The 100-Year-Old Start-Up

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With the pace of change quickening, the challenge for tech companies is not to just try to build companies that last but to build companies that retain a start-up mentality and constantly reinvent themselves, says Evernote CEO Phil Libin, a scheduled speaker at LeWeb.

There are about 3,000 companies in the world that have been around for 100 years or more “but most aren’t great places to work at. I want to build something durable that is 100 years old and still innovating,” he says. “It is a very meaningful, interesting challenge. What are the things that make a company durable and robust or brittle and short-lived?”

Libin says he wanted Evernote, a suite of software and services for note-taking and archiving, to become a global leader with staying power by building a deep brand. “I want Evernote to be tied to an effortless level of productivity,” he says.

And, he wants his company to be infused with design thinking. While he used to think about design as visual appearance, Libin says he now understands that design is at the base of everything, from financial models to the way you run a board meeting. “So, he says, “I need to surround myself with people are great at all of those things.”

In the future it shouldn’t be too hard to find the kind of employee he describes. Stanford and other prominent business schools have started embracing design thinking and have entered into dialogue about it with businesses.

Top MBA students are taking classes that include collaborative prototyping and idea generation. The thinking now “is that everyone is a designer — it is not about having a degree in design — it is an approach to problem solving and how you integrate brand, products and services,” says Vince Voron, who has 20 years’ experience at two of the world’s most iconic brands: Apple and Coca-Cola. As large companies begin hiring these young MBAs this thinking will start to be incorporated, he says.

The focus needs to be on how companies large and small can learn from a myriad of industries and how the role of the creative designer should change: how she or he can inspire other folks in the organization, says Voron. “One of the things we did at Apple is we actually spent time working with our designers and building cross-functional capabilities. We taught designers about finance and actually sent the designers out of the design studio into the organization. We had to prove that we could be accountable and we understood how financial decisions were made in order to show the company how they got value from design,” he says. “We brought the leaders, the directors into the design studio. It was an interesting experience observing finance leaders coming into the design studio and uncomfortably mixing with colleagues that not only dressed differently but were operating effectively in an environment of loud music and dynamic surroundings. It was equally enlightening to observe senior design leaders maneuvering awkwardly in the boardroom. This has been a key to Apple’s success and it was something that when I moved over to Coke I took very seriously.”

At Coca-Cola, over a period of seven years, the design team came to be viewed as business drivers, says Voron. “We talked to people about the value of art and beauty and its ability to increase customer allure and make the product more efficient. We were able to build these metrics into the decision process and convince an unlikely group of individuals to work together and behave in a very different way,” he says.

Voron recently took on the job of Vice President of Dolby Labs, leading a marketing team that includes design, brand management, digital/experimental marketing, content, production and the Dolby Theater.

“Dolby is an engineering-driven company with a global brand; an ingredient brand,” says Voron. “We are beginning to use design thinking at Dolby, a type of pinball strategy. It is really about taking an idea, bouncing it to a partner and having them bounce it to someone else. As the idea bounces like a pinball it is growing and has the ability to scale. It is called open innovation. This can be really valuable for an organization but it is scary … because playing pinball risks exposure to new ideas.”

That is the challenge and the opportunity for any start-up that wants to remain innovative in the next few years, never mind the next 100.

“I don’t know that I know how to do this,” says Evernote’ s Libin. “But I know it is important to have a goal that is significantly epic that you can work on it for the rest of your life.”

 

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