An Evening of Innovation with Greg Cangialosi

Posted in: PSA Partnership

Greg Cangialosi has spent his career innovating and disrupting in the business world, so there is perhaps no better person to address a crowd of Baltimore/Washington businesspeople on the topic of innovation in business. I was lucky enough to have the chance to hear him speak on October 29 at PSA’s Partnership Event, where he shared how he has found success through innovation as an entrepreneur. He also discussed some of the technologies that he feels have and will continue to disrupt the marketplace, and offered tips for building a culture of innovation within organizations.

Cangialosi is an entrepreneur and early-stage investor who has built a reputation as a leader in today’s online landscape as both a marketer and entrepreneur. Most recently, he is a co-founder of Betamore, a Baltimore based urban campus for technology and entrepreneurship. Prior to that, his company Blue Sky Factory, a leading email marketing service provider, was acquired by WhatCounts in 2011.

Cangialosi is also the managing director of both the Baltimore Angels and Nucleus Ventures, and has recently become acting CEO at MissionTix, an online ticketing company that he believes is “rooted in the future and in an industry ripe for change.”

Three-questions innovators must ask

One of my best takeaways from Cangialosi’s talk was his discipline of asking three simple questions. He applies these questions to all of his projects and maintains that every company needs to ask them in order to stay ahead of the game. They may seem simple, he says, but they are proven to drive progress:

  1. What else is possible?
  2. What else can we bring to the table? (How can we add value to our clients, products and services?)
  3. What’s next? (Probably the hardest question to answer, he says, but where companies need to try to look around the corner and attempt to to see what can impact the future of business.)

When used at Blue Sky Factory, an early email marketing service provider, Cangialosi’s innovation recipe catapulted the company forward at a time when they might have floundered. When they began in 2001, Blue Sky and its email marketing idea were revolutionary. However by 2006, email marketing was becoming mainstream and the company was one of many doing something similar. Cangialosi had to differentiate. Social media was new and was predicted to be the downfall of email. Instead of running, Cangialosi innovated and embraced social media, using it to enhance his business. Blue Sky Factory changed its messaging, touting email as the glue for all digital marketing and used this positioning to evolve into an inbound marketing machine. Cangialosi believes that is a key reason that Blue Sky was purchased by WhatCounts in 2011.

Technology for a changing world

In his talk, Cangialosi touched on several key technologies that he believes will be disruptive to the business landscape as they have or will make significant changes for many of us in the coming years.

“Who has heard of 3D printing?” That was Cangialosi’s question to the crowd. While a smattering of people raised hands, he believes that this technology, which is now actually some 30 years old, will soon be ubiquitous—in schools, libraries, and in many homes. Where seven years ago a 3D printer had a price tag of $1 million and required a detailed knowledge of CAD programs, today they start at only $1,000 and have much easier user interfaces.

Cangialosi believes 3D printing will disrupt areas including product development, manufacturing and retail as more and more can be created with this technology. Seven years ago only 28 materials could be used in 3D printing, now more than 200 are available. “Options are endless,” says Cangialosi. Other technology areas that the entrepreneur feels will change our lives include wearable technology, biometrics (will our clothes be talking to us in the future?), and mobile.

Building a culture of innovation

Cangialosi believes that some of these new technologies will have an impact on virtually every industry in the future, whether it’s products or blue collar or white collar services – it doesn’t matter.

So, how do you build a culture of innovation in your organization to meet the change occurring around you? “If you’re not the person at the top, build a committee of people who can find the innovative ideas and funnel them up,” says Cangialosi. “Create a culture where people feel safe and comfortable asking ‘what if?’ or ‘what’s next?’” and other probing questions.

But these things, Cangialosi says, “are not going to happen overnight and you have to encourage participation. Don’t let people be afraid to say something stupid. Sometimes the wackiest ideas are the best.

“If you’re not growing and evolving as a company then there is a case to be made that you are dying, or at the very least you are stagnant. People want to be part of a company that is moving and advancing forward in their industry. It’s important to stay aware of what’s around you.”

Cangialosi went on to say that the companies that drive innovation are leaders. It’s a recipe he follows at his current venture MissionTix, but nonetheless, he says, “I know that one year from now, some company will come out with every idea on our table.” To be an innovator, he advises, “Operate under a sense of urgency.”

Greg Cangialosi left me thinking about how I can innovate moving forward. What is your company doing to innovate? Let us know in the comments below.

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