Bill Gates has described him as “one of the most dynamic people I have ever met”. Here, Richard Duvall – founder of Egg – outlines why agility will be key to business success in the 21st century.
Richard Duvall is a revolutionary figure in the creation of 21st century businesses. He founded Egg, the world’s largest and most successful digital bank, leading the team that created the Egg concept; he was Egg’s Launch Director and then its first Chief Marketing Officer, and was responsible for creating and launching the brand, for marketing and sales and for Egg’s distribution P&L. With his new business, Zopa – a peer-to-peer lending venture that promises to take the financial services industry by storm, set to launch in the US in Q2 2006 – Duvall is once again taking a different approach to performing a traditional business. Recognizing that there has been a recent shift in customer expectations, Duvall believes the next wave of businesses will have to cater for the individual. As he puts it: “The promise of an IT-based society is self-expression, choice, freedom and individuality.”
As a result, companies will need to become much more responsive in their dealings with customers and partners. Here, Duvall talks to Business Management about what he sees as the next business imperative – the agile enterprise.
BM. There’s been much talk in the business press in recent years on the need to create ‘business agility’. What does this term mean to you?
RD. To me it brings two things to mind: rapidly creating new products and services to meet the needs of customers, and interacting with customers in ways that suit and adapts to them.
BM. How can being agile help businesses manage change, deliver better service, promote innovation and identify more profitable market opportunities?
RD. Agility is essential to survival. More and more companies are getting higher and higher percentages of their revenues from new products and services. More and more companies are encouraging their people to spend time inventing new services – Google engineers, for example, can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. And customers are rejecting the institutional, homogeneous services we grew up with – just think how we all feel about our banks – and demanding services that are individual to them.
BM. Why is agility so critical to the modern enterprise?
RD. People increasing see themselves as ‘individuals’ rather than just ‘consumers’, and the systems of a consumer society – mass marketing, mass production and mass distribution – just aren’t enough. iPods, eBay and Expedia are just the start of a wave of businesses that are wildly successful because they cater for individuals.
It’s no accident that people are defining themselves as individuals just at the time when information technology is redefining the economy we work in and the society we live in.
We can expect wave after wave of new businesses that use technology to offer a more individualized service and don’t try to shoehorn us into their way of seeing things. They’ll be characterized not by big, bold brand promises but by an offer to do the little things that help us do what we want to do. They’ll market by word-of-mouth and personal recommendation more than big-ticket advertising. They’ll use technology to deliver diversity and they’ll be the best in the world at what they do – or they won’t have a reason to exist. These companies are and will be agile – and you will need to be as agile as they are if you are to compete with them.
BM. Is business agility a process, cultural or technological concern?
RD. It’s about culture, a state of mind; it’s about people interacting with customers and being able to respond to what they say; and it’s about the smart use of technology to deliver an individual service.
BM. How can companies (both large and small) transform themselves into nimble, agile and responsive organizations? What are the essential considerations for creating an agile business?
RD. You need a way of hearing the authentic voice of your customers; you need profiles of ‘Dave’, ‘Naresh’ and ‘Katrina’ – everyday customers and more extreme ones to challenge and push you – to use as a stimulus and catalyst to projects across the business. You need a competence in customer design and an approach to innovation – both big-time innovation and everyday innovation. You need to understand how you will use information and communications technology to deliver diverse and individual solutions to your customers. And, above all, you need to empower the people who interact with the customer day-by-day to do whatever it takes to make sure each customer is a happy customer.
Following the success of Egg, Duvall has now developed groundbreaking ideas on the future of consumer trends and business behavior, which has resulted in the launch of a revolutionary new business called Zopa. Zopa is an online exchange that allows borrowers and lenders to deal with each other on terms of their own choosing via the internet. It has been described as the ‘eBay for financial services’; by cutting out traditional bank overheads, Zopa aims to be able to offer much better rates to borrowers and lenders. The idea is the result of Richard’s belief that consumers will demand much more personalized services that match their particular requirements, and the most successful companies will be those that can meet these demands.