Network Advisor Spotlight: Dylan Boyd, R/GA Ventures
Silicon Foundry’s Network Advisors are a distributed network of hyper-connected founders, investors, and cross-industry leaders who are part of our extended Silicon Foundry family. This handpicked group of advisors, who are embedded in innovation hubs across the world, amplify our visibility across the landscape, extend our global network, and serve as resident experts for our Members.
Dylan Boyd is at R/GA Ventures, an innovation platform and investment vehicle (co-created with Interpublic Group) that connects startups and corporates through industry-focused venture studios built in partnership with some of the world’s leading companies, including the LA Dodgers, MARS, Verizon, Snap, Walmart and Macquarie. Dylan is also the Director of New Program Development for R/GA Ventures where he works with global brands to develop in house, partner and venture studio programs.
Let’s start with your background. Given that your work sits at the intersection of startups, founders, corporations and brands — curious to know what’s prepared you to so seamlessly work across these groups on a daily basis? What specific superpowers have you picked up from past lives that you bring every day to R/GA?
This is actually something I think about often. “What do I bring to the table as an individual?” I have a few powers that have been gained over the years.
First is empathy. I have been in the shoes of, “Are we going to launch, sign, build, make, close or let everyone go?” Having an idea of what loss feel like allows me to help founders. And it’s not the loss of the business per se, but the impact on the team, their families and others. And it’s not just startup empathy — but understanding the corporate and large company challenges and wins as well. Knowing the ways that you can help people, no matter where they sit, helps.
Second is approaching conversations from a position of education. The process of learning how to help is really about asking the right questions and listening to the answers. While I often set out with some predetermined conversation plans, you have to be loose to get there in some interesting ways. I would wager that many people we work with might comment that my conversational flows are odd at times — but in the end, get to some path of resolution or way to approach a situation.
Third is the network. It is not just the people I have met, worked with, or have been introduced to — but the craft and attention to managing these relationships. I can tell you it takes a lot of work, and I am constantly studying networks and people and the changes to paths in each. The act of truly caring about and giving to people in your network without expectations of anything in return is a great feeling.
When thinking about innovation by industry, certain sectors have historically been more aggressive and efficient in their in approach while others (government, education, healthcare) have often been labeled as traditional laggards. Have you seen any interesting cases that break this mold?
It’s funny that these sectors have been labeled as laggards. If you look back over the last 20 years at the massive changes in government, education and healthcare you might say yes, they are slower than robotics, ML or software — but holy cow, these industries have solved so many things, made new advances and impacted more lives than, shall we say, Facebook.
Last night I reordered a prescription from my phone at a high school basketball game, got home to help my son do a Venn diagram on a tablet, and then read an open course from MIT.
I think all of these sectors traditionally labeled as laggards are breaking the mold now with the expansion of ecosystem partnerships and collaboration with VC, Studios and Accelerators alongside the traditional think tank, corporate development and university partnerships. Many of us sit too close to fast change, innovation and disruption — and when you step back from this as your daily job into the shoes of someone in one of those industries you might be amazed.
I have been following health, wearables and performance for quite a few years and I feel we are in the everything is a remix or trough of sorrow phase here, which for me means it’s ripe for a new burst of innovation soon.
I think the aggressive and efficient ideas have historically been in verticals where there is less regulation and more freedom to create. Where we see entirely new markets emerge — self driving cars, drones, VR, ML, bio-engineered foods, voice commerce — or what about space? How many private space companies do we have now? That to me is an amazing one.
When you look at corporates who want to kickstart a venture studio, what are the typical hurdles standing in their way? What kind of groundwork should they have covered before coming to R/GA?
Organizations that are best suited to this have leadership from the top-down that not only talk about innovation and change, but who are willing to commit resources and lean in to support and enable that change. When you get top-down leadership and bottom-up, business unit-level participation, you see dramatic differences in long-term success for these kinds initiatives.
Once underway, what components are necessary for a corporate venture studio to be successful?
We have an approach of reverse design. This means designing a studio to solve for specific and strategic market/business opportunities or needs, then vet potential solutions/startups against their ability to enable success, not just the potential of the financial investment.
How do you think about evaluating outcomes for corporate venture studios at R/GA? Any particular ‘big win’ outcomes that you can share with us?
When we think about measures of success, we look at how our programs enable new business strategies, products, market opportunities and customer experiences that drive value for the consumers.
When we look at enterprise and consumer solutions that were enabled and supported by our programs, like Latch, Clarifai and Darkstore, to name just a few, we see companies who are truly changing the game for established and emerging industries across both consumer and enterprise businesses. But our track record of helping 85+% of our portfolio companies remain in business over the last 5 years is the true testament that our strategy-first approach supported by R/GA’s unique range of creative, technology and design resources is a significant differentiator.