Using Thought Leadership to steer new companies.
An interview with Jim Adler about how Toyota AI Ventures incorporates thought leadership into the startups they work with.
Today’s guest is Jim Adler. He is the Founder and Managing Director of Toyota AI Ventures, which is a standalone early-stage venture capital fund that invests in startups working on A.I., robotics, mobility, and more.
We start the conversation with Jim describing what Toyota AI Ventures does and what their mission is. Next, we discuss how they help startups take their idea to scale. Then, we examine when to introduce processes and how to find a balance that allows creativity and growth.
Jim shares how Toyota AI Ventures bridges the gap between global enterprise and startup. If an investor is too involved it can stifle innovation that happens early, but if they are not involved enough the startup could end up lacking the ability to recruit, build company culture, or find clients that see the value in their idea.
Next Jim shares the success story of Joby Aviation, his first meeting in a canyon to see their air taxi in flight, going to bat for them, and their goal of saving one billion people an hour each day!
We wrap up discussing the qualities Jim looks for in a startup, separating signal from noise, and how to take advantage of the hype cycle!
If you have a startup and are seeking knowledge on how to attract investors, this is a must-listen episode for you!
Three Key Takeaways
- It is important to build thought leadership processes around the areas you are weak in, not just your strengths.
- When working with a startup, your thought leadership should add value to the areas they need help. It should not overshadow their creative energy.
- All leaders should be thought leaders. Thought Leadership is a team sport.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!
Bill Sherman Hello. You’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership, I’m your host, Bill Sherman. And today we’re talking about organizational thought leadership. I’ve recently been thinking about the intersection between thought leadership and venture capital. And while the ideas may seem distant at their heart, they’re really both about taking good ideas to scale. I wondered what a head of thought leadership might learn from a VC. So I reached out to Jim Adler. He’s the founding managing director and board member of Toyota A.I. Ventures. He’s based in San Francisco. So he’s in the heart of tech innovation. He’s also working on behalf of Toyota, a company with a legendary reputation for innovation and process improvement, as you’ll soon see. There’s a lot we can learn about thought leadership by looking at it through an investor’s eyes. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Jim.
Jim Adler Thanks for having me, Bill, it’s great to be here.
Bill Sherman So I’d like to start with a question to sort of set the grounding for our listeners. Toyota AI Ventures, in a couple of sentences. What is it? What does it do? Where does it sit within Toyota? And what is it trying to achieve?
Jim Adler Sure. Toyota AI Ventures is Toyota’s first dedicated corporate venture capital fund, and our mission is to discover what might be next for Toyota. And we do this by investing in early-stage startups that are working on disruptive technologies, business models, and they’re bringing these models and technologies to market. And so we envision this world where humans are amplified by these technologies, and Toyota really wants a front row seat to this disruption. And so we were founded in 2017 with a $100 million. We added another hundred in 2019, and we do early-stage investments in artificial intelligence. Obviously, it’s in our name, but also economy, mobility, robotics data and cloud technologies as well. We have 38 companies in the portfolio since our founding in 2017, so we’re very much structured like an institutional venture capital fund. We tend to move pretty quickly. We are very founder forward and we are we’re having a great time and investing in amazing company.
Bill Sherman Great. So where I’m excited for this conversation to go is, when I talk about thought leadership, it’s about peering around the corner into the future to see what’s next in terms of a risk or an opportunity, and then bringing that idea back to today to take actionable steps, right? It’s about taking ideas to scale, and I think there’s a resonance there with what you’re doing on the venture capital side. So when I think, Toyota, I think scale right and sort of global enterprise scale and then these startups, how do you think about this process in terms of taking an idea to scale?
Jim Adler Yeah, I think that startups are, as I said, these great experiments that are happening in the marketplace and they often begin with a lot of great ideas, great technology, a lot of hustle to sort of prove out. Is there a market and is there a fit for this, this product that’s wrapped around this technology? But then once you start to mature, then scale issues start to be more and more important. And I often kind of frame this in two parts. One is you have to be real the business, the technology needs to be real. But once you’ve proven that, which is a prerequisite for the second part is how do you build a machine that can actually scale? And I think about the machine in the broadest sense, that machine could be a product development machine, but it’s also there’s also a sales machine and a human resources machine, a customer service machine, because that’s how you really put enough process in place to reproduce and grow the success that is built around this core competency. And startups are along that trajectory of taking this early capability and wrapping these machines around it. And it’s really interesting where you see the failure modes where certain companies will build up a machine around where they’re most comfortable, but won’t build the machine around where they’re they less comfortable. And we always counsel because of my own history is you must find balance. These machines must be balance or else they don’t scale. And so that’s kind of important alchemy to get right.
