Lessons from Corporate Innovators

Wil Morgan – Portfolio Manager at Jaguar Land Rover

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Wil Morgan has been an investment manager, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Now he has a fascinating role inside Jaguar Land Rover around corporate innovation. We have an awesome conversation to start Season 3 of Agile Giants, both focusing on his current work at JLR as well as lessons across his career for traditional and corporate entrepreneurs. One of the things I really appreciated about our conversation was focused on making connections (both internally and externally) Wil was across the innovation ecosystem for Jaguar Land Rover.

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  • Reach out to Wil Morgan via his LinkedIn


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Full Transcript

Sean Ammirati (00:08):
Welcome to Agile Giants, lessons from corporate innovators. I’m Sean Ammirati, your host, Co-Founder and Director of the Carnegie Mellon Corporate Startup Lab and partner at the early stage venture capital fund, Birchmere Ventures.

Sean Ammirati (00:22):
Each week, I’m going to talk to guests who are experts at creating startups inside large corporations. I believe fundamentally, a startup within a company is the same as one inside the proverbial garage, a group of entrepreneurs, trying to make the world a better place using new ideas and inventions. However, I also believe some of the techniques and processes are just inherently different. This podcast is going to explore those similarities and differences.

Sean Ammirati (00:56):
Welcome back to season three of Agile Giants. Man, this is just a ton of fun and boy, do I have some great episodes queued up for this third season. Starting with a really interesting conversation with Wil Morgan, Wil’s part of the Jaguar Land Rover innovation labs group and we’ll talk a little bit in the podcast about how he works with startups and helps bring outside in innovation into the JLR world. Also, talk about how he reports in and some really interesting lessons learned and thoughts in general for other groups trying to set up similar innovation initiatives within their company.

Sean Ammirati (01:34):
Wil is an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist, and now a corporate innovator. And I think he’s an excellent start for season three of Agile Giants. Wil, I really appreciate you making the time to chat with us on Agile Giants here. Maybe as a place to get started, if you could just give the audience a quick thumbnail on your background and how you got to Jaguar.

Wil Morgan (02:03):
Yeah, sure. No, it’s great being here and thanks for having me on. Well, I got my degree at Columbia University. I studied international finance and I worked for a family office where I was focused on investing both private and public markets. And it’s been an interesting journey, really that’s gotten me here. I also worked at a startup, Mind Body. I helped them with their IPO. So a lot of digging into the strategy and the data and such.

Wil Morgan (02:34):
I also founded an investment management firm focused on the water space. So a lot of clean technology and such around that. And prior to Jaguar Land Rover, I was working for a company called Collaboration Capital, where I was the Deputy CIO and we were investing across sustainability, so socially responsible and EST related investments in the Bay area and in Texas.

Wil Morgan (02:58):
And then this opportunity came up and I joined the team here and never looked back. It’s been an awesome space to be in, really, and so fascinating, sitting at the nexus between corporate innovation, working with startups, assessing pain points internally in corporations and really looking to accelerate those projects in such an investment, so that’s kind of the path that got me here.

Sean Ammirati (03:27):
That’s awesome. And so to summarize, it’s like venture investor, as well as doing other kind of investment, then almost entrepreneur and now a corporate entrepreneur, right. And corporate interface for innovation.

Sean Ammirati (03:39):
I’m curious in that if you go back to when you had that second hat on, when you were an entrepreneur and you were helping startups across a range of different sizes from an IPO like Mind Body to a brand new early stage company, what do you now appreciate about how corporations do innovation and how corporations work with startups that maybe you wouldn’t have appreciated back then? Or what advice might you give the Wil working at a startup after these experiences you’ve had now inside a large corporate?

Wil Morgan (04:13):
I think, focus on user journey and really understand the internal pain points and it can be challenging. These corporations are large, but I think asking the right questions and telling your pitch to the specifics of whatever the corporate entity might be, taking that time upfront, perhaps if you have a meeting with maybe if it’s the CVC or the innovation folks, ask those questions, to really dive in a little deeper.

Wil Morgan (04:44):
And then if you took a little bit of extra time, maybe throw in a couple of extra slides, or in your email that maybe focus on those areas and also tailoring your picture on that as well, because to the extent that which you’re able to point to the different areas that your technology is applicable internally, that can help accelerate things, I think. So I think that would probably be one piece of advice.

Sean Ammirati (05:11):
That’s awesome. And I think the other thing, and this doesn’t have to be about Jaguar Land Rover specifically, but just more generally corporate innovation. I also think when people with your background end up integrated into these companies, part of the benefit is almost cultural, right? They bring some expertise from being part of the startup ecosystem and end up helping the companies appreciate things that they may under appreciate. What are some things that you think corporates should learn from the startup community?

