August 18, 2020

Think big but make lots of small bets

Tom Salmon, CEO and cofounder of The Bakery, helped Unilever set up its Foundry programme and worked with companies from BMW to Google.

Kimberly Eynon

3 min read

    Tom Salmon is chief executive and cofounder of The Bakery, a London-based innovation consultancy started in 2013, which helps match up startups with big corporations. Among other things, they helped Unilever set up its Foundry startup collaboration programme. Sifted caught up with Salmon to hear more about how The Bakery works. 
    How do you define ‘innovation’ and how do you best describe your job?
    Real innovation means bringing something new to the market; at its most fundamental this might be a new product or service, but could be a change of business model, customer experience or a new approach for delivery of products or services that already exist.
    The Bakery is an innovation accelerator powered by a global network of entrepreneurs and startups. Our clients are some of the world’s biggest and best-loved brands, and we help them to rapidly launch and scale innovative new products and services.
    What do you think will be the biggest change in your industry in the post-Covid world?
    A disrupted and changing world creates a lot of new opportunities and challenges to be solved. Covid is changing the way we live, work, shop and socialise, and this is rapidly accelerating the need for businesses to become fully digital.
    What is your best communication or corporate storytelling tool when trying to convince someone of you / or your team’s new ideas? 
    We have built a global ideas network powered by startups and entrepreneurs with real products and technologies — these ideas can all be rapidly tested and iterated in-market, and we can therefore use actual data and insight, not just storytelling, to convince someone of the validity of an idea.
    How do you challenge yourself and your team to ‘think outside the box’?
    We think there are many different ways to solve a client’s challenge, and explore ideas using three core mantras:
    1. Start with the problem
    2. Think big, start small
    3. Make lots of small bets
    This enables us to think differently about the problem and consider a much wider array of solutions.  By working this way, we don’t put a limit on the ideas we can explore or the outcomes we can achieve.
    What is currently not working in corporate innovation?
    Corporate innovation works best when it is a fundamental and core activity of the business.
    However, currently this is often not the case; innovation is often something a corporate should be ‘seen to be doing’ — creating separate teams and programmes that are disconnected from the core business. This leads to a lot of ‘innovation theatre’, funded with small budgets taken from areas such as marketing, with a vague hope that something meaningful might come out of it if they are lucky.
    What advice would you give to a Head of Innovation during Covid-19?
    The business environment, the way we live, work, socialise and shop are all changing faster than ever as a result of Covid, and corporates need to innovate more than ever.
    For the first time, corporates should not be afraid of cannibalising their existing, pre-Covid business. They need to rapidly explore and test new products and services, find new business models, better customer experiences and delivery methods that work in this new world.
    What book has been most helpful to you in thinking about corporate innovation?
    There are lots of great books on innovation especially in technology and startups that are essential reading: The Innovators Dilemma, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Zero to One, The Lean Startup, Blue Ocean Strategy — the list is endless — but one we especially liked and was inspiring to us when we started The Bakery is titled Baked In by Alex Bogusky. This talks about how great products have their marketing “Baked In” through the development process — it takes a customer-centric view of the product where marketing (how a product is sold, and who it’s sold to) is not just an afterthought but is completely integral to the design of the product.