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Spark Ventures CEO talks Qrious, Digilife and smart data

Sathya Mithra Ashok | Sept. 16, 2014
Rod Snodgrass discusses the focus areas of the NZ unit within the larger group, and its semi-independent nature that allows the division to function like an incubator within a telco giant.

Q: How have you ensured that Spark Ventures functions as a semi-independent entity, separate from the parent, in developing these businesses?
RS: When we were set up we were set up with quite a clear and free mandate within reason from the CEO and the board. We do adopt quite different ways of doing things. We use agile instead of waterfall development, so we don't adopt traditional long lead time market development processes. For a lot of the newer businesses, we would not do a business case until later days. We would do a quick market validation, we will do a proof of concept and we get a minimal viable product out there.

Digilife would be the perfect example. We do testing and co-creation with the end-user. If we think we have found a customer problem and a solution set, then we try to look at what would make the best market model. Then we will do a business case at that point, so that's three steps in.

We adopt a different approach and business model from the core Spark business in all the new areas. As we see some of our businesses getting bigger and more mature we change the model slightly. Over time we would see Skinny, for example, be moved back into the core Spark when the business is big enough and mature enough to survive the transition; when the brand is strong, the business model is locked in, and there is some scale around it.

It is a bit of horses for causes, but generally with all the new stuff it is much more of a lean startup process. Over time, some of those businesses might die or have new owners come in. We remain quite flexible to that. Other businesses such as Skinny and Bigpipe have become more natural Spark businesses over time. We are sponsoring those businesses currently because we adopt a much faster cycle.

We built Bigpipe in a matter of months and got that into the market. And now we are scaling. That would have taken much longer with traditional business processes.

We use Google Docs, we don't use the standard Microsoft systems that Spark uses. We operate in Wi-Fi within the building because it is more flexible and it is lower cost for us and we can do co-creation much easily in those platforms.

Plus it is about eating your own dogfood. We talk about being customer focused, digitally centred and led. That means you have to use those things that you keep preaching to people. So we are very much focused on using cloud-based solutions, and sort of future proof products and services ourselves.


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