• Store Nº8

My Advice on Starting a Tech Incubator

Updated: Apr 12, 2018

Store Nº8 —

It’s hard to believe that exactly one year ago today, we announced our incubator Store No 8center stage at Shoptalk. Since then we’ve built a team of rock stars (if I do say so myself), incubated three companies, and hosted Innov8 — our innovation competition and gala event showcasing the brightest VR talent around — and we’re just getting started. Here’s what I’d tell myself, and anyone else trying to do something similar, looking back on those first few months of Store N°8:

1. “Work Backwards”

At Store No 8, our approach is to “work backwards.” I learned this from Marc Lore during our time working together at Jet, and Store No 8 was his vision. His advice has always been, “envision realistic success and plan from there.” This perspective helps us to visualize the future and plan for scale, without getting lost in the short-term roadblocks or technical gaps that may exist today. 

2. Never forget your center of gravity

For anyone just getting started, it’s easy to put on blinders and dive right in. However, before anything else, I highly recommend spending quality time developing killer mission, vision, and values statements. By establishing that strong foundation, everyone across the organization has a clear understanding and appreciation for what the business is and — more importantly — what it isn’t, which allows everyone, not just senior leaders, to trust their gut and feel empowered to make the best, most strategic decisions in the moment.

Visualize the future and plan for scale. Spend quality time developing killer mission, vision, and values statements.

3. Establish and align on the business’ Year One KPIs

The businesses we’re incubating at Store No 8 don’t adhere to traditional, established business KPIs. That’s why, early in the process, we set expectations across the entire enterprise about what we’re looking to achieve and what our definition of success looks like. We explicitly state what we’re trying to achieve this quarter, next quarter, and five years from now — using metrics that are sometimes defined as “milestone based goals” or “quantitative goals,” like NPS. Although the answers to each of those question may change, the most important thing is that we’re learning and building towards a long-term vision that we believe will have strategic importance for the enterprise.

4. Leverage the resources of your network

Being part of Walmart gives us a unique opportunity to access resources, experts, partners, and processes that would otherwise be inaccessible to a start-up. But during my time running strategy and corporate development at Jet, I learned that our venture investors also had a support infrastructure that nascent companies could tap as well. It’s so important for entrepreneurs to survey their needs — maybe it’s recruiting or market analysis — and never shy away from asking their partners, board members, investors, and resources for help. In this way, both parties can draw on their strengths to create an outcome where “1 + 1 = 3” if you play it right.

Never shy away from asking partners, board members, investors, and resources for help.

5. Hire rock stars and build great culture

For the past year, I’ve been spending the lion’s share of my time on this last tip. When starting something from the ground up, my recommendation is to have 60% of your efforts go into building great culture. That means motivating, exciting, and empowering your team to deliver results. The other 40% should then focus on setting the overarching strategy and vision. This is a huge part of entrepreneurship which, as Marc Lore says, is about “building your own unique culture, hiring the people you want to hire, watching them grow and develop … and learn while they’re there.” In the early days, over-index your time and energy on the culture, team, and people because if you empower those around you, it creates an unstoppable domino effect.

Motivate, excite, and empower your team to deliver results.

At Store No 8, we’re fortunate enough to be built on the shoulders of giants. In our case, that’s the world's largest retailer. Our very name comes from a storefront where Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, tested unique retail executions. Today we continue that tradition of innovation by thinking outside of the box to test big ideas that will transform the future of commerce. Year One has already been an unforgettable journey. Moving forward, I know that some days we’ll come closer to realizing our vision than others, but each day we’ll continue to learn, and that’s what’s most important.

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