Wil Morgan (05:47):
Well, I think one point is the boundaries between different departments, different functionalities, to a certain extent, need to break down. There needs to be more collaboration amongst the folks focused on artificial intelligence, infotainment. I’m just making this up-

Sean Ammirati (06:06):

Wil Morgan (06:06):
… in order to look at the problems and solve them across the entity. So a bit of agility and a bit of flexibility within that context. As it were, removing the friction to coming up with a solution and working across departments, I think could be very helpful when working with a startup and also really focusing on what the mutual benefits.

Wil Morgan (06:32):
So I think you need to really look at this startup and how it’s symbiotic to that extent and the ways that you can collaborate because it’s an area I think where there can be just fantastic rewards whereby you are in effect, open sourcing your R&D, your innovation and collaborating with the smartest folks in the room, and everyone can benefit.

Wil Morgan (06:57):
But you don’t want to have blockers that might be in place because of some hierarchy or separation between departments and such. That’s one thought.

Sean Ammirati (07:07):
I think related to that, just what jumps out to me is, I think these companies need to make this choice, which is, I don’t think it’s an ‘or’ I think it’s an ‘and’ but what do you choose to allocate to each of these? What do you buy? What do you build internal? What do you do through partnership?

Sean Ammirati (07:25):
And buy doesn’t necessarily always mean full M&A. It also can mean by part of the company through a CVC type structure. But how do you think companies should think about solving problems across those three different tactics?

Wil Morgan (07:40):
That’s a great question. I would say, firstly, it’s almost an exercise of optimization of your time and say from an R&D perspective. We think about A). We can build this internally. It would take X amount of engineers, this amount of time to get there, or is this the most value-add activity, or should we be partnering with, or investing in, or finding a startup that has really solved that, and then we’ll work on other things?

Wil Morgan (08:11):
So I think defining your core competencies in the areas by which you feel as an entity internally, we need to build this. This is part of our DNA. This is part of our competitive edge and focus on that. And then look to optimize accessing the external ecosystem of startups around those different areas that, “Hey, okay, let’s work with partners on this.”

Wil Morgan (08:36):
So I think a finer, sharpening your pencil around that area of that optimization can really enhance, call it in the end of the day, your competitive mode and your allocation of time. I mean, now these days with the pandemic and everything that’s happening, everyone’s focused on near-term, we’re getting things done and you need to be efficient.

Wil Morgan (08:57):
And I think frankly right now is a great time to innovate with the external ecosystem. You’re engaging with others, so you can spend your time more wisely.

Sean Ammirati (09:09):
Yeah, that’s awesome. I just want to pick up on that thread again and just pull a little harder on it because I think one of the things that you’ve done a good job of, that other people in similar roles to yours could learn from is when you’re engaging with that ecosystem, I think you’re doing it from what I’ve seen, you’re doing it both directly with the startups, as well as with the kind of nodes that aggregate a bunch of startups. Right?

Sean Ammirati (09:34):
So with the accelerators, with other venture capitalists, that kind of thing, what do you think folks sitting in a role similar to yours and other organizations could do to focus more on that ladder that they integrate in with these nodes of startups, if you will?

Wil Morgan (09:51):
So I would suggest just building relationships and looking to be helpful, frankly, wherever possible. I think from that vantage point, just globally looking to connect with others. Talk about your pain points, your strategy, your ideas. Listen, I think, listen is the primary tool to understand what others are confronting ideas and then offer up along the way, solutions, when you note down each of these contacts, what they’re looking for and what they’re looking at, and look to be helpful.

Wil Morgan (10:26):
I think just if we all really work together from that vantage point, I think we’ll all grow together to a certain extent. And much of it is deciphering from the noise, kind of the value. And there’s so much out there. I think as we chat with others about what we’re thinking, our pain points, strategy, gaps, together, we can find solutions and even collaborating, a missed industry. So I think there’s a lot of potential there. So I would say, really building relationships is invaluable over time.

Sean Ammirati (11:02):
Yeah, that’s perfect. And just to double click on that, I always tell people, “Your calendar reflects your priorities.” So who are the groups that you would want them to have time in their calendar to have those conversations, listen, and be helpful with? How do you think about VCs, accelerators, university partnerships, that kind of thing?

Wil Morgan (11:25):
All of the above, I would say. Right now, I’m picking different regions. So I’m spending more time with Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, Nordic countries, Canada. So I would say, finding folks across the board in the venture community. Universities, fantastic, down to the point at which professors have great ideas and they’re looking to explore means by which they might commercialize, fantastic.

Wil Morgan (11:54):
They’re all different shades of innovation and entrepreneurship that can bear great fruit as it were, and governmental organizations. So across the board, I would say I spend probably most of my time with the venture community. So both the corporate venture side and the traditional venture, globally, but I’ll spend time where I’ll make certain pushes into universities or different regions and such.

