Before she started serving the mobility market, Brynne Kennedy had been a long time “customer” of it. The former professional gymnast turned investment banker had relocated three times between 2006 and 2009. In that time, she had shipped boxes to Hong Kong, India and Singapore. The stressful yet exhilarating experience of packing her life in one location and unpacking it at a completely new one, learning a whole new way to be proved to be an experience she wouldn’t exchange for anything. But as a customer of the mobility market, Brynne had seen how inefficient the logistics of it were.
Could it be improved?
To answer that question, in 2010 Brynne packed all of her belongings one last time. The shipping address she wrote on the boxes was London, UK. Brynne had been accepted for an MBA program at the London Business School to explore an alternative to processes behind how employees moved to new locations. No one had attempted to bring a software solution to what seemed a complex puzzle of services offerings. Brynne planned to spend the next two years finding out whether the market, and in particular large enterprises, were ready for what she had to offer.
I have always looked for intellectual challenges – disrupting the enterprise was the ultimate one.
One of the seminal works Brynne explored during her MBA was Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma” and his disruptive innovation theory. Christensen famously examinedwhether companies like Netflix and Uber have rightfully deserved the label “disruptor”, by evaluating which markets they approached first and by looking at how they built their business models. A framework for successful application still doesn’t exist.
Christensen’s ideas shaped heavily how Brynne’s thinking evolved and how she could utilise his ideas to disrupt the mobility market, create a new category and successfully sell to the enterprises. In 2012, while still at LBS, she launched MOVE Guides.
Five years later, MOVE Guides is the biggest SaaS platform for moving workforce in the world and has successfully executed a technologically enabled disruption. It employs hundreds of people in offices on three continents, it works with some of the largest corporations in the world, and it has raised $90 million in venture funding. The following is the framework she came up with to ignite a successful disruptive innovation.
Deep customer discovery
A disruptive solution is a hard sell for many reasons. Customers may not fully grasp the extent of the problem; they do not recognise that there could be a solution; the proposed innovation is too abstract to understand. When all of that is brought in to the context of enterprises, there is also a high degree of reluctance to adopt a new solution.
The MBA was the ideal setting for Brynne to research her potential customers. She had decided early on that she would use the opportunity to do as much customer development as possible. While Brynne had experienced the difficulty of relocation herself, she knew that the primary user of an improved service would be the HR professionals. If they had the right tools in their hands, they could manage the entire process and in turn, make it easier for the mobile workforce.
Brynne reached out to a number of HR leaders to ask for feedback. She asked them about their current frustrations, where they saw opportunity in the market and what their ideal solution would be. It wasn’t a one-off thing, however. She worked on sustaining a long-term relationship with them so that they could become her trusted advisors.
The more she spoke with them, the more thorough a picture she began to have about their pain points. Complying with localised specifics such as national regulations, employment entitlements protected under legislation, and a web of national and bank holidays was only just the beginning. Each move came with a raft of paperwork to ensure all of the necessary visa and immigration issues were adequately dealt with. This often meant sharing information on personnel, which impacts a host of privacy laws.
Many HR professionals were keen to have a more data-driven automated solution for all of these challenges within the mobility market.
Would that keenness then translate into a willingness to buy, however?
Brynne used the close-knitted group of HR leaders to show them early product designs and to get their feedback on her thinking. They were a litmus test throughout every step of the way and MOVE Guides were iterated based on their feedback.
Do the smallest possible solution
One of Christensen’s conclusions had been that the technological enablers of disruptions are most successfully deployed against the industry’s simplest problems first. Only then do they build commercial and technological momentum upon that foothold and improve, progressively displacing the old, high-cost approach of services.
I knew that we had a very, very large vision and that we had to tackle it in stages.
Brynne needed to be realistic about how she approached the enterprises and what she offered to do for them because to win them she needed to execute to perfection.
While Brynne’s ambitions and aspirations were to change the mobility space fundamentally, she had to start small. “Penetrating and owning one segment is a key theme in Christensen’s thinking.” Only once you own it can you expand from there to the higher value segments.
What was the least competitive entry point in the market, the area that gave the most limited amount of risk and highest chance to successfully prove the company, she wondered?
The workflow involving a move begins much earlier than the actual relocation and continues long after the actual physical relocation, because it involves many changes in the contracts of employees, what benefits they will receive, compliance with local laws, etc. However, it is relocation with all its complexity of managing a supply chain that is the most problematic and difficult part.
Even the smallest improvement offered could make a huge difference for the busy HR practitioners.
A platform that took care of the communication with the supply chain was shaping up as the appropriate MVP. It would act as the single point of operations, instead of a dozen different people over phone and email.
Relocation also offered multiple sources of income for the company – not simply the sales to the solution but also a commission from the transactions and the use of the supply chain services as part of the relocation services.
