Entrepreneurship By Default: SMEs, MNCs, NonProfits, Governments

Alternative title: Startup-as-an-Organization

March 5, 2020

"Our (tech) industry respects innovation, not tradition" - Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

The fall of giants like Nokia and Kodak taught everyone a good lesson: you can be the most innovative entity today, and still get out of the business next day.

That volatility (fatality) of today's modern world is not exclusive to just big MNCs or tech industry, but every other types of organizations.

Regardless of the industry you are in now, and no matter you're a social enterprise, SME, or government body, you have no choice but to be entrepreneurial to stay relevant in the long run.

A note on 'entrepreneurship'

I learned this definition from the talk 'The Rise of UX Entrepreneur' by Trent Markelow (entrepreneur who sold his UX consultancy to PwC) in Singapore few years back.

Sharma, Pramodita and James J. Chrisman. (1999)

At the very end of his talk, he emphasized on why we need you (everyone of us) to be an entrepreneur: we need more 'scalers', people who scale their impacts around. E.g. like how AirAsia makes it possible that 'now everyone can fly'.

When we scale, everyone wins better. When we don't, someone has to pay for the inefficiencies.

Of course, whether you're a team of 1 or team of 1,000, you can make a dent in the universe too. You do so by start working on the problems, being nimble & experimental, taking calculated risk, enduring challenges, and adapting as you go.

Entrepreneurship can happen almost everywhere and in many forms:

  • Intrapreneurs - within an organization

  • Part-time Entrepreneur - side projects outside your work

  • Social Entrepreneur - social, environmental, or community

It is not the quantifiable metrics (revenue, funding, team size) that justify whether you're a better entrepreneur or not, but the quality of your impact (even if its done in a much smaller scale). With today's technology and digital enablement, it is getting easier for everyone of us to scale our impact. What you need is an entrepreneurial or startup mindset, and start working on something.


Yahoo (10,000+ employees in 2013) claimed themselves as the world's largest startup. After acquiring 20 smaller startups and years of struggling, Yahoo ended up being acquired by Verizon.

A 100-year old beverage company hired a VP of Innovation & Entrepreneurship to make the company more innovative, nimble, and relevant, just like a startup. That company is Coca Cola.

The VP's job (whose background is in Design) is make the company more entrepreneurial, so that they can disrupt themselves instead of being disrupted. That being said, it is still uneasy for such a big company to move fast. They also work on alternatives: co-creation with entrepreneurs outside the organization.

In Malaysia (and all around the globe), we've been seeing bank groups, media conglomerates and Telcos running tech startup-like programmes (accelerator, design sprint, design thinking, lean startup workshop etc) internally, as well as working on co-creation with external stakeholders, to catalyze intrapreneurship across organization.


President Obama (the Startup President) had a 140-strong all-star startup team, comprised of top digital talents from tech giants and startups. The objective of their existence is to reboot how the U.S. government works. One of the mandates is improving the lives of U.S. citizens through digital services.

📖🇺🇸 Read: Inside Obama’s Stealth Startup

President Obama has quietly recruited top tech talent from the likes of Google and Facebook. Their mission: to reboot how government works.

It tells a lot when you have a CTO for a country, and many digital roles under different government departments.

📖🇬🇧 Read: Government Digital Service: the best startup in Europe we can't invest in

UK government, on the other hands, is leading the world with its Digital Government Service office and flagship GOV.UK service.

UK Government do not just digitize human services. They humanize digital services too, and have a strong user experience team to execute just that.

They are taking a firm ‘Digital By Default’ approach to make sure delivery of user-centered services to its 60 million citizens. Not your ordinary government office, this office houses familiar roles that we often heard from a startup structure: tech geeks, data scientists, designers, user researchers.

Not only that they are delivering better services at reduced cost, such approach also help to spur the growth of local SMEs, by stimulating an ‘open’ platform for everyone: open data, open standards, open data, and open procurement.

Their approach has been studied by countries like Australia, New Zealand, and many more, including Malaysia.

The 🇸🇬 Singapore government is doing a good job in democratizing innovation for the public servants, by providing the necessary tool to thrive and do their jobs better. By building a tool like FormSG, the public officers in Singapore are now empowered to create their own digital forms to collect data. For example, to combat Covid-19 fake news.

They've deployed more than 20,000 digital forms!

By looking at their landing page, you learned that:

  • Forms can be built easily in minutes, no approval is required.

  • Striving to make Singapore government paperless

  • Preventing data leak

You can view more of their Open Government Products: https://open.gov.sg/

SMEs, nonprofits

"The economy is so bad"

"Yea, restaurants and shoplots are closing down one by one."

One of the main reasons behind these: digital disruption. These businesses are closing down because more and more people are buying or ordering online. Those who ride the wave right, are doing better than ever!

Not to forget, the line between the online (digital) and offline world is getting blurred. Back them, we often heard from people in China doing ‘e-commerce’, and today they will just say ‘commerce’, because ‘commerce’ today by default is digital or hybrid.

It’s not necessarily costly to innovate or adopt technology. Here’s few quick real life examples:

  • A 35 year old limousine driver in Kuala Lumpur used Google Ad to generate sales leads (little investment with high ROI many years ago, but getting more competitions today).

  • SPCA San Francisco used digital campaign to organize offline event with high turnout and received more than 100 corporate sponsorship leads.

  • A 20 year old hair saloon working on optimizing his Google Place & FB reviews, it doesn’t cost money and it works. F&B or local businesses (location-sensitive) should really pay attention to this.

  •  Taiwan's g0v.tw is an online community that pushes information transparency, focusing on developing information platform and tools for the citizens to participate in society. One of their projects is coFacts, to help validating fake news in LINE messaging apps.

  • A 50 year old traditional SME guy in Melaka is looking into Blockchain technology to supercharge his supply chain business. (Okay, this is costly, just to show you: it might be too late for you to realize when someone takeover you one day).

📖🇲🇾 Read: How a nonprofit TEDx event adopted digital marketing (& how you can do it too)

In the article above, I demonstrated some quick wins for nonprofit who want to start trying to go digital. I utilized the similar approaches for Startup Melaka community too:

  • using free online tool: design, email, media tracking, etc

  • monitoring news, events, job posting, and startup companies in Melaka

  • crawling online databases, approach them to join the community platform as members and partners, and/or share relevant updates to them

When we scale (with technology), everyone wins better

Are you an entrepreneur? intrapreneur? social entrepreneur or part-time entrepreneur?

With today's technology, this is made possible for everyone. You may not realize, you are already one or can easily be one. No matter which type of entrepreneur you are, we need more of you.