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Grinding Corporate Innovation at Citi Ventures

Bob Petrie, Director of Innovation

"We are always on the lookout for people that can think like a startup and have experience building companies and products from scratch. So it's a good kind of middle ground of both new and existing."

In this episode, we are joined by the seasoned entrepreneur and innovator Bob Petrie - Director of Innovation at Citi Ventures. With more than 20 years of experience in building new products, launching new businesses, and transforming companies, he is now responsible for running the innovation program at and incubating new businesses within Citi Ventures. 

In his role as Director of Innovation, Bob gives us an inside look at Citi’s innovation ecosystem, introduces us to Citi Ventures, and elaborates on the symbiotic interplay of the ventures investing and the incubation arm.

If you want to learn more about how governance affects the pace of innovation, which successful project is hidden behind the alias "Proxymity" or what - according to Bob - significantly differentiates innovation in a startup from innovation at a large company, you've come to the right place!

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

Grinding corporate innovation at Citi Ventures

Chris: Hi, and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth, and in this episode, I am excited to welcome Bob Petrie. Bob is Director of Innovation at Citi Ventures, responsible for running the Innovation Program at and incubating new business within Citi Ventures, grinding all day long, as I learned from you. Bob, thank you so much for joining us. It's a pleasure having you.

Bob: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Chris: Alright, so as always, we start right away with a short 60 seconds introduction sprint. It's all about you, your career, and you all at Citi Ventures. So for the next 60 seconds, the stage is all yours. Let's go, Bob.

Bob: Great. So I am Bob Petrie. I work for Citi Ventures, and I've been at Citi Ventures for about four and a half years. And during that time, I've run different elements of an innovation incubator inside of Ventures. And the goal of the program is to work with the greater Citi Group organization and to provide resources to attack new market opportunities, to deal with disruption, to develop product concepts, to work with interesting partners. I've been doing that for four and a half years, but prior to that, I spent about 18 years in the startup world. So I've co-founded two companies. I was an early member of another five or so, usually as a COO or a Chief Product Officer. And during that time, I've worked with probably 13 digital product management processes. I've gone through about 11 different funding events and probably seven mergers and acquisitions. So Citi Ventures hired me as an entrepreneur in residence to inject that entrepreneurial spirit and that entrepreneurial mindset.

Chris: So a lot of experience, entrepreneurial mindset, and still grinding all day long. That's great. All right. So as the next thing, I have prepared three sentence starters for you, and I would like to ask you to complete those sentences. So let's start and let's see what you say. Number one: Grinding means…?

Bob: Grinding means, and this is not everybody's startup experience, but it's most of my startup experience, most of my corporate innovation experience, and most of the startup people I've worked with. It's grinding it out, going after a market opportunity, developing products, trying to find product market fit, and just really trying to put everything on the table in order to find that opportunity that you've been seeking. And sometimes it takes months, quarters, or even years of just grinding it out and trying to kind of find that elusive win, which is sometimes hard to find. Of course it is.

Chris: All right. Perfect. Okay. Number two: Innovation is…?

Bob: Yeah, everybody's got a different innovation definition. And this has got to my flavor and I don't want to cast shade on anybody else's definition because there's a room in that innovation ecosystem for everybody. But my approach to innovation and the way I define it is that innovation is all about developing a capability to allow a business to go after new market opportunities, especially in cases where they don't necessarily have the right resources at the time. Maybe they don't have the right mindset to go after that opportunity. Maybe the risk reward equation just doesn't make sense because there's a lot of uncertainty or potentially that attacking that market opportunity has to happen in a time frame that's different than typical business cycles. And so innovation is the capability to go after those opportunities. Another part of the flavor for me anyway is making sure that there's always going to be economic impact to those innovation efforts. Right. And I'll put it in quotes in a reasonable time frame. So for me or for us, it's generally we want to have that impact anywhere between two and five years. Like we're not looking for moonshots that may take 10 years to develop and we're not looking for like quick wins that I could get up and running in a quarter. It's something that's going to have impact, but it's undefined when that's going to be.

“Innovation is all about developing a capability to allow a business to go after new market opportunities, especially in cases where they don't necessarily have the right resources at the time.”

