How Intrapreneurship Encouraged Shutterstock's Creative Success

Far from the strict hierarchies and closed-door policies of the past, Shutterstock found that giving employees the freedom to pursue entrepreneurial passions was the key to bringing innovation back to the company.

Growing a company the old-school way meant acquiring existing companies, but today, some of the most creative organizations are growing from within by embracing a culture of intrapreneurship.

Far from the strict hierarchies and closed-door policies of the past, giving employees freedom to pursue entrepreneurial passions is becoming the new norm as companies look to innovate.

Intrapreneurs are employees who act as entrepreneurs within a company. Shutterstock, a digital image marketplace, is an example of a company that has embraced intrapreneurship.

The most obvious benefit of intrapreneurship is the ability to pursue more opportunities, allowing Shutterstock to test boundaries and experiment with offshoot products that can keep their core consumer base from turning to a competitor for their needs.

But beyond deepening relationships with existing customers, intrapreneurship also ensures creative employees have the freedom to pursue their creative passions within the company, increasing job satisfaction and retention of the most talented individuals.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Jon Oringer, Shutterstock has a history of embracing a culture of innovation. One of the ways it does this is through hosting yearly hackathons. These fun, 24-hour challenges are designed to inspire employees to pursue any idea they have that will help the company serve its customers better.

The anatomy of a Shutterstock hackathon is shown in this video. David Fraga, VP corporate development, says Shutterstock’s hackathons have sparked several brilliant ideas including Spectrum, a system that allows users to navigate the Shutterstock photo library by color.

Intrapreneurship was a natural extension of Shutterstock’s culture of creativity. In the last two years, the company has launched two side businesses—Offset and Skillfeed.

Offset, a provider of high-end imagery, was created to serve the adjacent needs of existing customers who were looking for premium imagery for billboards, book covers, and high-profile signage for a fraction of the cost of a custom photo shoot. Shutterstock identified the opportunity and assembled an internal team of designers, engineers, and product developers, treating Offset as a startup with the backing of a successful company.

Skillfeed, a marketplace of online learning, was developed by a team of Shutterstock employees who wanted to take the company’s marketplace model which had proven successful at providing digital imagery and apply it to the online learning space.

Both Offset and Skillfeed operate as independent companies housed in Shutterstock’s headquarters, allowing the teams to learn from one another and borrow resources. To help us understand what makes Shutterstock’s intrapreneurship program so successful, Fraga offers three insights:

Have a culture that supports intrapreneurship.

Everybody at Shutterstock is encouraged to be entrepreneurial; meaning resourceful, creative and unafraid to fail. To make intrapreneurship successful, the individuals working on these projects and the companies supporting them must be willing to take risks. “Letting employees work on ideas on their own without a plan of where they’ll wind up [is key],” says Fraga.

Establish a team.

“As with any startup, the most important part is having an amazing team of folks who can bring an idea to life,” says Fraga. The benefit of intrapreneurship is not only do you have a hard-working team of individuals but you have the support of a big company with resources to guide intrapreneurs along the path to success.

Have company buy-in.

Developing strong relationships with individuals in the core business who support the growth of new businesses within the brand means intrapreneurs can benefit from cross-promotions to expand their customer base. Although both Offset and Skillfeed operate as independent companies, they have the benefit of having access to the branding resources and the reputation of an established company.

[Image: Flickr user zombieite]

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