Eighteen months ago, three colleagues and I took on a new
challenge. A challenge never previously undertaken at Deloitte
– build the firm's first start-up.
If the feat wasn't already large enough, our aim was to
build a start-up for start-ups called
Propel by Deloitte - an accounting and analytics service that
could empower ambitious start-ups and small businesses to
grow. This meant accessing a new market and engaging a new
It all began in early 2015 when the business idea was submitted
to the Innovation investments scheme, the firm's initiative to
encourage its entrepreneurial employees to turn their start-up
ideas into businesses. On the one hand, it offered a fantastic
opportunity to access a new market and serve start-ups in an
innovative way. On the other hand, it meant fundamentally
challenging the way we deliver some of our core services,
implementing best-in-class technology and
automation to make the service affordable for growing
businesses whilst continuously monitoring associated risks.
We pitched to the Innovation investments board and were given a
limited budget and 6 months to build a prototype and prove demand.
To do this, we went out and engaged 20 pilot clients to take part
in a three month trial. As you might imagine, there was a steep
learning curve(!!) and plenty of challenges:
The brand challenge
As we set about our market research and followed a number of
start-ups around, we realised our audience anticipated a number of
barriers in working with a business built by a large corporate. In
response, we committed to building a service and brand that was
true to three core values: approachability,
innovation and affordability.
The technology challenge
We started the pilot before building any of our technology by
working only with our minimal viable product – as all good
start-ups should! Whilst this may seem unusual in our traditional
modus-operandi, it gave us the flexibility to collaborate with our
pilot clients and pivot the service to ensure it truly delivered
insight and addressed some of the longstanding headaches
entrepreneurs and their management team's face. Ultimately, it
meant we were able to not only learn from the pilot but action
those learnings and make changes ahead of finalising the service
The cultural challenge
It is widely acknowledged that statistically most start-ups will
fail. A tough pill to swallow, especially in a corporate world.
However, it was a risk the firm was willing to take in recognition
of the importance of innovation to our clients, our people and
indeed, the future of our firm. As the end of our six month pilot
approached (at what felt like a rate of knots), we had some very
challenging targets to reach such as sales pipeline, service
delivery and revenue potential. However we managed to reach them
all, and actually, I would argue that our limited budget and hard
deadlines really helped us to focus, prioritise and go the extra
Following a raft of
positive feedback, and the conversion of the majority of our
pilot clients to paying customers, we launched Propel by Deloitte in June 2016 and
haven't looked back. We now have the privilege of working with
some really fantastic and ambitious start-ups, and continue to
evolve the service to make it even more valuable for clients. For
me, our proudest achievement is the high number of client referrals
we have received to date. This is the ultimate endorsement and one
we continue to strive for every day.
Propel has paved the way for a number of other exciting business
ideas to develop and flourish within the firm. It is Deloitte's
first example of intrapreneurship in action but it certainly
won't be the last. The firm's entrepreneurs are mobilising.
Watch this space.
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