Chris: That's a great description. And finally, number three, Bob: The last thing I did before leaving the startup world was…

Bob: Oh, that was a what I consider a startup turnaround. So this wasn't necessarily my baby, but the investors brought me into a company that had a lot of promise, but was lacking some of the maturity required to kind of maintain kind of operations. And so I was brought in, kind of call it the gray hair because a lot of the experience that I had. And when I joined, there was maybe three months of cash left in the banking out. So I can't even believe how or why I took the risk at the time, but I came on board. We've restructured the organization. We restructured the product. We changed the acquisition funnel and we took on a little bit more money. And then fairly quickly, I got them to cash flow positive and bought that company, the time and the space and the breathing room in order to kind of figure out what they want to do next. That was my last opportunity.

Innovation in a highly-regulated environment

Chris: Sounds like a lot of fun, but at the same time, obviously a lot of risk. But that might be interconnected, right? Fun and risk. So great to hear. All right. Let's stay with you for a minute or two. So as I learned, you spent nearly two decades in the startup world, which is a world without at least oftentimes, right? Without many processes, guardrails, governance and so on. Surely this is not 100% true for all the startups out there, but still. And now you're responsible for running an innovation program at Citi Ventures, being the director, which operates in a highly regulated environment, right? So my first question to you is really simple. Bob, why?

Bob: Oh, that's a great question. Probably takes too long to answer that, but I'll give you a little feedback on the why thing. Ultimately, it started as I really needed to break from the startup world. That last opportunity I talked about was brutal. It was hard physically, mentally, emotionally, and even financially. And I knew I couldn't do another startup. So I figured I needed to kind of apply what I did in not necessarily a more stable environment because I don't necessarily value stability. I just needed to do it in an environment where I could kind of recuperate, recharge my batteries, sharpen my sword, so to speak. And the expectation is that I was going to kind of roll off in like nine to 18 months and then go off and do another startup. But somehow what I didn't take into account, I kind of fell in love with the idea of corporate innovation. And yes, it comes with all the stuff that you talked about. Citi is a large, old organization. It's risk averse. It's highly regulated. And yet there's such a great opportunity to use Citi's assets, the brand, the reach, the subject matter expertise, the access to clients and do all of that entrepreneurial stuff. It's been 18 years doing. So I really like the environment within which I'm operating, even though it is different than the startup world.

Chris: OK. And for the audience we have that does not operate in highly regulated environments, can you give us a sense of what it means to be responsible for corporate innovation in such an environment?

Bob: Yeah. So it's got a lot of the same characteristics that I saw in startup world. So you have to be hyper focused on solving a very important client problem. That doesn't go away. You also have to do in a way that's really good for the business and it's going to have that economic impact that I talked about. But there's this whole other thing if you kind of apply to it. They've got to make sure that you're in line with what we refer to as all of our control partners. And it's not necessarily like one group that weighs in on what we can and cannot do. It's more like 14 different independent conversations that you have with whether it be legal, risk, compliance, fair lending, et cetera, et cetera, and trying to synthesize and incorporate all their points of view into the vision that you're trying to take into the market. So like I said, it's similar, but it's got this added element. So it's a different environment within which to operate. I was actually sold early on that it will be like building startups inside a Citi. And within three weeks, I knew it wasn't that because there are similarities, but it's really a different animal. So I'm excited to really tackle that challenge because I do believe that we're still in early stages of real corporate innovation. I think it was almost like theater-esque for a while, not necessarily impact seeking.But these days, there are a lot of folks that are trying to figure out the right way to do it and the right way to have great impact.

Chris: Right. And it's just going to continue to accelerate, right? That's what also we see in the recent months. So that's an exciting spot to be in and a great combination of different environmental factors. Talking about Citi in general and also Citi Ventures, to which we'll come in a minute, what programs do exist at Citi when you look at innovation? So is this Citi Ventures, obviously the venturing arm, right? But what else is kind of organized and existing at Citi to make innovation happen?

"Citi is a large, old organization. It's risk averse. It's highly regulated. And yet there's such a great opportunity to use Citi's assets."

Bob: Yeah, the right way to think about it is Citi is a massive organization. We've got over 200,000 employees, 80 billion in revenue. We've got over 300,000 employees, 80 billion employees, and we've got over 300,000 employees in virtually every country on the planet. And as a result, we've got so many different approaches to innovation. And a really important element is to understand that large complex organizations need different ways to innovate because different innovation programs have different kind of pros and cons and processes and such. And so, like, it's important to do a lot of different types. And so it's really important for those groups to understand who they are and how to network at least loosely, if not in a more coordinated way, so that you're kind of learning from each other and sharing resources and insights. And so we've got the corporate innovation program that I'm part of that's kind of outside the business. We've got innovation programs that are similar to us inside the business. We've got innovation lab networks that are working on kind of advanced technology. And so when you put them together, it's a large sprawling kind of innovation ecosystem within Citi, each focused on trying to do best by Citi's customers and deal with disruption and growth at the same time.

