Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

I first heard the term Intrapreneur from Guy Kawasaki and its something that has stuck in my head ever since. The term has been around for a very long time and simply represents:

The spirit of entrepreneurship within an existing organization.

Intrapreneur is a person who focuses on innovation and creativity and who transforms a dream or an idea into a profitable venture, by operating within the organizational environment. Thus, Intrapreneurs are Inside entrepreneurs….

Before I took my new job, I thought a lot about doing my own startup or joining others just starting our on their own. I’ve long had the entrepreneurial bug and I wondered if this was the right time.

This new job I’ve taken within Yahoo allows me to be entrepreneurial within a large company. It’s my startup within this 10,000+ people company. And, while I was thinking it through, I realized that I had long been an “Intrapreneur”. Over my career, I’ve worked a number of startups and a few big companies. Everytime I worked at big companies, I always found a way to go a bit against the grain to make interesting things into reality.

As an intrapreneur here at Yahoo, I made the biggest business impact of my career (so far). I took over Yahoo Search just as the .com crash was hitting Yahoo. I inherited a business that was making 1/2 of what it made the previous year and each month it got worse. At that time, the prevailing thought was that we should change Yahoo Search to ONLY search the Yahoo Directory and make money by forcing all websites in the directory to pay us an annual fee. I thought this was a very bad idea (duh). So, I got to work with the help of some amazing people and laid out the argument for why full web search with sponsored listings was the way to go. At an exec offsite in Sonoma, I showed exactly how we were going to make it happen, and that we could do it in only a few months. Terry had just joined and realized that there was something to what I was saying and gave me and my team the chance to do it (oh, and he gave us some of the brightest people to help). It was was extremely fun to make this 3,000 person company see things a bit differently and move quickly to re-make itself after the downturn. You all know how that business has turned out for Yahoo and I’m happy to say that the intrapreneurial spirit made that happen.

More recently, I had the chance again to work for change within the company. Early on, people in the company had said “you really ought to look at RSS”. In fact, one of the best My Yahoo engineers had already built a My Yahoo RSS reader on his own time. RSS wasn’t well known at the time (very few newspapers or sites had feeds) but we knew it could be really big. There were a LOT of people in the company who still felt that we should be a walled garden and that doing this would kill our media business. So we quickly (in three months) created a scaleable RSS platform for Yahoo and shipped it (Jan 2004). We purposely kept it hidden and just let it leak out to the blogosphere. The growth was tremendous – users and traffic grew in multiples every month. It grew so fast that we got the nerve up to go ask major papers & sites to start publishing RSS (Newsweek, Time, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal all launched in July of that year, and all with some form of “Add to My Yahoo” buttons). And like any entrepreneurial group, we realized that we were onto something, so we redesigned My Yahoo around RSS, and by that time, the company had caught up and realized it would help Yahoo for us to fully embrace RSS.

Now I have a new job. In this job, I get to play with new ideas every day and look at how to use that entreprenuerial spirit to do some exciting things, learn about new things, and find the next big ideas. I know I’m up for the challenge.