Jan Paul Grollé


Startups are where you want to be, when you want to create new and exciting things. Right? So where does that leave all those capable, more traditional companies? Just sitting quietly and hoping that they don’t get uber-ed or airbnb-ed? Hoping that their markets will not get disrupted too quickly, so they will have time to adapt?

Or should they try to become more like startups themselves, starting with a fussball table and a better coffee machine?

Kidding aside, bigger companies can certainly apply methodologies like lean startup. But in the end it would be misguided to think they can keep up with the speed and breadth of developments many startups are working on in their markets. So established companies are trying to keep an eye on them and looking for ways to benefit from startup activity.

Vice versa, many startups are tempted by contacts with larger companies. They are hoping for big brand names as launching partners, or looking for investors.

That is what the Dutch association of book publishers GAU had in mind when they asked Rockstart to organize a startup competition. The first edition of ‘Renew The Book’ took place in 2015, when we selected five startups to come over to Amsterdam for a 40-day accelerator program. The winner, chosen by a jury, won a prize of €15,000. The program was considered a success, by presenting some interesting startups and introducing startup methods to the industry.

For the second edition, we asked ourselves how to involve the publishers more. What works and what doesn’t when you bring established companies and startups together?

Let’s start with what does not. You can fill your days just drinking coffee in tentative talks with all kinds of startups, but without a clear purpose it is just a waste of time. Which is even worse for the startups, because generally they have much less time to waste than employees of bigger companies.

Selecting startups based on their potential roles in big visions and ideas usually does not work either. The future can often be as unpredictable to incumbents as it is to newcomers. Plus: bigger companies are often quite uncommitted to their longer term strategies, when it comes down to their daily priorities.

For Renew The Book 2017, we started by asking publishers not for ideas or visions, but for their urgent innovation needs. What was keeping them awake at night, and what topics would they want to start working on yesterday, rather than next year? We selected startups which could contribute to those topics. Then in the program we tried to get the startups and the publishers to work together on experiments: surveys, tests and pilots.

For the startups, getting access to mailing lists, content to license, channels to use, actual books to sell are key factors to build their businesses. But it is very hard for them to get into the door of bigger companies, let alone to get them to co-operate. Because of the careful matching in the program, publishers were much more open to spending time with the startups. Even better, the time-limited program in Amsterdam improved their sense of urgency. Publishers say they have surprised themselves by working much faster with the startups than they normally would on their own.

As a result of the open collaboration around experiments, startups and publishers have jointly learned about needs of customers, the potential of solutions and possible business models. These innovation steps will help to find new ways to write books alone or in groups, to help readers discover and buy books they will like, to make the books more engaging to read, and for many more purposes.

Startups unleash great creativity, applied in an uncompromised quest for a new solution which can pay for itself. Established companies have existing customers, platforms and often money to spend. If we bring them together in the right way, they can achieve much more than each on their own. With Renew The Book we were able to connect people who all wanted positive change in their industry. These kinds of open collaborative initiatives are the way to accelerate sector-wide innovation.

So what are your urgent needs for innovation? What can we do to connect startups and corporates in your industry?
Jan Paul Grollé is Program Director of ‘Renew The Book’, an open innovation program initiated by the Dutch book publishers association GAU and organized by Rockstart

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