Corporate Innovator Profile
|Name: Joe Kleinwaechter
Title: VP, Innovation & Design
Experience: Fiserv, NCR
Total Corporate Innovation Experience: 12 years
LinkedIn: Joe Kleinwaechter
Worldpay is a pioneer in financial technology (FinTech), one of the fastest growing industries in the world. But as a provider of secure payment services for small and large businesses, Worldpay has built a robust program for its own innovation as mobile has become an increasingly prominent platform for financial transactions. We recently spoke with Joe Kleinwaechter, vice president of innovation and design, about the company’s innovation priorities, how he builds teams and the methodology the company utilizes for approaching projects.
You began your career in engineering before pivoting to cybersecurity. So then, how did you end up in a corporate innovation leadership role at one of the world’s leading fintech organizations?
About 10-12 years ago I had a revelation: I was a software engineer by trade, but I was pretty average as developer. In reflection, I discovered that most of the products I had touched in my career were used to try and take the company in a different direction. These companies wanted to discover new, adjacent technologies and in some cases wanted a completely different direction. They tasked me to drive the change because of my ability to look at problems differently.
I have always viewed problems differently, by looking at root causes as a means to find permanent fixes and an innate ability to see connections between things that many others struggle with. My employers appreciated this mindset, and rewarded me with opportunities to innovate. It was after several experiences that I decided to shift my career to lead with innovation as a theme, and I’ve had success with my own model ever since.
As you know, the term corporate innovation means a lot of different things to different people. What does corporate innovation mean to a tech pioneer like Worldpay?
First, when we talk about innovation, we don’t think about it as a role. We think about it as a mindset. Sure, we use terms like ‘corporate innovation’ to attract people, but for us, innovation is part of every employee’s job function. Most importantly, we think of innovation similarly to how we think of creativity in that everyone has some inside of them. To us, innovation is not simply building a product to solve a problem or a desire. Instead, it’s an attitude that appreciates the need to solve problems. People like myself are largely responsible for sharing ideas and beliefs and getting others to share in them. We cultivate an innovation culture by showcasing how tech innovation fits within the company at a given time.
You talk on Linkedin about the importance of building great teams. What constitutes a great team in your opinion, and what are some tips you have for intrapreneurs building theirs?
The success of teams come down to having enough of one attribute: unquestionable curiosity. In theory, it’s a strange attribute to prioritize because if every time a question is answered, then a new question arises, projects will never be completed as there will always be additional questions to answer. But this attribute works because it ensures that corporate innovation teams are comprised of people who fall in love with problems and not ideas.
As a mentor at Georgia Tech’s Atlanta Technology Development Center (ATDC), I can tell you that we look for entrepreneurs who are problem driven. And as I mentioned earlier, too many organizations attempt to separate creativity from innovation. But there is no creativity gene, just like there is no innovation gene. Think about it this way: many accountants would not consider themselves creative. But if they were to harness bad accounting practices in different ways, couldn’t that be considered creative and later morph into innovation?
What do you consider your greatest innovation and what lessons can you share for those embarking on their first innovation projects?
Some of the most enjoyable projects my team has worked on were those that proved the corporate belief system wrong. We recently did a bunch of Europay, Mastercard & Visa (EMV work) as U.S. merchants were mandated to update their transaction machines for better security. Despite this having been done successfully in Europe years ago, many organizations struggled with the rollout here in America. Logically, how we wanted to roll it out seemed right, but practically it was wrong; had we gone with our initial gut instincts it would have angered a lot of our customers and their consumers.
After some critical UX research we had to make significant changes to the program so that our customers could have a safer and more enjoyable experience. Ultimately, we figured it out, but I am very proud that our organization tested our original errant hypotheses and got it right. So were our customers.
It sounds like you’re an advocate for lean startup methodology?
We have our own methodology that is a catalyst for everything that we do. Essentially, our model combines the principles of agile, lean and design thinking, because we don’t see each working well independently of each other. But when you combine the three, its ensures that:
- The problem actually exists, or there is evidence that it will soon exist.
- The actual root of the problem is identified.
- The solution/product/procedure being built will accurately address the problem.
- Consumers are accurate in how they report/view the existing problem.
- Latencies are immediately discovered.
Worldpay is in the business of solving problems. No matter how many platforms, channels or devices are in play, our methodology enables us to conquer modern innovation challenges head on. It’s also a way for us to be smarter today than we were yesterday.
What are some of the Worldpay innovation priorities?
Right now we’re all about the consumer experience. We’re fundamentally looking at ways to transform the consumer experience for our merchants, partners, resellers and corporate customers. We know if we can make their consumers happy and satisfied, then our customers will be happy too. We’re really identifying some innovative ways to add value to the entire chain along the way to fulfilling the end user experience.