Wil Morgan (12:23):
And I think it’s got to be purposeful because we all get caught up and we’re talking to startups or we’re talking to our internal stakeholders. But I think making time for that over the long run, will be very beneficial.

Sean Ammirati (12:36):
Do you have, I don’t know how to ask this, like personal KPIs or anything where you say, “I want to talk to at least five new VCs or make sure I’m touching this group of VCs every quarter and I want to open up two new university relationships?” I don’t know, is there any kind of metrics you use just to manage your own personal time on that?

Wil Morgan (13:01):
Well, in many ways, I just fill up my calendar.

Sean Ammirati (13:05):

Wil Morgan (13:05):
But we track all of that and we bench it against the prior quarters and year over year type of thing and try and keep an eye on the KPI and where we’re at, but it’s more about, you might end up deepening in certain periods around certain startups or engagements, and I might spend less time on the outreach side. So it’s more organic in a way, but I frankly, I just fill my calendar up.

Sean Ammirati (13:32):
Perfect. Okay. So if the calendar’s full, you’re doing something right. Okay, so let’s keep pushing on this for a little bit now. So you’re in many ways, and again, we don’t want to get too specific to Jaguar Land Rover, just more generally, you’re also in some ways I think exposing the organization to mega tech trends that are important for their business. How do you develop the expertise in those trends that are relevant for an organization like JLR?

Wil Morgan (14:04):
Yeah. So I mean, first and foremost, I learned from the entrepreneurs I’m speaking to. So it’s kind of a collision between the internal engineers, the business owners, the strategy owners and the product owners , what are the problems you’re falling?

Wil Morgan (14:21):
So I think it’s a lot of this is like interviews and such. And relationships again, it’s that inward relationship. So building relationships with the folks that have the issues, the problems, the strategy gaps, the things they’re looking at, gaining understandings there, but in many ways, in my experience, it’s really learning from these entrepreneurs that are out there putting their money into their skin in the game around an idea that they are building out with passion.

Wil Morgan (14:53):
They’ve likely left their jobs and they’re all in. That’s meaningful. And these folks are experts in these certain areas in a microscopic matter that really is not replicable internally within a corporation in many ways. So I think these conversations you have across the board with numerous startups, the trends they’re seeing, what they’re seeing is invaluable. And it helps us point to perhaps blind spots we don’t know we have.

Wil Morgan (15:23):
So I think it’s again, it comes down to listening, building relationships and connecting dots frankly, because that’s another piece is, everyone or I should say folks are often internally, they’re working on what they’re working on and who’s connecting the dots here? And who’s connecting the dots externally?

Wil Morgan (15:44):
So with these trends and disruptors and competitive deficits or different ideas or technologies that can solve things. So I think it’s a combination of all of those, but I think the entrepreneurs and the startups are a fantastic benefit to corporates across the board and just need to listen.

Sean Ammirati (16:03):
Yeah, completely agree with that. I’m thinking about the internal side of that. So do you have a framework for how you run those internal interviews? Do you have advice on capturing that information that might be generally applicable to other organizations?

Wil Morgan (16:23):
Sure, sure. So I would approach it as an interview in a way, and you’re looking to understand where firstly, similarly interestingly enough as when you chat with external parties, it’s looking to be helpful and looking to serve in a way and add value. So understanding the pain points and the areas of interest, the strategy, what are the gaps and problems they’re facing that they can’t solve with our internal resource and where are we headed?

Wil Morgan (16:58):
So the gaps between where we are now and what will get us to where we’re looking to be, and the problems or gaps in strategy, technical gaps in areas, and just general conversation about what they’re doing, and capturing that with various business units. So you might pick out the top business units across the business and find those stakeholders, business owners, make a list and then just start going through them and start chatting with these folks.

Wil Morgan (17:26):
And then you come at it and document it, and then you’re effectively matching that up and having that in the back of your head as you’re chatting with startups and things start to mesh up.

Sean Ammirati (17:37):
Yeah. That connecting the dots piece, I think makes sense. But I guess probably because where I said, I’ve never actually done the mapping to the internal pain points. How often are you having those conversations? How structured or unstructured are those conversations?

Wil Morgan (17:55):
So that’s the challenging part, frankly. So everyone’s busy and you want to be light touch, but you want to have information cascaded to you as frequently as possible. So I advocate, “Hey, consider me part of the team. Loop me in when you have a problem that comes up, when something you’re trying to solve.”

Wil Morgan (18:17):
And I think part of it is, call it cultural or getting people to think of you as part of their work stream. If you’re banging your head on the wall against something and there might be a solution out there, think of the innovation team, think of whoever that person would be and reach out and have lightweight ways of doing this because you really want to make sure that you’re not A). Taking a lot of time and making it a burdensome process.

