As start-ups no longer remain on the fringes of business, working with them is essential to help large firms transform their DNA, top entrepreneurs and business heads say.
In a panel discussion at the SP Jain School of Management’s Business-Academia Conclave 2018, panellists—including retail pioneer Kishore Biyani, Nestlé India head Suresh Narayanan, and Team Indus co-founder Rahul Narayan—said businesses need to embed themselves with start-ups, and treat technology and disruption as their DNA to enable innovation.
“I personally believe large organizations can be start-ups and also corporations," said Biyani, founder and chairman of Future Group.
“There is a left and right side of the brain. Right is the creative, the start-up side. Left is the controlled, the management side." The trick, he said, is working in “parallel and pluralistic thoughts".
“We understand a start-up in its own way, we know the faults and follies of start-ups," he said. “We have made so many mistakes ourselves that we have a lot more wisdom right now."
That ability to innovate is essential when a company is hit by a crisis, such as the one Nestlé India faced in 2015 when its flagship product Maggi noodles was pulled off the shelves for alleged violations of food safety norms.
“The thing that happened to us should not happen to anybody," Narayanan, chairman and managing director of Nestlé India, said.
“But we used this to re-energize the organization... All I did was to be humble, to listen, to let people do their job. It was more than one person’s wisdom. I am uncomfortable being attributed with turning it around."
There are key lessons in this to be learned from start-ups, especially by working with them, the panellists said.
“When we started off, none of us were from this background. This was the biggest challenge," Narayan, founder of Team Indus, said.
“The identity of the organization was engineering and technology—that became our North Star. We will build technology and we will do it well. We’ve had a whole bunch of people who have joined us, but our core remains true."
Redefining the core is often the hardest job for a large firm, but a necessary one before it becomes disrupted by new entrants in its industry, the panellists said.
“We are a 150-year-old company but Nestlé India is 70% millennial," Narayanan said.
“In this age of technology, social media and AI (artificial intelligence), I still hark back to the old saying of creating purpose in a company. The young of today are driven a lot by the purpose of the organization."