Bill Sherman I want to pull something in from your background, because although you’re the founding managing director of Toyota AI Ventures, you started out as a rocket scientist and so when you talk about building machines and failure modes. Right? I think that some of that language coming forward. So give us a little bit of your story of how where did you start and how did you become the founding managing director?
Jim Adler Yeah, well, it wasn’t a straight line, I will tell you that, and it wasn’t preordained or predefined. I started my career. My training is in electrical engineering. My first job out of school was launching rockets for what’s now Lockheed Martin. So upper stages, boosters, space station, freedom, mostly in avionics. And I got my first and I had it was just so much fun to be right out of school watching 300 foot boosters. It was just an incredible experience. I couldn’t spend enough time at work because there was so much fun and I learned a lot about systems control systems. General system concepts. But then I had this real itch for entrepreneurship and young companies, and I realized that a lot of these system concepts linearity, non-linear time constants. Impulse response really applied to things that were not just engineered systems. I come from a long line of doctors. My grandfather was a physician and my father was a physician. I broke their heart and became an engineer. They thought I’d be driving a train and had a defined way engineers did. But what’s really interesting is they’re both internists. They were both internists and which is really the biology of the whole system, right? The human body is as a system. And I thought I was taking this tangent off to a new field and I find myself assist. They were medical systems, people, and here I am, an engineering system person. And so many of the concepts are similar. And I recognize that even outside of physical systems, systems around small companies, even some of my later work that I did in privacy and now in investing really our systems and they have their own dynamics. There was a great example I like to use, which is where I was at a few companies back. We were doing typical AB testing to try to get conversion higher on this on the site where our products were being served. And the data scientists were and they had all these theories about, well, just change the color or make the description shorter or longer. And everyone had an opinion. I said, how do we even know what kind of system we’re dealing with? Do we think the system is so sensitive that if we just change the color, our conversion rate would rise? Or if we change the verbiage, our conversion rate would rise? What kind of system are we working with? Maybe we have to change the entire product in order to get our conversion rate to rise in really dramatic ways. And it reminded me about impulse response. What is impulse response? It’s hitting a system with a hammer and seeing how it moves. And when you hit, say, a skateboard with a hammer, it jumps. If you hit a battleship with a hammer doesn’t really move at all. And I try to convey that to these data scientists who said, we don’t know, are we dealing with a battleship or a skateboard when we’re making these changes? And I think it’s so helpful to calibrate your behavior and your actions. To the kind of system you’re working with, and I don’t care what in the case of privacy, it’s their legal systems. But every, every endeavor has some sort of system dynamics you must understand in order to get the behavior you want.
Bill Sherman So let’s dwell on that for a minute, and I want to push your metaphor a little bit further with the hammer. In some ways, the hammer is like an idea, and the startups, the skateboard and an organization such as Toyota is your battleship right where they have different abilities to flex and respond to the idea. But like you said, process in the startup is often minimal and barebones and built reactively. And sometimes, like you said, that you build strength and process in a startup where you are already strong and you try to avoid those things which are, you know, they’re necessary. But that’s not our core competency. And you let it go, right? And so you wind up getting some muscles that are vastly overdeveloped and then some which are almost atrophied right on that. So. Let’s talk about that. That bridge between the two, between the up and the global enterprise. How do you because from an investor perspective, there’s smart money where you’re taking an active position in and trying to help them be successful. And that was purely passive money where you’re saying, Hey, you got a good idea. Apply some money down. I want to return, right? How do you create that bridge between the two worlds?
