By Peter Harris, Propel by Deloitte lead
Eighteen months ago, three colleagues and I took on a new challenge. A challenge never previously undertaken at Deloitte – build the firm’s first start-up.
If the feat wasn’t already large enough, our aim was to build a start-up for start-ups called Propel by Deloitte - an accounting and analytics service that could empower ambitious start-ups and small businesses to grow. This meant accessing a new market and engaging a new audience.
It all began in early 2015 when the business idea was submitted to the Innovation investments scheme, the firm’s initiative to encourage its entrepreneurial employees to turn their start-up ideas into businesses. On the one hand, it offered a fantastic opportunity to access a new market and serve start-ups in an innovative way. On the other hand, it meant fundamentally challenging the way we deliver some of our core services, implementing best-in-class technology and automation to make the service affordable for growing businesses whilst continuously monitoring associated risks.
We pitched to the Innovation investments board and were given a limited budget and 6 months to build a prototype and prove demand. To do this, we went out and engaged 20 pilot clients to take part in a three month trial. As you might imagine, there was a steep learning curve(!!) and plenty of challenges:
The brand challenge
As we set about our market research and followed a number of start-ups around, we realised our audience anticipated a number of barriers in working with a business built by a large corporate. In response, we committed to building a service and brand that was true to three core values: approachability, innovation and affordability.
The technology challenge
We started the pilot before building any of our technology by working only with our minimal viable product – as all good start-ups should! Whilst this may seem unusual in our traditional modus-operandi, it gave us the flexibility to collaborate with our pilot clients and pivot the service to ensure it truly delivered insight and addressed some of the longstanding headaches entrepreneurs and their management team’s face. Ultimately, it meant we were able to not only learn from the pilot but action those learnings and make changes ahead of finalising the service offering.
The cultural challenge
It is widely acknowledged that statistically most start-ups will fail. A tough pill to swallow, especially in a corporate world. However, it was a risk the firm was willing to take in recognition of the importance of innovation to our clients, our people and indeed, the future of our firm. As the end of our six month pilot approached (at what felt like a rate of knots), we had some very challenging targets to reach such as sales pipeline, service delivery and revenue potential. However we managed to reach them all, and actually, I would argue that our limited budget and hard deadlines really helped us to focus, prioritise and go the extra mile.
Following a raft of positive feedback, and the conversion of the majority of our pilot clients to paying customers, we launched Propel by Deloitte in June 2016 and haven’t looked back. We now have the privilege of working with some really fantastic and ambitious start-ups, and continue to evolve the service to make it even more valuable for clients. For me, our proudest achievement is the high number of client referrals we have received to date. This is the ultimate endorsement and one we continue to strive for every day.
Propel has paved the way for a number of other exciting business ideas to develop and flourish within the firm. It is Deloitte’s first example of intrapreneurship in action but it certainly won’t be the last. The firm’s entrepreneurs are mobilising. Watch this space.