I recently sat down with Warrick Cramer, CEO of Tomorrow Street, Vodafone’s global innovation accelerator, to talk through what he sees as the challenges facing the Telco sector and how supplier collaboration can be part of the solution.
DT: Before we start, it would be great to give people reading this an overview on what drove Vodafone to take a new technology approach and create Tomorrow Street
WC: We needed to do something different in the world and pull innovation from being a token gesture, where a lot of corporate organisations say ‘we do innovation’ (but they don’t play and nothing really meaningful comes out of it)… So over the last while I have been really committed to building a global brand with Tomorrow Street and now, within the venture capital community and the startup world, we are starting to be recognised as a meaningful centre for innovation. We are seeing that the companies that have been brought into Tomorrow Street are very successful, so the model works.
DT: With this global oversight, what do you feel are the biggest challenges the telco sector is facing?
WC: The digital age is advancing rapidly and in the telco world supplier collaboration & innovation is critical to long-term survival. In the near future, smaller and more nimble suppliers will become vital to the success of all telco companies. This is one of the key goals of Tomorrow Street – to find and cultivate ambitious companies that can change the world.
“Strategic collaboration between companies and across industries will be highly important in the coming years.”
DT: If you could change one thing about your sector, what would it be?
WC: The telco sector is by its nature highly competitive, and due to the rise of technologies such as the Internet of Things the sector faces major disruption and huge opportunities. Strategic collaboration between companies and across industries will be highly important in the coming years.
DT: Speaking of adapting, being an entrepreneur is extremely different from being in the corporate world. What made you join Vodafone?
WC: I sold my last company about four years ago and realized that one thing in my life I’d never done was work for someone and work in a corporate environment. To be open and honest, I didn’t know if I would be able to survive. When you’re an entrepreneur and you own a company, you can make decisions and choose whichever path you want to go down. In a corporate environment you don’t have that same level of autonomy because you have several different layers within the business. Coming to Vodafone was a big test for me because I’ve never worked for anyone, ever. It was really a personal mission to see if I was flexible enough to be able to survive in any environment and make a difference. I really developed as an entrepreneur. I’m happy to say that I can look back two years later and think, yes, I can make a difference.
DT: How did Vodafone come up with the Tomorrow Street idea and how is it making an impact?
WC: Throughout my whole working career, my vision has always been to make a difference in the world, no matter what I do. That’s what drives me – not money, not fame – to enrich people’s lives, do something totally different and really make a difference. When I came to Vodafone, I looked at this huge machine and thought, wow, how am I going to do this? I took a step back and looked at my own path and what had been missing for me.
The one thing, which is consistent with all other entrepreneurs, is that we speak different languages. We have a corporate language and a small startup language that are very different. Was there a way we could build something to bridge this gap, and also help these companies develop their businesses in a great environment with the right support? That’s what Tomorrow Street is. It’s really about taking these smaller companies, bringing them into Vodafone and giving them the right support structures to develop and navigate through the different stages.
DT: What makes this model unique?
WC: Most of the corporate programs that exist out in the market are there to support early-stage startups through R&D-focused activities. There are tens of thousands of accelerators and incubators to choose from in the US and even in Europe. We thought about what we could do that’s different and quickly realized that we are sitting in Luxembourg with a fantastic procurement machine. This is a central hub where suppliers from all around the world come and interact with us on a daily basis.
Entrepreneurship is all about networks. Building a network is crucial. Without it you just don’t survive. We decided we could build innovation by connecting the dots and giving companies introductions and up-front exposure that they normally would not have. We also wanted to be a niche player and really focus on what we do. Everything I’ve done has always been about focus. We did not want to replicate anyone else. We carved out a niche in the market. After the point when companies reach series A funding, there is really no support for them. There are a few consulting-type programs, but no true support and go-to-market strategy help.
DT: Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us Warrick