US, and expanded services offerings from electrics to appliance repairs to locksmithing.

Innovation Drivers

Craig and his team realized that the Internet Of Things was going to drastically disrupt the home services industry. When home heating or plumbing systems are connected to the internet, for instance, problems will be detected (and possibly resolved) before the homeowner even knows something is wrong. Connected home systems will forever alter the way customers interact with home assistance services like HomeServe. Craig knew they had to figure out how HomeSense could stay relevant, and continue to grow.

Their Approach: A Corporate Shed

Craig and his team set up what they called a ‘corporate shed’ – HomeServe Labs – as a completely separate entity. Their goal was to dream really big about how HomeServe could shape the future of home assistance, but start small with quick, lean testing.

Their first breakthrough was LeakBot – a clip-on sensor that detected leaks anywhere within a water system and alerted users via an app, through which they could also contact a plumber immediately. Initially launched to consumers, they pivoted th B2B when they realized that leak damage accounted for 25% of all home insurance claims. They made it affordable enough for home insurance companies to give away to their policyholders, got a ton of press, and are now spinning LeakBot out as a separate company.

From this early success, they learned a lot of hard lessons.

Get Air Cover

One reason they were able to reach early success was because their CEO joined them for training courses, and heard first-hand why so many corporations fail at innovation. Without this air cover from their CEO, they would have struggled to get the protection and resources they needed to develop autonomously from the core business.

The more autonomy you want, the more support from leadership you’ll need. Involve and educate them as much as possible.

Define By Value

HomeServe used to define itself by what they sold – home emergency repair and insurance policies – which blinded them to possibilities. When they redefined themselves according to the value they provided their customers – home assistance – they were able to see broader ways in which they could help not only end users, but potential utility, insurance and appliance companies.

It’s important to think about tomorrow, not today. Don’t focus on what you know about your current market and technologies – focus on where the technology might be in ten years, and start working towards it. Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.

Often, leadership perceives new technologies such as AI as a threat. Instead, find ways to create a crisis of opportunity – to position new technologies as a fundamental way of transforming the way your business can create value for consumers. To drive the right action in a corporation, you need hope – not fear.

Design For Your Culture

Keep your venture at arms length as much as possible, with its own set of rules and processes. Let your executives know this is something that they don’t have to worry about – it’s going to chug along on its own. Additionally, ensure your team culture allows for conflict – the freedom to attack each other’s ideas passionately.

At the same time, it makes sense to borrow capabilities from the core business that your venture doesn’t naturally have built in, like payroll and legal. Don’t create your own administrative systems from scratch.

While it makes sense to bring in some people who know the core business, external talent brings diversity and helps fill in any capability gaps. It’s all about the right mix.

Aim High… Just Do It

It’s very easy to get sucked into looking at the existing product set and just end up going for incremental quality improvements. If you’re really trying to do horizon 3 innovation, it’s important to be more radical in terms of the customer experience or business models you’re trying to create. Aim for 10x better.

In an intrapreneurial venture, there are a lot of grey areas that leave you wondering whether or not you have the authority to act, to just go off and do something. If you just go ahead and do it, generally stakeholders are impressed enough by the progress you’ve made that they don’t get too caught up on whether you had the proper authority or not.

It’s easy to get pulled in by the core business, but you have to stick to your guns. With LeakBot, people in the core business wanted traditional branding and design on the product itself, but it made no sense for their B2B business model – so they fought it, and won. That’s why LeakBot is NOT bright red, with a blazing HomeServe logo across the front!

With the early product-solution success of LeakBot, the company started throwing money and revenue targets at them and they tried to scale… before they had found the right product-market fit. It’s important to not get too excited too soon.

Lastly: Make Sure You Love It

Don’t do it if you’re heart isn’t in it. Intrapreneurship is hard – it’s not like a normal corporate job, it’s an emotional roller coaster every day. But if you do it for the love of creating something new and important, you can create your own little band of misfits who are also in it for the love of it – and it will be far more rewarding.

The Outcomes (So Far)

Since launching LeakBot, the product has won several awards, including the Corporate Entrepreneur Award and the “Breakthrough in IOT” Insurance Times award. Who could have told plumbing was that glamourous…

Interested in hearing how companies like IBM, 3M, RBC, Telus and GE are getting results from their intrapreneurship programs?

Join the global intrapreneurship community for the next #IntraCnf in Toronto, 15-17 November 2017, with more than 25 intrapreneurs on stage, and 49+ practical sessions to join- covering everything intrapreneurship from start to scale.