Jim Adler Yes, that is the most important question of how start ups become successful companies and understanding how much process at what stage too much process too early is a big waste of effort. Not enough process later undermines growth and customer confidence and partner relationships. So it is really about understanding the stage you’re in. And so what we do at Air Ventures is we do engage with the startup. We are not passive investors. We get in very early. We are, as I said, founder forward. So in our world, the startup is the customer and we really respect the startup because that’s where the innovation happens. That’s where the value is created. I think many corporate venture funds get it backwards. They think the corporation is the customer is actually in our world, the startup is the customer and the startup is the one that needs the attention. And so it’s really important to give them the resources to be successful. So what we do after we close an investment, we have a team called the portfolio support team that certainly helps the startup with things like recruiting and product development and fundraising and marketing and PR. And things like that certainly gives them advice on product market fit should they want these things. We don’t thrust ourselves on them. I think corporations should not bear hug these small companies, but –
Bill Sherman Because you can smother them, right?
Jim Adler Oh yeah, yeah. And I think big companies don’t understand that startups are not just small versions of big companies. They’re actually quite different. They’re like stem cells, right? They can become almost anything. Exactly. And so you have to respect that and you have to sort of let them pull you in and not just assume that they’re going to want your help. And so we have our portfolio support team and their job is really to impedance match with the needs of the startup, help them to grow those processes that they need at the right time. A seed level company, seed stage company doesn’t need the things that a late Series A or Series B company needs. A series – A seed stage company really needs help with recruiting and establishing the right, intentional culture company culture. They need to find customers that find value in their product. Much later stage, it’s really about scaling, as you mentioned, and growing the customer base and finding in adjacent markets that where they could really grow their top line, proving their unit economics. So the later stage investors will understand, OK, this is a company that has de-risk the enterprise and is now in in a place where investment dollars more readily translate to increased enterprise value, where in early stage. That’s not to be. That’s not the calculus. The calculus is survival and understanding where their product fits into their market. And so we have a team, probably half our team is actually focused on supporting these startups directly in Toyota AI Ventures. And then we have a whole set of folks that understand how to plug in to Toyota. So it has three hundred seventy thousand employees all around the world, many operating companies and business units, and they have deep understanding of Toyota, certainly much deeper than my understanding of Toyota, because every day I learn something new about Toyota and they help plug in the companies where appropriate. And that’s incredibly valuable both to the startup and ultimately to Toyota.
Bill Sherman Can you give an example of maybe a portfolio company that’s gone through the journey? And let’s start with the underlying idea of the company and then talk about how they came into the world of air ventures and sort of that journey to date.
Jim Adler Yeah, the probably the best example is probably Joby Aviation, and the reason that’s a good one is because much of their journey has recently come into public view. So I can speak about it more openly in August 2017. We had we had only been about a month into our first fund. We had just gotten approval from the Toyota Motor Corp board of directors, making our first few investments. Joby came onto my radar. And for those that don’t know, Joby is an all electric – electric take off, vertical takeoff and landing vehicle that is targeted at urban mobility, basically air taxis. And the mission and vision of the company is to save a billion people an hour a day in their commute.
Bill Sherman And that’s a big idea right there.
