A culture of customer experience, curiosity and driving change – that’s what is guiding Spark Ventures, the internal incubator and accelerator for Spark – New Zealand’s leading telecommunications company – and it’s portfolio of ventures. The CEO at the helm of this one year-old unit – Rod Snodgrass – is a sixth-generation Kiwi passionate about driving change and innovation. With an extensive background in the industry, as well as in economics and finance, Rod’s mandate is to deliver what he calls ‘long-term health’ for Spark – creating new businesses and revenues through being bold, agile and different.
How does digital come into play?
Spark Ventures is really focused around delivering connected digital experiences which consumers love. We’re here to make magic! In order to make that happen, we will need to charter a new way of doing things for the Spark group, build deeper partnerships, and grow future talent. This will allow us to create value and deliver long term health. As part of this we adopt fit-for-purposes approaches such as lean start-up and agile approaches. We are increasingly design-driven and have a very strong digital focus.
How is digital helping telcos stay relevant?
Telcos had a really good run in the late 1990s and early 2000s when we were swimming in the fast parts of the river with mobile and internet growth exploding. Then in the mid-2000s the growth slowed down, competition increased and more regulation came into play. So companies had to react and become much more competitive and customer-focused. Furthermore, the complete disruption of the over-the-tops has compounded the challenge as they have been delivering what the consumers really value so value has flowed towards the OTT’s and the consumer. If you want to survive in this world you must remain relevant to the consumer. This is particularly so with Generation Y or C – the connected generation that’s not age-based – who want instantaneous gratification. Unless you remain relevant, are mobile-centered, are using cloud and apps, digital and design, you’re going to be irrelevant and one step removed from the end-user where the value is moving away from. Being removed from the end consumer is not a good place to be.
What’s your advice for a leader who is trying to drive change?
If you want to change, you have to be willing to embrace disruption and rethink your mental and business models. I see disruption as a positive word if you apply it in the right ways in the right places. I would measure change as better consumer outcomes and experiences. To do this you need to adopt new approaches, have new behaviours and mindsets and importantly build and foster new talent which also means pursuing diversity across a broad spectrum – gender, culture and thought etc. in order to build strong teams and drive good outcomes. I also think failure is part of the learning process, so fail fast and fail cheap and learn from it. Be ready to pivot and also shutdown. Don’t persevere with something that clearly isn’t working to the point of shutdown. Shut it down early. Ultimately, you need to have a vision for driving an outcome for the consumer and a recognition of what you are good at versus the rest of the pack. What’s your competitive advantage or right to play?
What makes Spark’s digital initiatives different from those at other telcos?
I think where we’re different is that our mandate [which is to be an internal incubator and accelerator for Spark, adopting disruptive approaches and start-up methods to build a portfolio of ventures] gives us a lot more freedom and flexibility. Whilst we’re small, we’re able to move a lot faster to embrace digital, disruption and design – the three D’s. We are open to partnering and have invested in third party companies to support our strategies and ventures. We consciously decided we didn’t want to build or 100% own these businesses but rather invest in and support businesses who were already great at what we wanted to do. I think where we’re also different is that we’re very open and embracing of change with a culture of curiosity and trying things. If they work we adopt them, if they don’t we simply drop them and move on.
What’s your vision for the unit?
Ultimately I would like us [Spark] to be seen as the most innovative corporation in New Zealand and as the most innovative communications company in the world. To do this we have to deliver our mission and create awesome connected digital experiences for consumers. And to do that we must develop the new ways of working, build partnerships and foster and grow talent. If we deliver this then we will create value for our shareholders and that will give us the right to reinvest for further growth.
What’s driving your passion for your role?
I love change and this role allows me to pursue that in a business context. It’s incredibly important for the company, for us to do this… to change and to move to digital and become more customer-centric and indeed relevant. So I took on the challenge and I’d like to see us deliver great consumer experiences, new ways of working, strong enduring partnerships, our future talent and long term business health and value. Ultimately this will help deliver a stronger and more relevant brand in the hearts and minds of the consumer. Finally, it’s also important to have some fun. You spend a huge chunk of your life at work so you better enjoy it. Have some fun and celebrate your successes.
What inspired you to work in this area?
In terms of inspiration, I’m a huge believer in the internet, as I saw it as a thing that was going to change the world, and people like Steve Jobs who have the vision and tenacity to both see and drive for change. A lot of people think that what can be done with the internet and technology has already been done, but I think it’s only really just starting. When you think about super fast connectivity, powerful mobile devices, cloud, apps, wearable tech, big data and the likes of augmented reality, you can believe almost anything is possible. Just think back to Star Trek in the late 60’s and the “Communicator” and the “Replicator.” Only 50 years later we have the mobile and 3D printer. I’m a very curious person and I think things can always be better. So why not have a go at making it so?