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Expectation v. Reality: The iD8 Ups, Downs, and Day-to-Day (Part 2/3)

By Otto the Octopus

December 27, 2018

Techstars kicking off the 3-day challenge

This year, Store No. 8, Walmart People and Technology launched iD8, an internal Associate incubation bootcamp in partnership with Techstars. The pilot program took place in Bentonville, AR over the last several months and was a success for both Walmart and Techstars. In this 3-part interview series, we’ll cover what iD8 is and how we got it off the ground; the challenges, successes, and day-to-day of the program; and finally, a retrospective with advice for other companies who also want to inspire entrepreneurship and innovation internally. First, be sure to read Part 1 here.

What did a participant spend their week doing?

Laura Sanders (LS): While we met three days a week for a total of 10-15 hours per week, the teams often put in extra time. We would kick-off each week with pitching and feedback, then I taught a curriculum lesson followed by a relevant speaker. The teams shared any wins or concerns with me in weekly one-on-ones. The remainder of the time was for teams to work with each other, meet with mentors or interview customers.

What was it like working with the other speakers and mentors?

LS: The speakers and mentors were fantastic. It was intended that the speakers would teach portions of the curriculum lessons, however the speakers had so much knowledge to share. So, they augmented the lessons with discussions around successful projects, company culture, failures and experiences with entrepreneurship.

As for mentors, they were both internal and external:

  1. Internal Mentors: Walmart mentors offered their time and expertise in two ways. Some, like Myron Burke and Tom Douglass, acted as dedicated mentors for each team, meeting with them at least weekly. These mentors provided both directional advice on the pitches as well as connections to other groups at Walmart. We also had Subject Matter Expert mentors (SMEs) including Bruce Wilkinson and Aihong Wen, who shared their expertise in a particular area.

  2. External Mentors: Our external mentors include Techstars mentors as well as experts from the community. Techstars is known for its worldwide network of mentors who have entrepreneurial and corporate experience, who will fly or dial in to give advice. Mentors like Lesa Mitchell, Managing Director of Techstars, amongst many others, really helped shape the teams’ ideas. A great example of a community expert is Dr. Carol Reeves, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management from the University of Arkansas, who helped teams make their ideas “sticky.”

What was surprising or a learning experience for you as an organizer?

Sharat Alankar (SA): I was surprised how rapidly the teams were iterating during the 3-Day Challenge. On the second day in particular, there was a major difference in each teams’ progress between the morning and the afternoon — we could see they were really taking the feedback and incorporating it quickly. Even on the final day, one of the teams that had been struggling to articulate their pitch decided to change presenters and change the flow of the presentation with an hour to go. They ended up being one of the winners!

LS: I found that some of the people with the most years of experience have been the most open to ideas. I have also been really impressed with the ability of the teams to embrace concepts that may seem unfamiliar. For example, one team came back from a customer interview and said, “They loved our product this time, and they didn’t even like it at first,” which shows me that they were able to take the feedback and make iterations. We’ve taught a lot of new concepts, so being able to put that into practice is very impressive.

What was difficult or a learning experience for the participants?

LS: I think the customer interviews and information gathering was the biggest learning for the group. A lot of people think that when you create a business you have to go into stealth mode and not talk about it with anyone because someone will take your idea. While that seems intuitive, it’s actually the opposite. You do need to be careful about who you talk to, but you really need to get out and speak to potential customers who will help you think through your idea, your problem, and your solution.

Something that proved more difficult for teams was creating an emotional connection with their pitches. Connecting with the audience is vital when relaying a new idea. A good story is more than the sum of its facts.

Did any teams have trouble or have to change their pitch?

LS: One team did have to pivot more than halfway through the 10-week bootcamp. They were disheartened at first, to say the least, but their recovery was swift. They then created a product that was seen by a couple of executives who had real interest in it. They had mastered the concepts taught in the program, so were able to apply them quickly, which really speaks to the high-caliber participants of this program.

What were the teams working towards?

SA: The teams were working towards a final “Shark Tank” style event in which they would give their final pitches to a judging panel of Walmart Executives, like Marc Lore (President & CEO, Walmart eCommerce U.S. | Founder & CEO,, Jacqui Canney (EVP, Global People Division), Clay Johnson (EVP and Enterprise CIO), and Lori Flees(SVP/DMM, Sam's Club Health & Wellness and Principal, Store No. 8).

The judges would vote on the overall winning team and decide which teams would move forward, receiving funding and business sponsorship to implement their ideas. In theory, all of the projects could be chosen for implementation, so it was up to the teams to make the most compelling pitch possible.

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