Three Ways to Innovate at Your Company

06/30/2015 05:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

As a serial entrepreneur and now EVP of Innovation at RingCentral, I'm always interested in how companies generate and maintain innovation. Innovating means disrupting -- challenging the status quo even for very successful products. At RingCentral, where we serve a growing customer base that relies on our suite of cloud communications products to run their own businesses, I think about three different ways we drive innovation. One way that we innovate is through inventing and building new, native products in-house. The second way that we innovate is through acquisition, through buying products and companies that extend our reach. And as leaders in our space, we must also make room for partnerships, which is the third way in which we innovate.

Earlier this year, the addition of the RingCentral Connect platform offered an example of innovation through invention. Connect is a developer platform that we built to let companies integrate business communications into their key business processes for automation of workflows, enhanced efficiency, and gathering of communications data. Coupled with our existing cloud phone system, Connect innovated our offerings especially by adding new ways to integrate phone data into CRM. And innovation from Connect is ongoing: developers can load the apps built through our tool to a gallery that showcases how our product is being used in CRM, in Google email, and throughout industry. This sort of open-source sharing encourages ongoing innovation not just at RingCentral but throughout industries that use cloud communications software to run their businesses. It's been exciting to see our innovation beget more innovation!

Last week showcased an example of innovation through acquisition as RingCentral acquired Glip, a cloud messaging and collaboration platform. Glip offers a cloud-based tool for team collaboration. Through Glip, Ring Central now offers team messaging, task management, group calendars, notes, annotations, and file sharing including through integrations with a number of leading business solutions such as Asana, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, JIRA, GitHub, Google, Zendesk, and many others. Adding Glip to our existing cloud communications tools extends our communications platform significantly by adding these powerful team messaging and collaboration services.

Why did we buy Glip, though? Why didn't we just build our own Glip-like tool? Simply put, our customers needed this benefit now. Time-to-market would have meant that we wouldn't have been able to build and to offer rich team management features like Glip has anytime soon. Instead of an acquisition process that takes a few months, native development of such a tool would have taken over a year if not more. Offering customers something hot and useful at their fingertips right now versus later is a primary driver of acquisitions. And we wanted to be the first integrated cloud business communications and team collaboration solution. This is very impactful: this integrated platform empowers teams to work across all locations, devices, and modes of communication. Welcoming Glip onto our team meant adding not only its products but also the people who innovated through building Glip originally. When it comes to innovation through acquisition, the team that comes with the product is often as huge an asset as the product is, as is true with regard to Glip's team that will remain on-board at Ring Central. For many small acquisitions that take place throughout industry, they occur for the combination of tech and talent. If great minds dreamt up one product worth buying, chances are, they stand to create even more great things and are worth having on-board as companies grow.

It bears noting that acquisition isn't always billed as innovative, but I think it should be. After all, when one company acquires another, it's usually purchasing a finished product, often to integrate into a bigger picture. Acquisitions truly can be game-changers, especially when they help shift paradigms like Glip does for RingCentral - and when the people who come with the package are fresh faces full of new ideas and domain expertise.

In addition to invention and acquisition, partnerships are a third way to innovate through how they can broaden a company's product offerings., My company white-labels several components of our product through partnerships with other companies that offer best-in-class products. We benefit from partnerships as well. Our customers expect best-of-breed solutions from us, and sometimes that means partnering with a company with a best-of-breed solution that isn't in our product suite. For example, RingCentral chose inContact when we decided to expand our cloud communication suite to offer contact center capabilities, We could have tried to build something like inContact or to acquire something like it, but since it already existed as the market leader and since its company was open to partnering with us in a way that gave our customer a seamless, unified experience, both companies benefited from this form of innovation.

The best part of my job is that I get to manage all three types of innovation: invention, acquisition, and partnerships. Now that we've recently expanded with a new product and team through Glip, I get to wonder: what exciting innovation will come next?