Chris: Yeah, okay. So you guys do have an entire portfolio of innovation portfolios actually, right? Coming out of different streams of different initiatives of different regions, obviously. Okay, very interesting. By the way, how is this all governed? Is there, you know, somebody overseeing all that stuff or is it that basically you say whatever works in the market and whatever is good for the customer ultimately wins the race?

Bob: No, no governance is a super important element within any innovation program in a large enterprise. Partially because there is always has to be that voice of our control partner ecosystem to make sure that we're operating in line with where our regulators want us to be. So there's governance from that point of view. And there's also like marshaling the right capital towards the right strategic initiatives. So it's not that these programs compete with each other, but they have to be coordinated so that we're not spending the same dollar in two different places. And so that element is super important. Generally speaking, sometimes there are like organization structures to try to do that. But what I found in my experience, it usually comes down to very strong minded, innovation focused leaders within the organization to make sure that that's happening in the right way. So I give a ton of respect to those individuals that are trying to take these disparate programs and keep them together going in the right direction in line with where our control partners need them to be.

Chris: And would you argue that governance ultimately hampers innovation or at least slows down speed in innovation execution or not?

Bob: Yeah, so there's an analogy that I've heard at Citi that going back to the brakes on cars, the analogy says that the reason why cars have brakes is not to make them go slow, is to allow them to go fast. Right. And so like if you were had a car, no brakes and needed to turn, you'd have to just always go slow so you can make those turns. I don't believe in that analogy at all. I do believe that a lot of the processes in place are to slow things down. There's no way that a company with like Citi that's got the respect of its clients, it's got the accountability of a financial services system that we can move fast and break things that is not the right method. So we do need these things in place to govern the way that we're bringing innovation to our customers and into the market. So the goal is to make sure that we're only slowing down to the extent necessary to make sure that we're adhering to all of the things that we need to adhere to and not slowing down for other reasons. So there's a little bit of art in that. So we want to move as fast as possible, but not fast enough to break things.

Exploring Citi's internal incubator - Citi Ventures

Chris: Yeah, yeah, I understood. Makes perfect sense. Now let's move to Citi Ventures for a while. So, you know, Bob, being a seasoned entrepreneur and innovation professional, as you mentioned before, you know, you're director of innovation within Citi Ventures. Can you tell me a bit more about Citi Ventures? First of all, how does Citi Ventures support the Citi business in general, but also why does Citi actually need an internal incubator at all?

Bob: It's a great question. So let me break down Citi Ventures. There's two major components to ventures. One is a venture investment arm. These guys have been around longer than the incubation program, and their goal is to put money in into the ecosystem. So they look for startup companies outside of Citi that have some at least orthogonal connection to what it is we do. And in some cases, a very tight connection to what we do. But their goal is to kind of put money into these companies and get great returns and along the way commercialize that integration with with cities of business, hopefully generating more value for us, either by reducing costs or by growing revenues, whatever. The incubation arm and what they do is probably spend 80 percent of their time outside the company and 20 percent of their time inside the company connecting to those business units. The incubation side of Citi Ventures is almost opposite. We spend at least 80 percent of our time working with the business partners inside the business, understanding their business strategy, understanding the disruption that's going on. And then we turn about 20 percent of our eye outside to understand how is that problem being solved? Are there partners that we can work with, et cetera? And so there's a really good symbiotic relationship between the venture investing arm and the incubation arm. Now, the reason why we exist is that this is one model where these two groups sit outside of the business. And the argument is that by being outside the business, that we are not beholden to the production stuff. So if you give a business that's running a production business a dollar, it's always going to go to service the existing clients. And it's really hard to carve out that dollar to throw in a risky way at a potential opportunity in the future. So our goal is to be that vehicle that we're not beholden to all of this business as usual investment that has to be made and focus on the existing thing. The other thing that we provide is a different point of view. Because we're not in the business, we get to kind of think differently and almost ask the question, well, if this was a tech company, how would they attack this market opportunity? And we may come up with a different answer. The right answer is usually in the middle. It's a good collaboration with outside thinkers and people that have the deep subject matter expertise in that BAU. And so that's the type of relationships that we ultimately look and seek to form. Does that make sense?

