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5 big questions on innovation

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Pieter de Villiers, Founder and CEO, Clickatell

Pieter de Villiers, Founder and CEO

Pieter de Villiers is a South African born, Silicon Valley based entrepreneur with a passion for mobile and the empowerment it leads to. Pieter is also one of the youngest mobile industry veterans with over 14 years of experience in global telecoms, mobile messaging and mobile payments backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital. As the CEO and co-founder of Clickatell, Inc., a leading Global Provider of Application-2-Person Mobile…
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How is your team changing the game within your industry sector?

Building an organization or culture that embraces change is no easy task since both are a reflection of its people and most people do not like change — we are, after all, ‘creatures of habit’. However, I’ve found if the change or innovation is focused on efforts that improve, enhance, or simplify things you are already doing, it is generally accepted by smart organizations. You can then get those same smart people to innovate in areas outside of what you do today as long as you provide a clear “Vision” and “Why” to your people.


What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?

Not having a clear “Why” or “Vision” for the business that translates into relevance is a large impediment to enterprise innovation today. It is important for a company to know who and what it is and what is brings to the industry (example Kodak: Thinking of themselves as a paper or camera company instead of a company people associate with their most precious memories).

Not having the courage to manage stakeholder expectations as you invest for change is another innovation impediment. Executive teams are measured on how well they meet quarterly earnings expectations, so it is understandable that many would prefer to just “deliver the numbers” than take risks. However, this does not produce an environment conducive to change and innovation. It is better to manage expectations and know that as your technology or company changes, the measurement and expectations need to change too. 

Organizational agility and management ability to “re-tool” for change is a must have. Managing people is difficult enough, adding in the complexity of “re-tooling” the organization with training and hiring creates an additional burden to an already complex role as a manager. A manager without the skills to handle these issues impedes effective change and innovation.


How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?

At Clickatell, we are thinking a lot about our “Why” and our relevance in order to update our thinking and match it with our customer’s perspective. We have also allocated funding to new initiatives and products even though they only contribute to the bottom line in the “out years.” We have embraced new methodologies (agile/scrum) and tools/platforms as we design new solutions and optimize existing offers (Hadoop, Amazon- Cloud, etc.).


What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

Two years is a short time frame, so it will have to be those technologies that have some level of “mainstream” acceptance already. This would include mobile technologies with their super-size reach, Cloud Computing which improves speed to market and reduces start-up costs and lastly Big Data & Analytics which allows us to better understand our customer behavior and monetize in new ways.


Can you share a specific innovation strategy you’ve recently encountered which you find compelling?

People (typically product folks) that are very close to customers, engage them often and understand how they are using the product embody the innovation mindset. These are the same individuals who measure results frequently and are willing and/or able to iterate and invest in expanding/improving the organizations value proposition. I don’t feel there is a specific company to name because for me, there is no singular company that gets this right all the time.

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