Eisaiah Engel is a digital innovation expert and best-selling author. In the first half of his career, Engel founded three companies in the digital advertising space, one of which generated over $1 million per year with an initial investment of $25,000. Curious to learn the machinery of large organizations, Engel divested his startups and worked as a consultant and, later, as a marketing leader at a Fortune 10 firm. His latest book, Innovation Casino, was born of his struggles to innovate at the extreme ends of corporate structure—from his own startups to companies with billions in revenue.
As a marketing leader, Engel experienced many organizational roadblocks to implementing new ideas. There, he studied digital ecosystems—an emerging business model that could bypass innovation bottlenecks for large firms. He wondered if digital ecosystems could also ease funding challenges for entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, Engel struggled with investors who pushed his startup to become a “unicorn” when it was really a “zebra.” Zebras are startups that focus on niche markets and grow profitably, unlike their unicorn cousins. To help other entrepreneurs build zebra companies, Engel coauthored Founder Friendly Standard, a term sheet designed to keep founders in control and downloaded in over 100 countries.
In Innovation Casino, Engel describes why innovation is key to winning with digital ecosystems. The metaphor “innovation casino” describes the odds of generating financial returns from innovation. Engel uses an odds-based approach to show why a large firm is well-suited to fund zebra startups in its digital ecosystem (the strategy of the house) rather than acquire companies (the strategy of players). Engel transfers the practices of the US government’s SBIR grant program to venture capital. With his new seed funding model, large firms can beat the odds when it comes to charging a premium and retaining customers in the world after COVID-19.