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Our not-so-secret recipe for success (and other ways for startups to innovate)

March 2, 2018


Startups are a risky business – we should know, we’ve launched four of them – and they’re not for the faint-hearted. According to Fortune, 90% of startups fail. Venture-builders need boundless enthusiasm and resilience to build something profitable, and it is always going to be an enormous challenge. What’s our secret? Collective intelligence.

Yes, it takes guts to build a fruitful initiative from the ground up, but mostly, the way we generate value in each of our startups is by tapping into the shared intellect of others. We strongly believe that, to build new products and solve problems, we must ultimately tap into the power of community intelligence.

Harnessing community intelligence
Groups have proven to outperform individual experts time and again. A group – i.e. a knowledgeable, diverse gathering of people – will bring different perspectives to the table and thus provide better problem-solving results and predictions. Not unlocking this collective power would almost be criminal.

Some of the world’s largest organisations have already been capitalising on their people’s knowledge and insights to drive their innovation programme. Collective intelligence has certainly proven its worth in established companies, enhancing business outcomes, fostering a culture of innovation whilst also creating a sense of worth and motivation internally. But it’s not just traditional businesses that benefit from harnessing this collective knowledge.

We first started applying a philosophy founded on collaboration and discussion in 2007, when we launched Exago, and our approach proved to be the right one. Tapping into the intelligence of others and fostering their creativity is essential for the success of any business, whether it’s an online platform, face-to-face networking groups or a multinational corporation.

Our approach to capturing value
We have applied the premise of collective intelligence in many ways, from crowdsourcing data to ever-evolving algorithms. There are three ways  we are able to capture value by using collective intelligence:

Decision-making – better and more impactful decisions
Achieving results – Quicker and better results through collaboration
Coordination – Faster execution of hyper-specialised tasks

Here are 3 examples of how we apply collective intelligence to capture value:

1- At Tradiio, a music discovery platform, users decide which artists deserve to be featured, thus harnessing the power of collective intelligence to deliver the best selection.

2- In Tutorean, a platform that uses artificial intelligence to make better tutor-student matches based on personality and learning styles, we capture value by using machine learning to analyse tutoring sessions results. Our matching algorithm – designed to suggest personality combinations that work better together – will improve tutor-student matches.

3- At Exago, we harness the power of collaboration by having people from all over the world come together and build on each other’s ideas to solve an organisation’s most pressing challenges. Users also vote on the most promising ideas to be implemented.

Ensuring success in a risky venture
Although we consider community intelligence our secret sauce in counteracting the inherent risk in building a startup, there are three other ingredients that we believe increase the chance of success:

  • A good leader
    Any good startup needs a strong leader at the helm. They must possess a strong foundation of business know-how, excellent communication skills, buckets of flexibility and drive, and the ability to make things happen. These, along with encouraging the collective intelligence within their company, are the skills necessary to spearhead a burgeoning company.
  • De-risking and acceleration
    Every startup must outline their potential risks and work out how to mitigate them from the outset. Having defined a strong and expandable market for their product, lean startups should look to continuously experiment and validate through consumer feedback. We always work with customers to test and refine a new product, which saves us time and money, and creates more value for our clients. Then there are the accelerator programmes, which provide expert advice, useful tools and access to a group of investors to speed up transformation and help startups get their products on the market quicker and more successfully.
  • Proven technologies
    In addition to these accelerators, there are several models and technologies that can speed up the validation process for new products, including reputation-based incentive protocols, aimed at helping online crowdsourcing companies; gamification models, which make games engaging by applying motivational factors; and prediction markets, which help foresee events in the financial market.

At the core of our business strategy is our belief in creating and capturing value. Harnessing the intelligence of the collective, either as a business model or as part of a company’s culture, plays a significant role in the process of building a new venture and delivering a solution that, ultimately, will create value.

Pedro da Cunha co-founder of intersection ventures on collective intelligence


With a degree in computer engineering from the Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal) and an MBA from Cranfield University (UK), Pedro da Cunha co-founded Exago in 2007, and later, Intersection.Ventures, a venture-builder focused on developing high-potential business opportunities through collective intelligence. Its first venture is Tutorean, a platform that uses artificial intelligence to connect students with private tutors.

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