Why Parlay Exists (or "Challenges of Innovation Teams")

Parlay’s origin makes the most sense when you know a little about the two founders: myself and my wife, Rebecca Deutsch. (Read more about us here.) To briefly summarize, we’ve been designing and developing things our whole lives: products, technology, organizations, and elaborate dinner concoctions. We enjoy and thrive in the nebulous world of innovation. Trying to figure out what to do—and then how to do it—is what gets us out of bed in the morning.  

Before starting Parlay, I worked at Starbucks on a team that had one main purpose: innovation. Our charter was to create and flesh out new concepts to the point where it was obvious they should be killed or passed on to another team for further development. If we invented a new technology for freezing ice, we’d hand off the invention to the team responsible for the ice makers. (Yes, that’s a fake example – the real work I did is still largely private within the walls of Starbucks.) 

I loved my time working at Starbucks — it was a great team and a great experience. But no matter how awesome your team is, there are always challenges. Here are a few common ones that many organizations struggle with:  

  • Narrowing down which ideas to work on — People are good at coming up with ideas, and our team was no exception. We always had a large pool of potential ideas to work on, but we didn't initially have a framework for evaluating them. The ideas we worked on were picked somewhat haphazardly, and good ideas sometimes fell off our radar.  
  • Proving the worth of your new concept — Our team would often have to present our new concepts to many different teams, whether they were executive teams approving further development or a peer team that would partner with us. We were always pitching new concepts, and a well-crafted story to accompany a new product is no small task.  
  • No common team language — Disparate educational and professional backgrounds meant that teammates didn’t necessarily have a shared set of vocabulary to develop concepts. I want to note that diverse backgrounds can be a huge benefit for the creative aspect and can create a better product in the end. It's just during the development process, teams need a common language for logistical reasons. 
  • Lack of formal process — The people drawn to innovation teams like this usually see themselves as “creative” and not “process-oriented,” which certainly describes me. The problem is, without some amount of process, nothing ever becomes real. 
Innovation motivational quote by CEO and Co-founder of Parlay, Dan Apone. 

On top of all these challenges, we were generating a lot of content during our development work: photos of whiteboard sketches, documents ranging from new project proposals to patent applications, meeting notes, endless PowerPoint slides, etc. We tried several different software tools to try and stay organized: IT corporate supplied SharePoint tools, Trello, Confluence, and network shared folders. While they all had their strengths and weaknesses, it was clear to me that they weren’t designed for what our innovation team needed. In fact, they weren’t designed for anything specific at all. These tools are meant to be as generic as possible in order to attract the widest audience. At Innovation Conferences, I would hear rumblings from other companies that they were unhappy with, confused by, or apathetic towards their software tools. 

As Rebecca and I talked about our next big adventure, it became clear to us that there was a good problem to tackle here. Innovation teams all over the country (and world) need a web app designed specifically for their development process. Rebecca had already left Microsoft (after 10 years designing software, including Windows), so we began brainstorming what our new product would look like to help innovation teams flourish.  

In December 2015, I left Starbucks and the two of us set out to research the problem, design a solution, and build an MVP. (Minimum Viable Product is the quickest, cheapest, most streamlined version of a product concept that delivers real value to your target customers.) By March 2016, we had a released product in the hands of some early users and pilot partners. We’re constantly adding features and iterating and learning from our customers. As I write this, we’re building some new dashboards to show a visual representation of your entire portfolio of projects.  

This a thrilling journey that we’re on, and the most exciting part – like all innovation projects – is that we don’t know where this road will take us. Following the road is the only way to find out. We’ve built a lot of momentum so far, and that trend is only accelerating. Come join our community!