Jim Adler It’s a huge idea. It’s a huge idea. And when I saw the company for the first time and they’re out in the Santa Cruz Mountains and they took me out to this rock quarry where they were doing flight testing, early flight testing, full scale early flight testing and the vehicle just blew me away. It was highly redundant. So safety is job one, right? If you don’t get safety right, nothing else matters. So it was redundant and rotors and battery and redundant systems throughout. It was quiet. If you’re going to have air, urban mobility noises is hugely important, and I couldn’t even hear the vehicle at about 100 meters at all. So I said, Okay, this is really interesting. And they also had a service around it that was targeted toward the general public. It wasn’t an elitist helicopter service, right? This was right. Right? Going to be competitive with ride hailing, a ride sharing mobility. So I was like, Wow, a great vehicle, safe, quiet and accessible to a big market. And they had the DNA of the company, had great service chops as well as great aviation chops. So I come back to I’m very excited about this and I go to my board and they’re like, You know, Jim, there’s no way I in this deal, right? Is an artificial intelligence and this is one of your first deals, and I really want to go to the mat for this. And for me, it was just such a no brainer that if if Toyota, if, if this was the flying, if this if this was going to be an air taxi, this is going to be a flying vehicle. Toyota had to be the one that was going to manufacture this. And if you looked at the number of vehicles they were going to have to manufacture in a year, only an automotive company could meet those volumes in aviation company could never meet those volumes. And so it had to be. And who was the best manufacturer in the world, Toyota? So I was I really had to pound the desk to get this deal done. And we did, and we got into in this in the series. Hey, I know at that time and we just continued to work with the company. A year later, we brought some executives from Japan to the same rock quarry. They got as excited as I got a year earlier. They started to dig in like only Toyota can in a huge way learning about the company, giving the company some early value on how to think about manufacturing at scale with the quality and safety orientation that I’m so proud that Toyota has. And then in 2020, last year, Toyota led Jobi $600 million financing. Seriously. And then just recently, Jovi announced that they were going public through a special purpose acquisition company. It was a Reinvent Technology Partners, which is Reid Hoffman SPAC, and they’ll be public high both before the end of the year, maybe as early as this fall. And so there was all this. Working with the company to. For example, a Toyota executive is very sensitive to, as I said, safety. And if you look at many early stage start ups, they’re really about engineering and workbenches and prototyping and having toured many Toyota manufacturing facilities. They are immaculately clean and incredibly uniformly run.
Bill Sherman Mm-Hmm.
Jim Adler And you go to an early stage startup and you know, it’s not so clean. Not so great. They run. It’s a prototype factory.
Bill Sherman And it may be held together literally with duct tape and bailing wire. Right? As needed.
Jim Adler As needed. Right. And so there comes a time, and it wasn’t during that first year, but it was, you know, soon, you know, about a year after we invested that we had some sit downs with the executives saying, Hey, folks, you know, this model has served you so well for now, but it’s so important that you kind of turn the corner toward that next era of your evolution of really being focused on reproducible processes that are standardized and focused on creating the kind of quality at scale that you’re going to need to be successful. And I think having the gravitas of other Toyota the world’s. Greatest car maker really resonated with the company and the executives, and I think it set them up very well because they listened so intently and that’s the hallmarks of a great startup team is that they listened so carefully and are humble enough to understand what they don’t know that they really up their game. And by the time we brought the Toyota executives from Japan to visit the company, it was beautiful and it wasn’t just a dog and pony show. They had really embedded these ideas into their culture, which I think has there is paying dividends now, and I think we’ll continue to pay dividends in the future. So this gets to your point, a bill about scale is if you’re going to get to scale. Of course, you don’t want to bring that orientation too early because then you wouldn’t even have the full scale prototype vehicle that I witnessed in that that morning in the August, August 2017. You needed that kind of prototyping approach to the problem. But as the company matured, you have to. Strengthen the muscle around standardization and quality and reproducibility that’s so important to manufacture at scale, and I think you see that over and over again in the in the in startups. What is the right time to build up this muscle too early? You waste effort and money and resource too late and you miss out on opportunities and potentially undermine your own business growth?
Bill Sherman Well, and I think this fits beautifully with the growth of an idea, right? Because you articulated for Jobi, you know, taking and saving up a billion people an hour a day, right? And that vision, someone has to put it on the table and say, How are we going to get there? You can’t do that just by incremental improvement, but at some point there’s that transition. What I love about your story is the thought leadership that Toyota developed in manufacturing over a century, right? And Toyota production methods and quality they can anticipate. And this is almost a two way looking around the corner. You’ve got the startup looking around the corner to a future and saying we could do this. And then you have Toyota looking around the corner and saying, and here’s where you’re going to get into trouble with scale. We need to set this up now before you have heartburn and instead of serving a billion people, you serve a thousand.
Jim Adler That’s right.
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Jim Adler And I think the tenets, or the dimension, that I always like to look at leadership is really three. You know, the where the what in the how, where are you going? And Job and endeavor heard this. The founder and CEO of Joby, he knew where he was going. He was going to save a billion people in an hour a day. The next question is what path will take you there? You know where you want to go. There are many strategic paths to take you there, and you have to optimize crossed those paths. And then the last dimension is how will you execute, how you execute along that path? And I think if you decompose those dimensions and execute them or resolve them at the right time because I think you always have to struggle with these with these questions. But at what point do you decide to focus on that? Reid Hoffman says, You know, you’ve got to let some fires burn that are not that important, you know, especially in a startup. And then at some point you’ve got to deal with those fires. And I think that’s the art of entrepreneurship, understanding when to light certain fires, burn and turn your attention to things that are imperatives at the time, but not losing your ultimate objective. Your optionality on the paths it will take you there and the resources you have to execute. That’s the art of leadership.
