You already have a fantastic product with the most talented salespeople building a solid pipeline. Now you’re ready to take the big leap, to lock horns with the best, perhaps even displace them by penetrating or creating a new market. But how do you disrupt established industries? How can you create a market for your company when there are challenges thrown at every step? You have seen it before: many hustling for the same turf – only one succeeds, while the others perish. Does this happen through sheer luck? Not quite.
As the innovation economy fuels Silicon Valley, one functional role stands out as crucial to deliver business success: the “government/regulatory affairs” or “public affairs” role. Boston University economist James Bisson published this paper earlier this year concluding that since 2000, increased company profits were tied to political activity and regulation. Your business can harness this huge potential business impact from government and regulatory intervention.
Functional role monetizes non-core business vision
Government regulations make winners and losers. That is the nature of business in today’s world. Consider adding a functional role to ensure the stability and continued success of your company. Challenges abound as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, as prices drop, as product offerings get richer, as your customers want everything 10x better and right now, as your competitive landscape evolves continuously with new upstarts. The complexities of an intertwined political, economic and social world make the government affairs function critical for protecting your organization’s position in the marketplace.
While your leadership team may be focused upon the current customer/market segment, do you have someone who can deliver greater impact on your long-term business road map? Does your organization value non-market engagement as business critical, or does it consider that to be a non-core business function that you can outsource?
How to make the most of a government affairs functional role
Functional government affairs expertise can provide significant benefits for your company that cannot be left to chance or a committee. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the role:
- Ensure the continued revenue growth of your company based upon local funding or policy changes that can open new business.
- Serve as your company ambassador by providing advocacy and communication.
- At strategic levels of government, in California, in Washington, D.C., and overseas, participate in and speak at business-to-government events.
- With stakeholders such as news reporters, bloggers, consumer groups, non-profits, build a positive perception of your company with environmental issues, consumer protection, etc. If these concerns and efforts are not properly addressed, they can easily make any business plan impossible to execute.
- Build a government relations strategy and program including policy analysis, policy advocacy, development and stakeholder engagement.
- Develop future business plans based on upcoming critical public policy-related issues that are likely to impact your company.
- Anticipate and identify policies or regulations that can impact upcoming sales and earnings including political and social issues that can impact the company brand.
- Remain on point to handle the regulatory compliance so critical in industries.
Uber conquers California politics
There are many success stories that lend credence to the importance of the government affairs / public affairs role. You may have seen the headline “Uber conquering California politics.” Uber had to win at the California State Capitol, even killing or delaying legislation and regulations it didn’t like and inserting new rules favorable to the industry. If Uber had no ability to influence the rules of the game, it would have been dead before it got the first beat of life.
Uber promotes itself as a great disrupter, and it mastered the old art of political influence. Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. With regulatory involvement never before seen on this scale, Uber became a constant force, successfully changing the rules of the game to provide the services that consumers clamored for.
Uber is not just about lobbyists though. It created a crowdsourcing framework to get the support of passionate consumers signing petitions, even at its behest. Many stories on Uber reinforce the importance of how to deal with regulatory “impediments” via a strong team that can influence policies and lock horns with the big players.
Tesla thrives through expertise in government programs
Tesla was born out of a loan funded through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program signed by President Bush and via the Department of Energy and members of Congress. Since then, there were billions in government subsidies, government incentives, grants, tax breaks, discounted loans, environmental credits, and so on, that have been part of Tesla’s success model. For all these, support from politicians remains a key component.
Subsidies are part of Tesla’s value proposition – cash back. There’s also the perk of using the “zero emission” vehicles credits from California’s Air Resources Board. Tesla’s regulatory battle to sell its vehicles directly to consumers is very well known. Cognizant of its disadvantages, Tesla took control by making changes happen in the market and being ready to deal with its regulatory needs head on, and also creating incentives for consumer adoption.
Failure looms for those without regulatory advocacy
Napster, the music-sharing site, went viral in the late 1990s and early 2000s, seeing its user base initially explode. But Napster experienced a traumatic drop-off after copyright infringement court cases and was essentially shut down by the federal government. The early versions of financial credit card management software were shut down in mere days, due to lack of simple security features in their products. The founders were blindsided by simple regulatory requirements of the industry.
Even if your product has all the bells and whistles, your company can face regulatory and other hurdles, along with newer policies that may block you from entering new or existing markets, and you may see your “disruptive” product fizzle out quickly.
Your time to act is now
Government regulations make industry winners and losers. In this day and age, one must work with lawmakers and stakeholders not only to craft new laws and regulations as part of a comprehensive strategy but also to ensure that you are aware of existing policies and their impact.
Success is directly contingent upon having folks in place that understand the relevant economics, structures and processes to drive regulatory understanding into important business activities. Regulatory affairs professionals that work in a collaborative and integrated fashion with business-unit leaders can capture the highest value. Since there’s so much money on the table, it is imperative for companies to organize government relations as carefully as they do other business functions.
Rishi Kumar’s professional experience is a nexus of high-tech, public, private, non-profit, policy-making and the world of politics. Rishi currently leads government affairs / regulatory affairs for a SaaS analytics Silicon Valley company that is optimizing energy and water towards building a sustainable future. He has delivered strong success for high-tech industries like IBM and Cisco. He has been a community worker for a decade and is currently a Silicon Valley elected councilmember. Find him at LinkedIn.