Chris: Totally. How do you basically recruit staff? Do you recruit internally? 100 percent? Or do you look for outsiders joining Citi Ventures? How do you do that? What mindsets and capabilities are you looking for typically that shall join your team?

Bob: Yeah, we need both because navigating Citi is complicated. I'd say, I already said, one third of the effort is to make sure that we're managing those control processes. But there's another third that's focused on managing the organization, understanding how it operates and who makes decisions and where budgets are and how to graduate something from an incubator into the business. And that does require a lot of contextual knowledge about who Citi is, how they operate and who's who. But we also need that fresh outside in point of view. And that's generally where our EIR program or Entrepreneur In Residence program comes from. Generally, we're taking outsiders and putting them to the role. We love when they've got an orientation around what our business is or may have subject matter expertise in the domain they may be incubating. But ultimately want people that can think like a startup and have experience building companies and products from scratch. So it's a good kind of middle ground of both new as well as existing talent.

Chris: All right. Sounds great, Bob. Now, can you take us on a quick journey of how the Citi Ventures program has evolved over time? For example, how long did it take to get the first version up and running? And maybe along the way, what kind of growth hacks have you used? Or at least what were some of the key building blocks to build this quickly over time?

“One of the challenges is to figure out how close the innovation program should be from the core business. At some point our program was too far outside the business, and as a result, even when we were working on what we thought were good ideas, they weren't always closely aligned with what the strategy of the business was.”

Bob: Yeah, that's a great question. So the formation of the program kind of predated me. So it goes back about five and a half, six years. And Citi Ventures did what a lot of corporations do. They turned to outside partners and they brought in an innovation agency to implement their version of an innovation program. And a lot of it started with, as you'd expect, teaching people design thinking to get them to think differently. It was kind of creating an innovation process, hosting idea sessions where people from the business can come up with ideas. What Citi could or should be doing. So it really began in those those very early stages. And then that probably took about a year to really formalize both the staffing and establishing like where the budget was going to come from and where it would sit organizationally. But then within a year, maybe a little a little more, the business then began stepping up and saying, hey, where's that billion dollar business that you said you were going to generate through this new incubation program? And we realized that ultimately that's where we have to end up. We knew we were starting, but there's a lot of work to kind of fill in, fill in the gap. And the way I look at it is that every year since we've evolved or iterated the program and those changes come from two places, either lessons learned about what was working or what was not working, but also really recalibrating based on where the business is. Because Citi's business, if you look at it today versus where it was five years ago, it's in a dramatically different place. And so every year we would sit down and think about what we needed to do differently based on those two particular factors. And so there was a lot of evolution that went on. Some of the hacks that we came up with. Number one, the establishment of a budget for innovation efforts we recognize needed to be independent of the core business. If you give that business the dollar, it's going to use it for the core operation. So establishing and approach the budgeting these things was super important. Number two, we did set up a governance committee, so to speak. So like whenever we had a cool opportunity we're working on, we wanted to make it sure we put it in front of the business to have them weigh in on what was right about it, what was wrong about it, and have them guide. So those two factors, the budgeting, the governance control process, as well as the identification of talent, that was a really important thing. Not everybody that works for a large company are cut out for tackling kind of early stage innovative minded projects. You have to find those individuals that have the right kind of attitude, that are okay with risk, that are okay with failure because that happens sometimes. And so kind of lining up that third leg, budget control partner stuff, as well as talent, took us a while to kind of work out. And again, we continue to evolve all elements.

Chris: Right, but that is great advice. Now on the other side, can you also talk about some of the pitfalls that you encountered during that journey?

Bob: Yeah, so I think one of the challenges is to figure out how close or far away the innovation program should be from the core business. I think at some point the program was too far outside the business, and as a result, even when we were working on what we thought were good ideas or what employees in the field thought were good ideas, they weren't always closely aligned with what the strategy of the business was. And so as a result, we felt like we were not well aligned enough. So we needed to take steps closer to make sure that we were aligned with the strategy without getting too close to be caught up in those day to day kind of production kind of attitudes…

Chris: That's interesting! May I just ask, as this is really, really interesting: How did you find out that you're not kind of closely in with strategy? Did you get these signals from the team, from the business? How did you find out? That's really interesting.

