What do you do if you have a competitor? Nic Covey, vice president of Nielsen Ventures, invests in them.
This may seem counterintuitive, but Nic's work identifying and investing in early-stage, high-energy startups is a win-win for both parties. After all, measuring consumer behavior around the globe is a big job, and collaboration through efforts like corporate venture capital helps grow the market's overall understanding, ultimately helping Nielsen better serve its clients.
"When we partner with these companies, invest in them, we get to see some of the cutting-edge technology they're experimenting with," Nic explains. "But we also get to help them understand how an organization like Nielsen, with more than 90 years of experience in measurement, could use their technology and do interesting things with it for our clients."
With new devices entering the market on an almost daily basis and radically redefining consumer behaviors, getting insight into the new technology just over the horizon is increasingly important.
"Our clients need us to help them navigate a really complex world, geographically and technologically, and so we are stretching ourselves for their benefit," says Nic.
Nic's never one to settle for the obvious or expected, and it's practically in his DNA to try new things and stretch himself to solve a problem.
"If I look back over my Nielsen career, the common thread has been curiosity, moving from one thing to the next because I've been interested in learning that space," he says.
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Starting with the company as an intern, Nic has worked his way throughout the company, leapfrogging across various departments (including working with our corporate social responsibility team and an ambitious project with the United Nations called Project 8) and constantly keeping that need-something-new itch in his brain satisfied.
"I have changed over my 12 years at Nielsen, but so has Nielsen. I think one of the reasons I stick around is that every few years or so the company starts to reinvent itself. I've seen this company become more open, I've seen this company become more digital and certainly more global, and that's what keeps me excited about coming back every day."
Nic's work with startups is helping drive that transformation forward. With an infectious passion, Nic tackles his projects with an equal parts fast-fast-faster mentality he's picked up from startups, as well as a methodical analyst side.
"What we're learning is how to move quickly, how to scale up a minimum viable product as quickly as possible so that we don't wait months and months to serve our clients, but instead we hear a need today and try and solve it tomorrow … That's the way startups think about the world and increasingly that's how I see my colleagues at Nielsen thinking about the world as well."
This is all a part of what Nic explains through the lens of what's called "non-zero sumness," which Nielsen deploys throughout the organization. Simply put, it's "the idea that everything is not a zero-sum game ... it is those parties that are willing to collaborate with one another and ultimately grow the overall pie that survive and live to see another day."
It's that mentality that has kept Nielsen moving forward and looking to the future. Those who don't do that, according to Nic, will meet a rough fate.
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"When we're scanning the world for startups that Nielsen wants to invest in, support, nurture, we're looking for a few things," Nic says. "We're looking for founders with great ideas, lots of energy and a willingness to try things and make it work ... Sometimes I tell people we're looking for the companies that are going to come eat our lunch because I'd rather get to know those companies now. I'd rather work with those companies today—nurture them, learn from them, see them grow—than have them sneak up on us in five years."
It's Nic's job to look into the future and anticipate the next big thing. Talking with Nic, you'll see his eyes light up as he alludes to the 70:20:10 ratio that many companies follow, where 70% of resources and energy go toward current needs, 20% are focused on the next year or so, and 10% are the things that could wind up being the future of the company. Each area is important, but it takes a different type of person with a different train of thought to dabble in that future-focused world.
"I'm really privileged because I get to spend my time in that 10%," Nic proudly admits. "I get to spend my time thinking about what's going to be important to our clients and to consumers, not this month or next month, but in a couple of years. The 10% is what’s next. It's my privilege to get to work on those things."
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