How we turned a start-up in a recession into a fast-growing international company

Market Gravity is a fast growing and innovative company. We’re agile and entrepreneurial, but we’re also tiny compared to the large companies that we work with to bring new products and services to market, such as HSBC, Boots, British Gas and Mastercard.

Co-founders Pete and Gideon set up the business during lean times, growing it from a team of four into an international business with over 50 team members in three locations: London, Edinburgh and New York.

Here, Pete shares his experience of growing a leading innovation company and believes that there are some clear parallels for big companies to learn from.

Did you have a clear vision for Market Gravity when you first launched?

Market Gravity was founded on the premise that big companies have the potential to make a massive, positive contribution to the world. We knew that there were hundreds of great ideas and so much great talent in global corporations, but we also saw how hard it was to take a new idea to market. So we thought a specialist company that can unleash the innovation capacity in big businesses would be in great demand; this has been our focus ever since.

What was your strategy for success?

Simple. Find the corporate entrepreneurs and innovators within any big company. Then complete a brilliant project with them to design a new service or create a new venture. And finally, help them to get it to market, by giving their colleagues and bosses the confidence they need to get behind the idea.

What part does innovation play in the Market Gravity story?

Innovation is critical to our own success. We’ve been constantly evolving our method, our skills and our team composition over the past couple of years to keep delivering great results. For example, we often use ‘Voxpops’, captured via customers’ own smartphones, for quick insight or concept validation. We also create digital and physical prototypes early in the process, to bring a new idea to life, and we simulate a real customer experience before launch to identify operational issues and challenges. You don’t find these sorts of approaches in the average management consultancy.

What are the key barriers to innovation?

The biggest barrier (as well as the biggest enabler)? Time. You can’t force creativity against the clock, but you can focus innovation by introducing boundaries, challenges and constraints. We try to strike the right balance with our projects; enabling great ideas to flow, but rapidly moving ahead with the good ones, before they lose momentum.

What barriers have you had to break down with big businesses and their intrinsic thought processes?

Big companies often worry too much. They believe that they have more to lose than smaller businesses and are sometimes more concerned with how this new idea might disrupt the status quo, rather than getting excited about the positive opportunities it will create.

How can big businesses overcome these barriers?

There are some great principles to foster a growth mindset, overcome these barriers and ultimately avoid innovation death. Here are my top five:

1) Set a single-minded objective or goal
2) Be obsessive about customer focus
3) Re-invent your business, before someone else does
4) Exploit your unfair advantage
5) Move fast! Speed is the best protection against most causes of innovation death

Are you still breaking down those same barriers or have things shifted?

Some of the barriers have been lowered by the adoption of digital channels and the relative speed with which companies can now move, particularly when it comes to prototyping and testing. However, most of the companies we work with still face big challenges with their core IT systems, causing many innovation projects to turn into major change initiatives. The post-recession attitude to risk and increased regulatory scrutiny can also act to limit innovation, but just as in the middle of recession, new regulations create new commercial opportunities for the brave.

Who is setting the standard for innovation? Startups or big business?

Some of the best examples at the moment are coming from collaborations between large and small companies; I expect to see more of this. For example GE’s partnership with Quirky has resulted in UNIQ, a whole line of connected home products, and their commitment to open up GE’s patents to a community of inventors and innovators is very exciting and has unlimited potential.

Does innovation require a huge budget?

While 21st century innovation doesn’t require the massive R&D budgets of past decades, ambitious high-impact innovation takes commitment and considerable investment. But this investment, correctly channeled, has the potential to transform companies and create whole new industries.

How do you drive growth in lean times?

When economic conditions are tough, you need to pay even closer attention to the rules of corporate entrepreneurship. You need to marshal those scarce resources, move even faster, follow the money, inspire talent and remain laser-focused on your customers, at a time when others are getting distracted and losing focus. As Winston Churchill said “if you’re going through hell, keep going”.

What do you think will have the most impact on Market Gravity’s success in 2015?

The biggest positive influence on Market Gravity’s success this year will be the continued confidence of our clients to invest in growth. While there’s still plenty of economic and political uncertainty, most large companies have now shed their preoccupation with cost reduction and are looking to the future. We will see the largest companies improving their customer proposition across all their channels to market and we will see smaller, mid-sized challengers take market share from the leaders in all the main service industries.

What drives your desire to keep growing MG?

Two things: making Market Gravity the best place to work, and delivering more brilliant projects, resulting in more brilliant products and services from our clients. It’s this unsatisfied potential that keeps driving us all at Market Gravity.

Peter Sayburn is co-founder and CEO of Market Gravity, a fast-growing company of innovation and design specialists, Pete has launched new products and services in companies of all sizes, from start-ups to global corporations such as HSBC, VISA and Aegon. Throughout his career Pete has brought start-ups and big businesses together to collaborate on projects.  Pete is an expert on big company innovation and author of ‘Defying Gravity: Adventures of a Corporate Entrepreneur.’

Want to know what Market Gravity can do for you?

We’re a specialist innovation and proposition design consultancy, working with brilliant, leading companies around the world to liberate big ideas and turn them into new, innovative services. We accelerate ideas from ‘post-it’ to prototype, putting your customers at the heart of the design process. Together with our clients, we’ve launched big ideas in electric vehicles, next-generation financial advice, renewable energy and digital commerce. Got a challenge? Why not get in touch for a chat? www.marketgravity.com

Corporate Entrepreneur Awards

Market Gravity hosts the Corporate Entrepreneur Awards each year, in London and New York, celebrating the entrepreneurial achievements of teams and individuals within big businesses. Get a feel for the London event in our short video or some further insight from the winners’ interviews. You can also checkout our New York event footage here.