Aaron Eden, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Moves The Needle, shares how he brought Lean innovation principles to his former company, Intuit, and launched 100 internal startups in 100 days.
Companies across the Fortune 500 are realizing that they need to adapt their strategy to meet the evolving needs of customers in the digital age. Some companies are savvy enough to start getting feedback directly from their customers. But all too often, red tape prevents these customer insights from making a positive impact on their business. As Aaron Eden says, they get “stuck in empathy land.”
Aaron was able to break this cycle while working at Intuit. Intuit is a $30 billion financial technology company with products including Quickbooks, Mint and TurboTax.
While Aaron was working as a Product Manager at Intuit, he began applying the Lean innovation principles that he would eventually spread throughout the organization. The results he achieved in doing so eventually caught the eye of senior leadership at Intuit. They asked Aaron to become an “Innovation Catalyst.” He was tasked with helping the company focus their product development efforts on the needs of customers and create the company's next big product.
Ultimately, Aaron helped his colleagues at Intuit test 100 startup ideas that eventually earned $90 million in revenue. Additionally, employee engagement increased throughout the organization and net promoter scores improved throughout their product portfolio.
In this week’s episode, Aaron shares the unique, and extremely effective, tactics he applied to achieve these results. Here are two ideas of many he shared in the interview.
Aaron describes why many companies fail to get their innovation efforts off the ground: “Often times we get sucked into planning or trying to get buy-in across the entire organization before we get moving.” To avoid a similar fait, Aaron decided to “start small but think big and get moving right away.” He started with a one-time business idea workshop. During this first session, one team found paying customers on a brand new idea.
He then built on that momentum by creating a pitch deck that he gave to more employees at Intuit so they could convince their bosses to let them join the second session. Turnout for the second workshop more than doubled.
Capture data to make your case
Before the second session, Aaron took the initiative to reach out directly to the CEO of Intuit and ask him to be a judge. Aaron made this sound easy:
“I constantly go questions from people of like ‘oh my god how did you convince the CEO to come and participate?’ I’m like, I asked him. ‘Yeah but you’re just a product manager, you have no seniority.’ I asked.”
Exposure to the CEO encouraged employees to attend and work hard to get customer validation for their ideas.
It was during this second session that the company’s approach to product development began to evolve. “We shifted from this opinion based way of making decisions...to using data and using insights to drive those decisions”, says Aaron.
He shares great advice for using data to get executives to buy-in to new ideas:
“It’s not about trying to convince them. It’s about you creating the initial data and creating the initial evidence to prove to them that they should support you and continue to give you more time and give you more money to continue to invest in the idea because you’ve proven that it works.”
Product managers who want to make a change in their organizations will learn a lot from this episode about how to start an innovation initiative and how to get leaders from across the organization involved. Here are the highlights:
- How Aaron became an Innovation Catalyst at Intuit (6:40)
- The business challenge Intuit faced and how it informed Aaron’s strategy (10:10)
- How Aaron spread lean innovation throughout his organization (14:00)
- Aaron’s approach to tracking progress and outcomes (18:30)
- How Aaron circumvented bureaucracy and brought ideas to life (23:40)
- Aaron’s best advice for product managers who want to make organizational change (30:00)