Bob: Yeah, it's so, you know, one of our processes were for us to kind of in the early stages own most of the efforts to do the research as to like what the opportunity was and develop the product and things like that. And when we would turn to a stakeholder and say, do you like how we're spending our money? A lot of them were like, yeah, it sounds great. But then by the end of the project, when we said, hey, can we spend your money on this? A lot of the time the answer was no, because it was not in the strategic direction of that particular sponsor. And so trying to figure out how like we've got the flexibility to move with our own resources, but have it governed as if we're using the resources. And in fact, you know, ultimately, the business does pay for every innovation program, you know, as we're not a revenue generating organization that's self-sufficient. So as a result, they are paying a tax. Everybody's paying a tax to some extent. So we need to make sure that we're spending those dollars in line with how they would, even if we are marshalling those dollars.

Chris: Brilliant. All right. This is super helpful. All right. And OK, now this might be this might be a tough question, right? But, you know, how do you how do you actually, you know, bring or maybe compress or shrink things down to a level like an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or an MLP (Minimal Lovable Product), whatever. And when you actually know it's the right time to, you know, asking for more money, for more investment, and then ultimately also start with in market testing. So do you guys apply something like metered funding or how you typically set this up before you actually start market testing and then decide to go or not to go with further investments?

"There's an interesting thing with corporate innovation that's different than startups. The cost of putting something into production is a lot higher for us than it is for a startup. In the startup world, just get it out there, get production code in the hand of users and learn from that because the cost of doing so for them is really low."

Bob: Yeah, this is you're right. It's a hard, really hard question. I wish I had a really easy answer. We've not developed any method. To me a lot of this comes down to seasoning and experience, finding right that right sweet spot. Huge props to Eric Ries writing The Lean Startup book. I would say the treatment of MVP in that book was probably the weakest out of everything else. And there have been a lot of really smart people that have added the capability of - not MVP - it's the late product, whatever. And so there's a lot of great knowledge base there. But in terms of execution, a lot of it does come down to understanding the context within which you're operating and trying to come up with the smallest ask to provide the most amount of information to get to that next step. And so it's a really massive judgment call. You know, one of the things I found, like, even though I've done this so many times, so many years, like it takes a long time to figure out what those hypotheses are that are in play that you're kind of taking for granted and isolating virtually everything else and trying to get that thing out in the marketplace. It's a really hard thing to do because I don't know why we have a tendency to put more and more into that than it really needs to be. And so that isolation of our biggest hypothesis is one of the phrases that we use to try to say, is this the right MVP? But on top of that, then we also have to consider all of the other stakeholders' points of view. So even if we wouldn't put a lot of production oriented stuff around it, if that's the thing that's going to make our control partners comfortable, then we have to bolt that onto our MVP, even as a startup guy, if I didn't call that an MVP feature. So it's like, you know, understanding context. It's a lot of synthesis. And then it's trial and experimentation. It's building the muscles and the intuition as to where you want to start on the next one.

Chris: Yeah. And I guess this is also why you need a lot of experience, you know, in the team and in the process, right? So this is really about business and not just about, you know, as you say, collect some ideas and yeah, let's make some happy mockups, point them on the wall and say, well, no, we're actually we're looking for the next million or maybe even next billion dollar thing here. So that's why you call it grinding. And I guess nothing beats experience in that process, right?

Bob: Yeah, I agree. And there's an interesting thing with corporate innovation that's different than startups. The cost of putting something into production is a lot higher for us than it is for a startup. And so oftentimes in the startup world, just get it out there, get production code in the hand of users and learn from that because the cost of doing so for them is really low. For us, there's a lot that goes into it. And so we have to develop a lot more techniques before we get to that point to prove that hypotheses and collect feedback. And so we do a lot of qualitative research. We do quantitative research. We do a lot of clickable prototype development just with to play with product concepts. We do a lot internally before we get it out into production. And so there is a big shift of effort and focus pre-production for us compared to other environments.

Ventures success measurement - KPIs & metrics

Chris: Yeah, yeah, makes perfect sense. And Bob, how do you define success specifically at Citi Ventures? I'm not sure if there is any metric, right? But how do you see and when would you say something was successful, some venture that you deployed to the market or whatever? You have any opinion to that?

“We're only successful when we've successfully moved either the development of a new business or a new product into the business so that we can go off and attack the next problem space.”