However, relocation itself was still too big to tackle. She had to narrow things down even more.
Start at the right foothold in the market
To figure this one out, Brynne followed Christensen’s advice on the best pockets for breeding disruption – low-end and new-market footholds. Low-end disruption refers to the bottom of the market, where customers are served in a good enough way at the start. New-market disruption, on the other hand, happens where there is no consumption in lower margin sectors of the market, where again, a good enough solution will suffice. Massively underserved by competitors, or completely non-existent, they are perfect for disruption.
These smaller markets are used as the guinea-pigs and test labs that help the technologies advance enough to play in the big boys league.
After careful consideration, Brynne figured that her test bed had to be on relatively small technology and financial companies.
For starters, they would be more open to technological solutions for their mobility needs. Due to their size, they would be easier to navigate in order to get to the right people.
Within relocation, there were different segments – from graduate programs to expatriate and short-term move markets. The latter two included many tax and immigration processes which made them very complicated. It was an expertise that the MOVE Guides would have to accumulate with time.
Graduate hires straight out of university, however, were ideal.
Typically, graduate students self-manage a move with a budget which they are given in cash by the company. Unlike expatriates, the offering of what is involved in the move is limited as they do not have families, which would require much more supply chain services, such as kindergartens and schools.
Graduates in smaller tech and financial companies was to be her foothold. She had her disruptive innovation ready to take off. Now it was time to start selling.
Have a meticulous sales plan for easy triage
From the conversations Brynne had had with HR practitioners, she knew that they would be interested immediately, but she should not confuse that with an actual willingness to buy.
She couldn’t waste precious time on selling to a company that was only curious.
“We built a sales organization around the idea of deep qualification within the sales process and forecasting and delivering commit deals. We used qualification criteria which we designed for the industry to dictate if a prospect was ready to buy or just interested in learning.”
If they were ready to buy, the company would support them heavily. If not, they would be brought back to the nurturing cycle with marketing.
Brynne worked on a very rigid plan for what happens at the first call, the second, what happens at the meeting. For a while she was the one selling because this way she kept on learning how the HR practitioners were responding to the offering.
The MOVE Guides sales organisation, as well as the rest of the company, remained nimble because Brynne realised she only needed to “have enough gun powder for the next battle.” Each sale could come with a fundamental shift necessary to accommodate. “We needed to have a very agile organisation.”
What became clear early on was that people only believed in the strength of the product when they saw it.
Do a demo early on
While the general advice is to do a demo at the very end of the sales cycle, MOVE Guides had to turn the process around.
I found that the strength of the product spoke for itself. It was new and unique, and often times people couldn’t believe it until they saw the full demo.
In an unscalable manner, Brynne sat down with HR practitioners and ran them through the product very thoroughly. She asked for specific use cases and then showed them how they would use it.
A new category and industry which had never seen a solution before had very little in the form of a frame of reference.
Even as people saw the demo of the product, there was still an element of disbelief. Especially because Brynne had chosen a more services based solution at the start; so she had to prove her ability to execute.
Offer an unscalable pilot program
“We had to prove the ability to execute.” That was another unscalable but essential step for convincing.
The next step on the sales cycle was a pilot program. Brynne would say to prospects, ‘Let us take care of your next move.”
“We wanted customers to start small with us – for a segment or business unit or region – and get to know us.”
It was an even more unscalable way to gain customers but it would prove vital.
As companies saw the successful execution powered by both the services element as well the strength of the product itself and the satisfaction from employees, they expanded to a full sale more than 90% of the time.
In the next two years, Brynne and MOVE Guides practised and repeated that to perfection, all the while building the supply chain and knowledge for the intricate immigration and tax policies that they would have to know to serve segments like expatriates and short-term moves. In 2014, MOVE Guides began serving the expatriate segment and as of recently has also started to serve short and long-term moves as well.
Brynne packed boxes one more time, when in 2016 she moved permanently to Silicon Valley, a move she says is essential when selling to enterprises.
Sell the bigger mission
Brynne had never been naive about what it was going to take for her idea to take off. It wasn’t just a whim, and to be able to make it, she had to steadfastly believe in the bigger mission of what she was trying to achieve.
No one believes in the mission as much as the founder does. You have to be the chief customer developer and salesperson in the beginning.
Brynne believed in the movement of people and that as an experience it was emotional undergoing, where both the company, but mostly the employee, could use a lot of help and support. She had packed boxes many times and knew well how it felt. She could also see how the world was changing and companies relied more and more on global offices and people moving around them.
Brynne had seen how it had changed her. That steadfast belief would keep her going in the long journey. It’s one of the key lessons in Christensen’s thinking – disruption is a process. Brynne is prepared to work at it, however long it takes.