Monkey Business: How Companies Can Use Innovation to Rule the Jungle


Babson College's Dr. Jay Rao during our executive workshop on Sept 12-13

Even though at first you might be thinking this post was sponsored by Animal Planet given the title, this has nothing to do with animals. We’re talking innovation, a jungle all on its own.

Monkeys, Chimps and Gorillas are terms coined by Geoffrey Moore in this book The Gorilla Game to describe major players in a specific market and it’s a valuable framework to understand your company’s position in the marketplace and identifying areas where you can innovate.

Moore’s analogy came up again and again at a workshop we hosted last September 12th and 13th, along with Babson College and Wyncode Academy. The executive workshop called “From Dinosaurs to Unicorns: Leading Innovation with an Entrepreneurial Mindset” took place at our Miami campus. We were joined by almost forty executives from well known companies and organizations such as Oracle, Knight Foundation, Greenberg Traurig, United Way, and Softtek. Attendees were looking to learn innovation tools that would help them succeed in the era of digital transformations.

Monkeys, Chimps and Gorillas have a lot in common — and one obvious difference: size. Dr. Jay Rao, a Babson College professor, lectured extensively on this analogy during our executive workshop. His insights completely changed our perception of what it means to be a monkey in an industry full of gorillas. We asked ourselves: is there a way for monkeys and chimps to beat gorillas? Are gorillas the real kings of the industry? It is, in fact, relative and circumstantial.

The way a business is categorized in this animal system is directly related to market shares. For example, in the beverage/soda industry, Coca-Cola is considered a Gorilla, while AJE Group, a Peruvian multinational company known for their Big Cola beverage, would be considered a Chimp or medium sized multinational. Similarly, a local craft soda from the bar down the street would be a monkey.

Laura believes a few things can influence a company culture: the people, the company’s mission, values, workplace practices, and even the office design (decoration, furniture, ping-pong tables, etc.) It’s been proven that employee happiness and satisfaction is linked to a strong workplace culture. All of these tools can help you achieve it. In fact, at TheVentureCity, our meeting rooms are more like brainstorming living rooms with couches and bean bags, which was an intentional decision to move away from the traditional meeting room with tables and chairs. We wanted to create rooms that inspired creativity and a more human interaction, where people are sitting Even though in terms of market shares AJE ranks as the 21st largest soft drink firm worldwide, it is the 5th largest in Latin America, with quick expansions to other areas such as Indonesia. AJE began expanding outside of its native Peru in 1999. That was less than 20 years ago. This means that, in less than two decades, they’ve grown enough to become a quasi-Gorilla — and to be considered as a potential global contender of traditional giants such as Coca-Cola and Our CEO and Founder here at TheVentureCity, Laura González-Estéfani, formerly at Facebook, is a true believer that culture and innovation is even more important than a business strategy. During our workshop, Laura said that company culture “can either strengthen or undermine your business and the objectives it’s trying to achieve.”acrossUnderstandably, creating a new company culture might feel like a giant leap out of your comfort zone — especially for the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. Getting rid of a traditional mindset and transforming into a more creative, open and adaptive one is challenging, but it is the only way to succeed.This demonstrates that it is, indeed, possible for monkeys to fight gorillas, when focusing on a more local and regional approach. Also, beyond market share, growth rate is a key indicator of success. While PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have either maintained or decreased their growth rate, AJE has continuously increased theirs year after year.So how can you successfully make your monkey business grow until it becomes a grand silverback?Innovation plays a vital role. In fact, the way you enter a market will mostly define the potential of overthrowing gorillas. First of all, define what makes you different and research your market; find the right place and start locally (or regionally), while keeping internationalization in the back of your mind. Once you launch your monkey business, don’t forget what really matters: your audience and your employees.And remember, all gorillas were monkeys once!Sometimes, it’s really hard not to get caught up in your own strategy and your own business. After all, it’s your baby monkey! But think beyond what is right in front of you. You and your monkey are part of a broader ecosystem; by keeping up with it and its audience, you will have a better chance at surviving — and conquering it!Lastly, focus on creating and nurturing your own company culture. From day one, strategize what kind of company you want to lead and is it a company you would want to work for? Just a decade ago, concepts like unlimited vacations or “Bring your Pet to Work Day” were considered crazy ideas, however these kind of things are what create company culture. At the end of the day, the first measure of a company’s success are its employees. They are the ones really helping your baby monkey grow into an impressive chimp and gorilla on a day-to-day basis, so they should be your №1 brand ambassadors. from one another.And, to be clear, this analogy does not only apply to the soda business. This happens in almost every industry around the world, including oil, airlines, computers, telephones, automobile, and even musical instruments. It’s a common denominator for success.If you start implementing these strategies early in the game, you will increase your chances of success so do not be afraid to think outside the box. After all, all great innovations were once seen as just ‘another crazy idea.’In our modern, tech-oriented world, data is everything. Use it as a weapon to change the direction of your business. Let your audience act as a compass that will guide you to success. Learn to appreciate and love change, rather than seeing it as a threat.She also explained how having a great company culture can help you attract the right people for your team later on. When you think about it, it makes complete sense: people want to work at companies where they feel they’ll be happy, inspired and taken care of. Take a look at some of the companies that consistently rank as top companies to work for : Facebook, Google, Spotify, Apple, Netflix. What’s so special about them and why are their employees so happy? Easy: great, innovative company culture!For this reason, we saw the need to make our ‘students’ feel uncomfortable and intimidated in order to boost their desire to innovate — and what better way to feel challenged than by putting executives with no prior coding experience through a coding bootcamp?For the second day of the workshop, we partnered with Wyncode Academy, who taught an introductory coding course. We witnessed firsthand how the once intimidated and apprehensive business leaders were filled with curiosity and amazed at how relatively simple coding could be. They came to understood the importance of learning new technologies and staying ahead of the curve.This hands-on experience was mind-opening for the participants. They expressed their plans to bring these new learnings to their businesses in order to cultivate a company culture centered around innovation, while growing and adapting their business to the digital era. For example, Peter Flores, CTO of Dalent Medical, said that the workshop was “was a perfect shot of energy and inspiration” and that it will help him “plot” his next 6 months at each other instead of Focus your efforts and energies on your customers; they will be the real drivers for change. They are the ones that will determine whether you succeed or fail so pay attention to the metrics that directly relate to them and change the direction of your sails based on this data.Victor Servín, CTO at TheVentureCity, followed Dr. Rao’s lecture on the monkey analogy, to speak on this importance of being comfortable with fast-paced change. Victor has had first-hand experience with many different businesses through his 20+ years in the telco and tech industry. He stated that the only way to survive in this ever-changing ecosystem is to embrace change, while paying close attention to data. In other words: be innovative or be out. It reiterated Dr. Rao’s message to monkeys: if you ever want to be a gorilla, you have to innovate.