Wil Morgan (18:45):
You need to be fluid and in many ways, just interactive to the extent to which this stakeholder has time and bandwidth. So it’s a delicate dance, but I think over time, conditioning folks to think of you as part of the team, and then looping you in when things come up and again, looking for ways, if you can automate this with lists where people can update it and check, is a good way as well. I think different organizations approach it in different ways.

Sean Ammirati (19:17):
It does feel like there’s almost a missing SaaS tool to manage this for companies, but you’re cobbling these together with lists, email, that kind of stuff. That’s interesting. Do you publish any of the stuff that you find on open innovation forums or things like that?

Wil Morgan (19:35):
So everything I come across, I publish internally. So from a process perspective, I’ll do a biweekly cascade to my primary… Well, across the business. So stakeholders and anyone that is interested. It’s high level points on the respective company and why it’s interesting and that’s the primary means by which I get that in front of folks. And then I’ll do a quarterly where I sum things up and I’ve got the KPIs and all of that.

Wil Morgan (20:10):
And then it’s a lot of outreach and direct dialogue or highlighting things to certain stakeholders that I think might have an interest in whatever that respect of technology is. And a big part of this is over time, understanding who sits where in the organization, what they’re responsible for, and what they’re interested in. And with shift in priorities, that in itself can be a job, really just that, call it stakeholder grooming or management or mapping.

Wil Morgan (20:43):
So I find, cascading this out to everyone, hopefully I’ll hit a lot of those folks out there and then I can reach out if there’s something I see directly and at the end of the day, it’s about reducing the friction here and bringing together the potential value creation that exists and being that intermediary as it were.

Sean Ammirati (21:04):
You’re almost a matchmaker in some…

Wil Morgan (21:05):
Pretty much.

Sean Ammirati (21:06):
Yeah, so that makes tons of sense internally. What about externally? Do you publish, “Hey, we’re looking to talk to startups in these areas, or this is an important topic for JLR moving forward?”

Wil Morgan (21:20):
At this point, we don’t and that’s something that we could explore. A lot of what I do is just one-on-one and I’ll chat with different institutions and I’ll just take time. I’ll take half an hour, an hour and I’ll walk them through everything that we’re looking at, our strategy, and I do that one by one. So it’s very much about the relationship, but with that said, no, that’s an area that currently we’re not necessarily publicizing.

Sean Ammirati (21:52):
Makes sense. I mean, I can at least appreciate it. It feels like a balancing act. You don’t want to disclose anything that maybe you don’t want your competitors to see or things like that, but it also feels like similar to how you’ve scaled your reach internally up, I suspect you could potentially do the same thing to the other side of the matches that you’re making, if you could scale that up as well.

Wil Morgan (22:16):
Absolutely. No, absolutely. No. That’s absolutely worth exploring.

Sean Ammirati (22:20):
Yeah. Cool. As we move to transition to wrapping this up, I just wanted to ask a question on behalf of maybe the entrepreneurs listening. So if I’m an entrepreneur listening to this and I want to reach out to talk to you about partnering with you and your group, maybe two questions, one, what are the types of startups that you’d like to reach out to you? And two, what’s the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Wil Morgan (22:42):
Sure. Great. Well, I’d say, startups that are applicable to the automotive space, so both in car, and then also thinking about the auto OEM. So they could be use cases related to a corporate entity as well across, call it artificial intelligence, automated vehicles, electrification, shared mobility, connected cars, but then into sustainability, advanced materials. So really ideating and thinking about the applicability of your own offering toward automotive. And then I’d say, just ping me on LinkedIn.

Sean Ammirati (23:19):
Perfect, and we’ll include a link to your LinkedIn profile on the show notes for people who want to do that. So last question and I like to ask everybody this, rewind the clock back to when you’re first coming out of school here. And someone is, say they’re at that same point right now in 2020, and they want to have a career like yours. What advice might you give a young entrepreneurial student coming out of school right now?

Wil Morgan (23:45):
Well I would say, start building your network early and often. And I would say, additionally, build something if you can. Take daily action on it. I think that’s essential. We come up with ideas, but so few actually manifest. So really emphasizing the daily actions and building skills around that, that you need, just really to get you there along the way, would be some of the things that I would think through. I think network is super helpful as well.

Sean Ammirati (24:18):
Yeah. So find the right people to help you with your idea and then get building, which certainly, we are at a time where we need more people building more stuff to fix the roads. I think that’s a great answer. Well, I really appreciate you making the time to join us on Agile Giants and kickoff season three of this podcast and hope you and your family stay safe and stay well.

Wil Morgan (24:38):
Thanks so much. Likewise, and really, thanks for having me.

Sean Ammirati (24:46):
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Agile Giants. If so, consider sharing it with a friend. And if you think it’s worth five stars, which I hope you do, please go to iTunes and rate it so that others can find this content as well.

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