Bill Sherman So using the where, what, how framework. I’m sure you get and experiences pitches from many startups. Are they equally clear on where, what, how, when they’re coming in or what do you see? And when you’re looking at saying which ideas are going to work and which ones aren’t? What sort of criteria are you looking for? The ideas are scalable.
Jim Adler Yeah, I think I think that’s the that’s the conundrum that faces every eventuality. How do you how do you separate signal from noise? How do you look into the future? We have the luxury of being an early stage company, so I always like to think about venture capital as a as a view to the future. Early stage venture capital is a telescope into the future. Late stage venture capital is microscope into the near future. And so when you think about it, when we invest, we look at, of course, great teams that are resilient and have that important alchemy between humility and confidence. Not too much confidence that it’s arrogance and not too much humility. That it’s insecurity, but enough of a balance and a culture that kind of has that kind of curiosity as well as courage to execute. But then then that’s what they can control and their products and technology that brings that to the market, the big things that they don’t control. We’re always worried me, and that’s where you separate. I think signal from noise is what are the markets look like? Are they big in broken markets that are accessible? That’s the kind of markets that we like to see investment play out. You know, I never want to. And I have some scar tissue around this, you don’t want to be in in a room all by yourself. You must rather be in a crowded room with a lot of noise. You’re going to have a lot more fun there. And the markets are the same way I’d rather be in a much a crowded market than a market that is small. And you’re the only you’re the only player.
Bill Sherman You don’t want to be the only boat in a blue ocean. You want some other people out there with you. Right?
Jim Adler Exactly. Even if I got to fight them for resources. Yeah, I think that’s important. And so, then as you move into those markets, you kind of look at what do you what resources do you have to win in those markets? The only unique superpower startup has the speed, and so speed is incredibly important. And so we look at, you know, the team, the product, the market opportunity, the unfair advantages the company may have is important. And then, you know, have they done it? Or at least do they have an appreciation for building the machine they’re going to need to scale? I give this talk where I talk about organizations where people always lay out their organization as a tree. I think that’s a terrible way to lay out an organization. I believe organizations are stacks where the core competency is at the bottom. Usually research in the case of a tech company and then engineering is on top of research. They talk to the researchers a lot, but above them are the product people. And then above the product, people are our sales and marketing and customer service, and it’s a stack and where depending on where you’re sandwiched in the stack, you tend to have the highest bandwidth communication. So the product people tend to be sandwiched between marketing on the top and engineering below them. And so there tends to be very high bandwidth communication there. And that’s where you can really build out these really strong systems machines that can really help you scale because there’s very clear goals right to the way you’re going is very clear. Your customer service organization, you know what your metrics are. You need to serve the customer. You’re Net Promoter Score needs to be high and moving higher. If you’re about engineering, it’s about robustness and meeting the product managers roadmap. Research is about breakthrough innovation that can be engineered into products that could be sold to markets. And so that’s what we look for. We look for these important technologies that can move into markets. I’ll say one more thing. Ray Dalio has this great articulation of productivity tends to move linear linearly on a ramp over time, productivity rises over time linearly. On top of that, as a hype cycle, as he calls it really that the credit cycle in the tech world, it’s really a hype cycle and that rides along that productivity linear ramp. And I think hype is generally good. It sucks in talent, it sucks in venture capital, and it gets us to the solutions much more quickly. In my control systems background, the fastest transient response is an undermanned transient response, that overshoots its target and then settles into a steady state. And a hype cycle looks like a lot like that. It sucks in quickly. A lot of resource. It overshoots, of course, and I know the press loves to deride the hype cycle.
Bill Sherman Yeah, that trough of disillusionment. Everybody loves the dogpile on it. During the trough.