Bob: Yeah, that is a hard thing. Another kind of hard question is success metrics or KPIs. So I can share a little bit about the challenge. Ultimately, by my definition of innovation, as along with my team members, it's all about having impact - economic impact. However, the control of meeting that goal isn't always in our hand. There are so many things that may prevent us from actually getting into production and having economic impact. And so it's really hard to set us up with a success metric where half of it is totally out of our control. And we did that early on. And so as a result, we began shifting to say, well, why don't we identify preliminary KPIs that we do control? That if we know that we do these things, then we have a higher likelihood of having impact in the future. And those would be things like problem spaces that we've been exploring, clickable prototypes that we're developing, white papers we've written about the concepts that we're exploring. But ultimately, to me, that felt like we were working on a lot of innovation theater related things. And it's easy to take your eye off the impact side when your KPIs are oriented around those early stage things. So to this day, I will always hold myself accountable, even though I don't have full control over getting stuff into marketplace and having that economic impact.

Chris: But you need to have some of those leading indicators, right? That's why you have introduced all these early stage indicators. You at least need to kind of have a good sense and at least some evidence of ‘Is this going into the right direction?’, ‘Are we doing more?’, ‘Are we doing better?’. But ultimately, of course, economic impact is maybe the one KPI where that's kind of showing if you got it right or not.

Bob: Yeah, and we do have those indicators. But those are not what we define as success. Those are necessary, but not sufficient to say we've been successful on a program. And we do break up any one of these projects into multiple phases. And so at each step that we take, we look at these opportunities across a number of different matrices from a funding perspective, a client engagement perspective, a technology feasibility alignment with the business strategy. And so as things progress, they've got to progress on all of these axes at the same time, maybe not equally on some projects. We may be more heavily oriented towards client satisfaction on this one. We may be more oriented around technical feasibility, but they all eventually have to make progress on all of those fronts before we can consider it a success. And we use this phrase of graduating something from the program into the business, because that's our ultimate goal. Like, we're always going to learn a lot based on exploring these problem spaces. But we're only successful when we've successfully moved either the development of a new business or a new product into the business so that we can go off and attack the next problem space.

Chris: True, understood. OK, thanks for sharing. Now, can you maybe share, obviously, non-confidential data, right? Non-confidential information. Maybe one or two real-life ventures or venture examples that you've recently been working on?

“You have to focus on an acute problem. And if you do that, then you've kind of won the right to tackle bigger problems. But crushing it with a specific client and a specific problem in mind is super important.”

Bob: Sure. So there's a project called “Proximity”. It ended up being spun out of Citi, so it's a public company. It's not publicly traded, but it's in the public outside of Citi. This began inside of the Citi Ventures Program a number of years ago, and it came from two guys, really smart guys that sat in our custody business. And it was all about identifying the fact that a lot of proxy voting, even to this day, is manually intensive and done with paper. And they said, why can't we come up with a digital way of managing proxy voting for the customers that we're doing custody for? And so it started with a really simple idea, and we brought it through the process. All of these stage gates, we gave it some funding, had some success metrics we hit. We got in front of customers, and they seemed to like the idea, and so we built a product. And ultimately, what we realized along the way that this wasn't necessarily a Citi problem that we were solving. This was an industry problem that we were solving. And as a result, we determined the right strategic path for that is for that thing to operate outside of Citi independently so that it wouldn't be kind of hampered by just Citi's point of view. And it could take on the points of view of the industry. To this day, it's a booming company. They're doing really well every quarter. They're rolling out kind of new successes as they shift from not just worrying about proxy voting, but digital shareholder communication, which is a broader strategy. And that's a theme that I saw even in the startup world. You know, you focus on an acute problem. And if you do that, then you've kind of won the right to tackle bigger problems. And you get to evolve and kind of grow from that point of view. But crushing it with a specific client and a specific problem in mind is super important. So that was a project I was involved with that I'm really, really proud of that's going to this day.

Chris: Cool. All right. Congratulations. Really sounds like a huge success and still ongoing. All right. Beautiful. So that was the past. Now let's talk future. What is kind of next for Citi Ventures? Can you share just what's on your radar for the next maybe couple of months and years?

