An early-stage founder asked me over dinner, how we explore new paths and product ideas to accelerate growth at Sendbird. I’d like to share a program we introduced earlier this year at our company. We spun up a small tiger team to tackle a new idea. Operating like a small startup, this team was self-contained to a certain extent (e.g. PM, engineer, & designer), was given the autonomy to go talk to customers, pitch an idea of an offering, price things and sell if they needed to, and prototype a working model. An executive (in this case myself) was sponsoring the initiative, so that we can unblock resources and processes along the way.
Initially, the team booked an airbnb in Vancouver Canada, and lived & worked there together for a month. I also flew out to spend 2 weeks with the team (I had to come back earlier due to our quarterly board meeting) but for me it was one of the most productive times since Sendbird entered growth/later stage!
At a high-level, the team is using the customer development model, and is responsible for the first two cycles of iteration to find a new growth vector.
While this team is still active and executing, the early results are quite exciting. We were able to discover new way to evolve our product, expanding our market opportunity considerably, also at the same time, leverage our existing resources and experiences to expedite our journey.
I had a chance to discuss this tiger team approach that mimicked a mini-YC with Paul Graham a couple of months back, and was quite excited to learn that other later stage YC companies like Stripe and Airbnb too have spun up their own YC-like processes to tackle and execute new ideas. Some large enterprises tried to copy this process, but without having gone through YC themselves, most of them end up looking more like a short-term hackathon or an startup “idea competition,” which is quite different from actually executing a self-contained team like a startup, executing towards product-market fit.
I believe there’s a rather practical playbook here that can be adopted by larger companies when they want to find new vectors of innovation and be able to move quickly to validate market need. From outside looking in, the process looks rather messy, as it requires rapid iterations, and the tiger team breaks away from the main processes & systems in the organization that were evolved to serve the “Performance Zone” of the company. The leaders and the members of the organization need to understand, anticipate, and embrace such messiness.
This was our v1.0 of the Mini-YC at Sendbird, and I am quite hopeful that we’ll go through this process a few more times for other future innovations to build a repeatable playbook of our own.