Jim Adler It does. But yeah, but that’s part of, you know, part of the of finding that plateau of productivity. Right? Exactly right. And so it’s a good thing. And so and from an investor’s perspective, you only get in trouble if you buy in at them at the peak, right? So you know, if if it, you know, overhyped and then comes down, it only matters when you buy and when you sell. So I think that it’s but for the long run and how you never want to just buy on a hype cycle, you want to ultimately see, is this going to really produce higher productivity over time? And that in many respects, is our North Star to say, is this really going to develop into something that delivers productive value to the society? Because if it does, then it’s only a question of feasibility and timing. If the feasibility is there and the timing is right. We’re going to do fine as a venture fund because we’re patient venture capital, generally as a patient asset class. Toyota is incredibly patient, and I couldn’t be more fortunate, although we have a 10 year fund and, you know, those kind of venture capital imperatives. But we’re pretty patient and long as we see that this will create productivity, we feel like we good things will happen over. Whether a hype cycle comes or not, and that helps us separate me from traffic signal from noise.
Bill Sherman And I think that’s a great sort of framework to use on ideas, whether you’re working within an organization and trying to take an idea to scale outside of the organization or to bring a new idea into an environment that’s going to be disruptive using a Clayton Christensen sort of model there.
Jim Adler Yeah.
Bill Sherman My question for you. You talked about speaking, you do some thought leadership work yourself writing, speaking, teaching. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jim Adler Yeah, I mean, I mean, I guess I have enough scar tissue now to be relevant to the others. I never set out to I mean, I love I love teaching. I love coaching. I mean, this is the best. The best thing about this job is, as Buffett said, I skipped to work every day. It’s just great to see sort of listen to young people, younger people and kind of hear what they’re struggling with and at least give them a framing with which to approach them. I think I certainly write and I speak about these issues mostly around being a generalist, right? I had this series of blog posts about me being the accidental chief privacy officer. I spent a bunch of time in election systems, if you can believe it back in the early 2000s, and I learned a lot about the progressive community and then found myself being a one of the few chief privacy officers at a company, a data broker company that I’m not a lawyer. I used to hang out with lawyers and a lot, and I brought the technology perspective to this. And but I had I brought my, my, my same little systems tool back toolbox, right? OK, what’s the system here? Oh, it’s a legal system. OK, what are the principles that the law is trying to encode to make sure people have agency in their lives in the context of all this technology around us? Now I find myself being in this venture capital world also accidentally, by the way. And I have my set, my same toolbox of systems tools. And so I give this talk around being a generalist. And I the framing I love is geeks, suits and wonks, right? That if you any technology enterprise has geeks that are the technologists, the business people, the suits that are bringing it to market, and then the policymakers and the attorneys and the journalists, the what I call for lack of a better term, the wonks that try to make sure that this technology is brought to market for the benefit of the society. And oftentimes because I think ultimately that’s how it lives. The test of time is if – it if – it’s fundamentally good for the society, if it’s not, it will be very short lived. And so I think those are important principles no matter what line of work you’re in, which I know is a really broad base statement. But I think at least in my career, it’s kind of proven out that you see these commonalities. And if you’re open to the serendipity of your career, these principles can be applied to almost any, almost any endeavor. And at least I’ve found that in my experience, and I really have never. I’m always curious and a little impatient and always open to kind of going into a new career. I mean, I used to tell startups about until about a couple of years ago, maybe I had actually sold more startup equity than I had bought. Right. So I’m new to this right and we’ll see how it turns out. I mean, so far, so, you know, so far, it’s working out pretty well, and Toyota has been incredibly generous by giving me this opportunity and giving my team this opportunity. But it’s those same kinds of principles of proving your competency and demonstrating your relevancy to an organization. I don’t care what that is. You got to go deep enough to be competent if you’re not competent. No one wants to talk to you.
Bill Sherman Okay. Well, and this goes to your point, as the founding managing director at Toyota Ventures, right where you had the idea and brought it forward. And so you had to be able to work that idea within the organization to say, yes, this is something we would do. So my question to you is because there are multiple audiences for thought leadership. Just Toyota AI Ventures itself have a thought leadership strategy. And if so, who owns it and how does it play out?
