Digital Transformation & Maturity

Lessons from one of the world’s largest digital startups – Part 1

‘Soft’ factors as ‘hard’ drivers

This is the first of a three-part series written by Dr. Steffen Roehn, Senior Advisor to Reliance Jio, discussing how a focus on people and culture helped the mobile operator become one of the largest digital startups in the world. The original article can be found here.

Like all startups – small and large – owners, founders and entrepreneurs are mad about customers, product, quality, perfection and results. It is about outcome, differentiation and customers’ excitement beyond anything.

I will start with the ‘soft’ factors which drive behaviors and success. This means having a truly inspiring vision and the need to live up to it. It needs the best people available, mixed in a unique and inspiring environment. And, it needs a personal attitude of everyone working with the startup, as being an owner or a partner with the company.

1. Powerful ambitions move mountains

It makes a big difference, whether the ambition is to be “market leader in India”, or to “boost India’s society into the digital age”.

By credibly pursuing a very bold ambition, the mobilizing forces of employees, partners, customers, politicians and even society provide an endless source of energy and motivation to reach the objective – by any sensible means. As in every startup, only a mind-blowing, bold, inspiring and consistent ambition can create a truly new outcome. In this case, it provides everybody with a true ‘purpose’ beyond making money or producing a good success story.

Not every company, not every department, not every team can boost a whole society into the digital age. BUT, every aspirational team must have an ambition to change the world – in a particular way, and for a particular scope. Otherwise it will be ‘business as usual’, and thus, non-transformational.

2. The very best people – combining global experts and Indian talent

Smaller startups do it all the time – heavily relying on their own people, growing knowledge, especially around customer experience and technology. Also, we [Reliance Jio] are ourselves a huge startup, that could only have been successful by providing an inspirational environment for many different leaders, experts and thought leaders from all over the world.

Attracting the best talent from leading internet players, device manufacturers, large communications service providers and especially new technology startups was one of the key recipes for success.

By combining them with highly talented and/or experienced people from India, it is ensured that maturity, joint learnings and knowledge are not disappearing with the experts. Rather, they are growing multifold beyond the knowledge base of the original experts. It is fair to say, that we probably have the richest pool of technical talent in India, if not Asia.

The main learnings for any digital organization is that people matter, and people make the difference. Over are the times of outsourcing these important competencies. Rather, to cope with an ever increasing pace of technological innovation, a solid base of highly talented and experienced technical people is mandatory for any transformation towards digital. Also, as elaborated later, whatever you get from a technology partner is typically only second best for your own dedicated purposes.

So, going open source, challenging your technology partners, building core assets by yourself and heavily deploying scalable cloud solutions for commodities is key.

3. Personal ownership for end-results – no limits

In a large digital startup, there is no time nor space for large organizational debates. Some basic principles are needed, in our case, a ‘platform-based’ organization was defined. Hereby the key platforms relevant for the customer (e.g. onboarding or bill and pay) were defined as were the people associated with them. This was done moreso to to classify skills.

But, the real relevant management principle was to ask everybody to own the full accountabilities for their respective outcomes. This implies, that they must step well beyond the classical understanding of organizational boundaries and work with anybody they need to solve the issue or produce the necessary results.

Those people were capable of assembling the right teams, because they believed in the success of the undertaking. They turned out to be the real heroes of our startup, not the typical managers. While this sounds chaotic, even counterproductive to some extent, this was precisely the recipe to not just build another telco, but to create a digital service provider to boost India into the digital age. One of those examples is the creation of the consumer app, which turned out to be No. 1 in India’s app-store very soon after launch.

In the next post in this series, Roehn will discuss technology, architecture and how to engage partners.


    About The Author

    Senior Advisor to Reliance Jio

    Combining the entrepreneurship of a CEO, the analytical power of a physicist and the global implementation power of a CIO.

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