‘Fail-fast’ philosophy fuels innovation at Cornastone

Cornastone Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd

2016 winner of the MTN Award for Excellence in the Management of Innovation
Category for medium enterprises

‘Fail-fast’ philosophy fuels innovation at Cornastone

Nothing succeeds like failure: the faster you embrace and process your failures, the more likely it is that success will follow. Just watch any child getting to grips with life.

“Kids start to learn by failing. In business, you have to anticipate and plan for potential failure. Except we don’t see it as failure, we see it as learning. When we fail, we learn how not to do it the next time,” says Ansu Sooful, managing director of Cornastone Telecommunications.

The notion of failing fast is not just an unusual business philosophy; it’s a real and practical way of seeking innovation and this is why a “fail-fast” culture is deeply embedded in the way Cornastone works.

“We have a formalised innovation process, driven by our Thinktank, with multiple gates to pass through,” says Sooful.

Innovations go through gates

Thinktank is a monthly gathering where Cornastone’s senior managers and specialists consider new ideas and review existing innovation projects.

“You get a five-minute slot to present your idea. If we like it, we give you resources and a budget, and three months for a proof of concept,” Sooful says. “Three months – that’s the first innovation gate.”

If no real progress has been made after three months, the company pulls the plug on the project. “If nothing has happened in three months, nothing is going to happen,” he says simply.

But if the first three months have produced real results, the idea receives the green light again. “You get more budget and another three months – that’s the second gate.”

And so it goes, passing three-month gate after three-month gate for a year. Ideas that are still standing after the first year and have reached or exceeded all the defined milestones then receive backing from Cornastone. “That means big budget and a drive to commercialise,” Sooful says.

But it doesn’t mean the earnings will come flowing in thick and fast – not yet, anyway.

Innovate now, profit later

“With our innovations, the drive is to be making money in a three-year timeframe. The first two years are spent on full-blown development and in year three, the focus shifts to marketing and sales,” says Sooful.

The innovation that particularly impressed the TT100 adjudicators – Cornastone’s Data Discovery solution – actually took longer than three years to come to fruition. “Data Discovery was in development for the last five years and is only growing and generating revenue now.”

Data Discovery is a Big Data platform that is able to ingest large volumes of data in any format – video, text, images, audio, business data and social media. The platform provides real-time analytics to deliver comprehensive business insight.

The point to remember about innovation, Sooful says, is this: “Most innovations only start generating returns in three to five years and you therefore always need to have several initiatives on the go. I believe that in business we have to assume our current revenue stream will not exist in the next three years. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for the next innovation. We never stop.”