Q. Anne-Marie, how did the Founderie get started?
True story: it really got started with a founder’s idea for a business. We built a dedicated team around the idea by bringing together associates with different skill sets, and that team helped move the idea forward.
In fact, we were still developing the core curriculum for the Founderie program when the associate, Justin McNeely, reached out to us. He had an idea for Special Needs Planning1, and he was looking for a way to develop the idea as a Fidelity offering. His was by no means the only idea circling this subject, as it had been championed by several groups within the firm, but it didn’t really move forward until Justin connected with us. Working with Fidelity Consulting, we pulled together a team, and that group also became the core of the Founderie program.
A lot of the foundational pillars of the current program, such as design research, content development, building prototypes, and forming stakeholder engagement were tested on that initial project.
Q. What makes the Founderie different from other business development initiatives?
Our work is inspired by Abby's Fidelity Forward message. The impetus of the program is to generate and fast track fresh thinking and innovation around ideas that could be breakthrough for the firm, our associates, and our customers.
The difference? We launched our first inception phase in March 2020. When the pandemic hit, we were forced to adopt a remote approach. This virtual approach has proven to be a tremendous opportunity because we've been able to create teams that are diverse geographically and from many different business units. So, whatever barriers might have existed for participation in a conventional program have been eliminated. That’s a significant difference, because it is much more inclusive and draws participation from the entire firm.
I also think FCAT’s sponsorship of the program reinforces the experimental aspect of forming a business, bringing lean startup product development frameworks together with creative. We’re working with new ideas. Some may move forward, some not, but that’s the road to innovation.
Q. A lot of new business creation, especially in financial services, seems focused on mobile applications. Are we talking about apps here?
No. I think it’s a misconception to think that we’re only developing new apps. In terms of idea development, I think a lot of the experimental ideas our Founderie teams are working on could be app agnostic. An idea might help associates be more productive, or further enrich a customer experience. We call them “micro experiences” where we test new ideas to see if they resonate with potential users.
The testing helps us see whether the idea is truly compelling. And it helps us see if there's a fit with existing products and distribution channels, or illuminates a brand new path
Q. Is everybody who comes into the Founderie program from a technology background?
The exciting part of this program is we get a wide variety of associates from across the company, including technologists. We have customer-facing associates who join our program, and they bring such a rich experience to the development of new ideas because they have real life experience understanding customer pain points. We also have people who work in back office or operational roles. Participants are matched up on teams representing divergent experiences, so each gets to learn new skills and ways of thinking about the customer2.
This intersectionality creates an environment where new ideas can emerge. Customer service associates, client relationship managers, and people from learning and development mix it up with coders, developers and UX teams.
Q. Tell us how the mentors select the ideas and then align with the teams.
Our Founderie mentors come from several teams, including FCAT. . Each mentor brings a Lean Startup mentality to the process, helping the intrapreneur teams understand how to pivot an idea, how to use research, how to move quickly, and how to test and learn. As a first step, the mentors review the applications and learn more about the team, then rank their preferences. We know that having that connection to an idea really helps because often the mentor will fall in love with the problem as well.
Even though they are volunteering their time, we’ve seen some of the mentors develop a real passion for the ideas, where they really become part of their team and get so engaged that the lines begin to blur. And the mentors make a point of being there during critical phases of the process.
Q. Do you see any common threads in the initial applications, for example, ideas that address social issues, underserved communities, or environmental issues?
In general, we do notice that there is an underlying sentiment among our associates to do more for customers, including reaching new underserved groups and trying to address the wealth gap. It’s compelling to see that there is a genuine concern across Fidelity for meeting the needs of our future customers.
Q. Does the Founderie need a business unit to adopt or engage with an idea to move it to that next level of development?
It’s on us to test out and validate ideas and see if they warrant moving forward. And, yes, it’s a challenge to find opportunities for new ideas in our business units because they are focused primarily on the near-term, on the here and now. We look for ways to partner and collaborate with their teams to help accelerate innovation and minimize the lead time needed to get these new ideas up and going.
Q. How would you like to see Founderie evolve over the next few years?
Our approach to developing new business ideas is based on learning by doing, in a way that's never been done before at Fidelity. Over time, I’d love to see one or two members of every squad, or every product area, have exposure to the Founderie and take some new insights and lessons learned back with them. I am certain there are people on the front lines and back offices who have some great new innovative ideas. Perhaps they just need the know-how, the right team, and mentor support to validate their ideas and move them forward. That’s what the Founderie is designed to do, and we look forward to seeing more associates gain that experience.