For this post, we spoke to GETKICKBOX co-founder & CEO, David Hengartner, who brought the Kickbox methodology to Swisscom five years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. We talk about his journey, giving power to the people, and the importance of sharing insights.
1) Tell us about your first encounter with the Kickbox methodology and how things progressed from there…
Coming from a background in startups, I had joined Swisscom to develop open innovation and figure out how we could work with startups. While scouting startups at the Next Web Conference in Amsterdam, I stumbled across a keynote by Mark Randall on the Kickbox methodology. As a big fan of bottom-up innovation, it immediately caught my eye. I went straight back to my boss at Swisscom and said I wanted to try it out. So, I actually started with GETKICKBOX just as most Kickboxers do, working on the project on the side with a small budget.
Eventually, I was able to bring a trainee on board, after which the team slowly grew and grew. Now I’m the CEO of GETKICKBOX powered by Swisscom with a team of 30 people – 10 of them are young appretices – all motivated to push the Kickbox movement forward. During our last town-hall meeting, I’ve had to pinch myself. The fact that I was able to take this project so far, through all of the various phases, within a corporation as large as Swisscom has been an incredible experience and crazy rollercoaster – and, of course, it’s been an extraordinary personal journey for me too.
So you essentially used the Kickbox method to start GETKICKBOX? Well, that’s proof of your own belief in the method!
Exactly. Also, I’m not a fan of hierarchies, and for me, Kickbox is the most radical bottom-up innovation method around. As I mentioned, giving the innovators the autonomy over their ideas is vital. Kickbox not only gives everybody a chance – from managers, sales people to call-center agents or interns – but it gives them full ownership of their idea and project, making it very different from traditional idea management. In fact, I wouldn’t describe it as “idea management,” but rather “idea execution.” We put the innovators in the driver’s seat by giving them the RedBox – like a symbol of empowerment. After all, when it comes to intrepreneurship, it’s not about the idea itself, or even the process, it’s about the people driving the ideas. The goal is to find the right person, with the right idea at the right moment and enabling them by providing what is needed, and then getting out of the way.
2) Which best practices have you integrated from the version of Kickbox you encountered back then?
We first started with the original Kickbox material and the two phases of the RedBox (Validate – 2 months) and BlueBox (Pilot – 4 months). Soon after, we started to incorporate new practical aspects, based on our own experiences. We added for example a ”GoldBox” (Implement) phase for implementation, clear time-boxing elements, integrated services from external providers (like an „AppStore for Innovation“) and started to build a software to automate the program and make it scalable.
The centerpiece has always been the KICKBOOK – the ultimate guide for the intrapreneur.
We re-wrote it 5 times in the last 5 years and the current version had been co-created by 100+ innovation leaders from 80+ organizations. We added digital material and videos, to introduce people to the Kickbox mindset and guide them through the process. This further strenghted the self-educational part of the program, since people apply „design thinking“ and „lean startup“ methods directly to their own project and learn new agile work methods.
Another major part we took from the original concept is the community idea and we started to cultivate the Kickbox community and work on an innovation ecosystem.
Funnily enough, this is something I could benefit from the very beginning on. Since the material is available open-source, I downloaded a German version that someone had translated. I soon noticed that the German translation mentioned Swiss Francs rather than Euros, so I did some research and got in touch with the translator: it was the first Swiss innovation manager who worked with Kickbox. We scheduled an exchange and I truly benefited from the relationship that developed. I’ve always been keen to carry this forward and share as much as possible with the community as we grow today.
Our aim is to create an ecosystem of organizations from a range of industries, universities, and service providers that support one another and grow together. We’re working toward creating a well-functioning system and brand that has the power to create big things.
3) It sounds like even bigger things are ahead! So how do you set about determining which ideas are the best? Do many projects make it to the BlueBox phase?
That’s another thing that sets Kickbox apart from other innovation programs. Rather than the CEO of a company or the innovation managers filtering out ideas, the market acts as a filter. This is a data-driven method, so the innovator has already gathered valuable market data and customer feedback by the time decisions need to be made. Therefore, the idea is validated by real potential customers, not simply the highest-paid person in the organization, which is a powerful shift. But this isn’t an easy filter to pass either; we actually see a pretty tough funnel. From around 500 RedBox ideas at Swisscom, 80 moved onto the BlueBox phase, and 20 will be implemented fully as GoldBoxes, whether internally or as a spinout. So once the idea has been validated during the RedBox, finding a sponsor to move into the BlueBox phase is the key challenge for a Kickboxer.
4) What role does the sponsor play in the blue box phase?
Once, an intrepreneur has completed the RedBox phase; they have a 30-day fundraising period to find a sponsor. A signed “sponsoring agreement” is like the key to open the door to the BlueBox phase. The actual role the sponsor then plays differs from company to company and project to project. But they always have an interest in the project’s success, so this step teaches the Kickboxer a lot about active stakeholder management and communication. After all, the Kickboxer needs to keep them on board if they want to move onto the implementation phase of the GoldBox.
5) What do Kickboxers gain from the process? Can you share some of your favorite success stories (Thingdust IoT Monitoring System for Office, Help 2 Type for blind people, Autonomi for elerdly people, VicoTV mobile TV app for millemnials)?
I think the feeling of empowerment is something that most people take away from the Kickbox process. The trust that is placed in them and their ideas can give them a real boost. They also learn a lot of new methods that they can apply to their work and even receive a diploma, which is a valuable addition to their CV. Of course, this applies no matter which stage they reach, but we have had some inspiring projects that have made it to full implementation.
One example of a project that was implemented internally is “Asport” – a fully automated video production system for mid-tier sporting events in Switzerland. This product is now part of Swisscom’s offering and enables local-level sports clubs to expand their reach and professionalize their game broadcasting.
Another example of an exciting spinout is “Now.art.” What began as an idea to sell art online in the red box phase has now evolved into a blockchain-based digital art platform running on Swisscom TV. This product gives everyone the opportunity to display digital art on their TV screens. It just goes to show how transformative the Kickbox process itself can be and the potential it can unlock.
6) Finally, how has the current crisis affected your way of working?
We have always been aiming to optimize the innovation process, and the current crisis has simply pushed us further on with that. We realized that we would need an effective digital solution three years ago. So, we had already migrated many of our resources – FAQs, service provider marketplace, project management, automated email coaching – to our self-developed online platform. By automating the innovation process in this way, we made it scalable and smoothed the process. We designed it to be a tool that would enable innovation to thrive, not simply another tool for innovation managers to manage.
It also provides a platform for Kickboxers to present their projects, like Kickstarter.com for large corporations. This meant that we were in a good position when the crisis came, but we have continued taking steps to support remote innovation during this time, e.g., coaching calls and remote services such as legal or prototyping. We also ship the physical boxes straight to the Kickboxers at home now, which has made the process even leaner. In fact, we’ve seen an increase in ideas as people during the lockdown. Lots of people have more time in home office, which seems to be sparking their creativity and bringing new ideas up.