Jim Adler Yeah. We don’t have a thought leadership function, say. And I actually don’t, I’m not I haven’t seen that work where thought leadership is sort of siloed off. I think everybody. I always thought my startup, everybody. Own sales. Everyone’s everyone should be selling at a startup from the CEO all the way down. I think all leaders should be thought leaders and encourage that. That’s why it was so great that you invited me on your podcast because I think thought leadership is not an, it’s a team sport. And I think it isn’t just strategy, right? It’s sort of the clarity of vision, the wisdom of the strategy itself and then the kind of the courage to execute it. And for us, our job really is to demonstrate to Toyota this venerable 80 plus year old company. How? Startups are conducting innovation and changing the world in really unexpected, disruptive ways, and it’s not easy. I mean, when you look at you mentioned Clay Christensen, the innovators dilemma, really. Is quite relevant to companies like Toyota, where they’ve been incredibly successful. But what is that next era of success look like? And much of the company doesn’t really understand what we’re doing by investing these startups. I mean, they’re starting to now, right? It’s been it’s been several years and they’re starting to see it. But early on, they were like, What is this? Why are you doing this? They are selling cars.
Bill Sherman Well, if you’ve got a billion customers around the world who the job to be done is, they want to save an hour on their commute. Mm-Hmm. Then that requires different thinking.
Jim Adler That’s right. That’s right. And it’s our job to sort of sit on the semi-permanent semi permeable membrane between the startup community where the crazy disruption is happening and the internal Toyota culture of 300 70000 employees that are focused on making, designing, building and selling the best cars in the world. What does what is the next chapter look like? And the great thing about Toyota, which I was very surprised to me, is that there’s a lot of entrepreneurial juice, especially at the top of the company. I mean, Toyota pivoted from industrial land textile equipment in the 1930s to cars, and that pivot worked out pretty well. And that entrepreneurial juice kind of still exists in the company, which I had no idea and I was incredibly pleasantly surprised. So. This hasn’t been completely foreign to the company, but it requires a level of curiosity and courage, as I mentioned earlier, to kind of bring it to the business units and show it to them in the context that they understand. In order for them to see the value of it. And that doesn’t have to happen in one meeting. I often say when I’m having meetings of business units and they kind of had to give me pat me on the head and kind of try to send me on my way as being irrelevant to say, Look, we’ll keep talking, you know, we will keep, we’ll keep moving this ball forward. And more and more you see groups around business units all over the world kind of recognize that what we’re doing is at least intriguing, relevant and ultimately valuable to their business units. And that ultimately is incredibly powerful for Toyota. And I think vital to the transition that Toyota and any large company must go through as they figure out the next era of their success.
Bill Sherman Well, and you key in on repetition. And I think that’s a fundamental thing. You can’t put an idea into the world once or tell someone once and think that they’re going to lean in, fully embrace it. And there’s a journey between making them aware of a possibility, getting them engaged and curious. And then finally activated.
Jim Adler And it gets back to that machine, right? You build the machine. What are machines good at repetition, like when we want? When our investment machine, I told my team when we started in 2017, this team has two goals. It great investments and build an investment machine that is predictable and understandable. And we do that. I mean, every investment we run the same process. Everybody understands what is expected. Our business units and folks around Toyota understands this process. They understand what the goal is, what the process is and. And we just keep stepping and repeating, obviously, the companies are different than and the industries are different, but the machine is the same. And to your point, repetition is incredibly important to education.
Bill Sherman So, Jim, I want to thank you for joining us today on a conversation on the intersection between thought leadership, taking ideas to scale and venture capital taking ideas to scale. I have a question for you if someone wants to learn more about Toyota Air Ventures. Where do they go?
Jim Adler Yes, and thank you, Bill. Our website is Toyota Dash AI Dot Ventures. And please check – check us out. We’re on Twitter as well and LinkedIn. So just search for us there. And we if you’re starting a company, we’d love to hear from you. And as I said, this has been a pleasure.
Bill Sherman Thank you very much, Jim. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please join our LinkedIn group organizational thought leadership. It’s a professional community where thought leadership practitioners talk shop about our field. So if you’re someone who creates, curates or deploys thought leadership for your organization, then please join the conversation in the organizational thought leadership LinkedIn.