Bob: Yeah, so I think we'vedone a really good job of kind of working on the muscles required and the capabilities required and the processes required to do good corporate innovation. As I mentioned, like one of the things that we worked on every single year is getting closer and closer to attacking strategic problems for Citi. And so it was just a couple of months ago that Citi did its first investor day in a very long time and laid out a really bold strategy from the point of view of Citi’s relatively new CEO Jane Fraser. And she is taking some really bold moves in terms of where the growth areas for for Citi are in the future. And so I predict even though we haven't kind of implemented the right structure yet, I suspect that all of this muscle and capability and process that we've developed will be acutely focused on those things that Jane and Mark Mason, our CFO, kind of laid out during investor day. So it's really important to make sure that if we're doing this stuff, it's in line with that strategic intent.So I suspect that's a really important part of our future is to figure out what role we play in helping change vision come to fruition.

Chris: OK, yeah, understood. And Bob, we've come quite far in this episode. It just felt like we're just started talking, but I guess we're already quite far with that episode. But before we finish it with all that you know today about both the startup world and also the highly regulated corporate world, I'd be interested in hearing what guidance would you give to people that are still in the startup world today?

Bob: So I try my best to stay connected to the startup world. It is hard like when you're in a large corporation, you know, you're intensely focused on large problems like Citi is facing. But I do try to kind of maintain through advisorship or just personal relationships. So I try to keep my feet wet. If I were to look back at where I was and what I know now and kind of share that, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that when you're in the startup, it's really easy to kind of look at yourself as a lone wolf trying to tackle a big problem on your own. But I think in hindsight, as I look at the role that young startups play, even in relation to what Citi needs to get done. So we've got a lot of great partnerships with with young startup companies. There is an ecosystem that every startup plays in and understanding what that ecosystem or that market landscape is and mapping yourself against all those players is really important to understand the context. Because you never know if that other company out there is going to be a competitor, whether it's going to be a partner, whether it's going to be a channel to new customers, whether it can be a future acquisition target. And so understanding context of the market and the ecosystem is as important as all of that energy that a startup is putting towards that kind of lone wolf feel of building the thing themselves. So I think if I went back and did it again, I'd operate with that contextual mindset in a way that I didn't have back then.

Chris: So it's beware of the lone wolf trap. That's brilliant. Brilliant advice. All right. And finally, 
Bob, looking back on your career at Citi, I'd have to ask you this, right? What would you say was your greatest Innovation Rockstar moment?

Bob: It's a great question. I think if I were to name it, there's a site that we launched last year called "Bridge Built by Citi". It's a new platform to connect small businesses with small to mid-sized banks. And Citi kind of came up with the idea and we launched it. And I'd say that it was a great moment, not because it was the hardest thing I ever did and we were ultimately successful. It's just that it went more smoothly than I ever anticipated a corporate innovation program going. And everything kind of lined up really well. The budget lined up. The relationship with the sponsor was very good. The deployment into production was great. Our relationship with our control partners was really, really positive. And I think it was a reflection of all the things that we learned along the way and applied in the right way that things went smoothly. So I was really proud of the work that we did. I also learned a little bit about how to attack multiple problems at the same time. So this is a very valuable platform for our customers and our partners. But we also were able to kind of introduce a number of MDIs, minority depository institutions, on the platform at the same time. So not only are we doing economic good, but we're doing social good at the same time. And we found that kind of elusive double bottom line as we launched Bridge Built by Citi. And to be able to do that within a company like Citi that has such a commitment to those things was really important to me. So I feel like we accomplished something really symbolic in terms of where Citi is now and where we're going in the future. So I was super happy.

Chris: All right. Well, that feels like an awesome rockstar moment. Thanks for sharing. And with this, we wrap up this episode. So Bob, it was a pleasure to listen to you. Thanks again for joining.

Bob: Hey, thanks for having me. And I'll even kind of more broadly say thank you for doing what you do. Because as a corporate innovator, it's super important for us to work with folks outside the organization. We need that continual stream of like different thinking and understanding of trends and support.So thanks for bringing all of that to the table with you and your organization. Super important.

Chris:  Happy to do so. And let's definitely keep in touch. And thanks to everybody listening or watching. If you like the show, then leave us a rating or a review and share the podcast with colleagues and coworkers, if you will. And if you want to get in touch, simply shoot us a message at Now, that's it. Thanks for your time. See you in the next episode. Take care and bye bye. 

Show notes

If you would like to learn more about the Bridge Build by City platform that Bob referred to in the question about his "Innovation Rockstar moment", click here:

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Bob Petrie is Director of Innovation at Citi Ventures.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an eduspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!



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