Dell Project SputnikYou’ve probably heard there are benefits to empowering employees, nurturing innovation and investing in existing talent. Like many business owners though, you may also wonder: how does all of this actually help improve our bottom line?

Project Sputnik is a solid example of incredibly real, tangible business benefits as a result of listening to feedback and encouraging employees to do what it is they’re best at. Barton George, our web vertical director at Dell, has been incredibly busy since Sputnik launched November 29th, but took the time to stop by and share his experience with us about this project.

First, what is Sputnik? Without going all techy-geek on you, it’s the much-anticipated developer’s edition of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook™. George explains the hardware and software specs and more in his launch announcement here.

Some time ago, he met with an analyst, who proposed his concept of an Ubuntu developer laptop. It was a great idea, George agreed, but the market seemed too small for such a product to fly. 

Earlier this year, with this concept still kicking around in the recesses of his mind, George heard about an internal innovation fund Dell had set up. The concept is much like the popular television show Dragon’s Den; employees could pitch their idea to a panel of three other Dell staffers, rather than “Dragons” or investors. 

This time, said George, everything just felt right. “The XPS13 didn’t exist when this was idea was first proposed to me, so once that became available, that made it a no-brainer for me,” he explained. “We had this incubation program, plus this hardware we can put it on, so everything just fell into place.”

His idea was the first chosen under this new program and was given the green light by Dell. George’s idea was not just to create a laptop for developers, but to turn it into an end-to-end solution and attach it to the cloud, as well.  He worked with a very small group of developers outside of Dell that he bounced ideas off of, then he went to two West Coast customers to get their feedback.  

Barton George announces Project Sputnik on Twitter

Project Sputnik was officially announced as a Dell project May 7th at an Ubuntu developers event in Oakland. From the start, George said, he saw massive interest in the product. “My blog  typically gets 500 or so page views per post,” he laughed. “The announcement for Project Sputnik was viewed 62,000 times.” You read that right: he said 62 thousand page views!

“The amount of feedback we’ve gotten from the community along the way has been really interesting,” he said, noting that people were eager to share what they did — or did not — like. “Our guiding principle from the beginning was to be very open about it along the way. We’ve talked about it in social media, through IdeaStorm, on a special Project Sputnik tech forum, plus the Dell TechCenter. All of these forums map really well to this specific audience that we’re focusing on, because developers are typically very active in social and forums.”

Community feedback for Project Sputnik was so overwhelming they received over 6,000 applications from people who wanted to be involved in beta testing.

Barton George works on Dell's Project Sputnik

“That really signaled to us that it made sense to develop this as a product,” said George. “We marched ahead, and, on Nov 29th, we launched it in the US and Canada! It’s been very well-received and we’re incredibly excited about it.”

You may be wondering about the relatively short time from concept, through development, to market. I know I was; from a May approval to a November launch is much faster than the average new product cycle. Quite simply, George had the idea, Dell already had the hardware, and our community provided the feedback he absolutely needed to pull it all together. As a result, the research and development process was simplified. The time to market was shorter. An entirely new product was created. These are all fantastic outcomes for investing in an idea!

Interestingly, IdeaStorm itself, one of Project Sputnik’s greatest sources of feedback and communication, was created to better enable customers to collaborate with and provide feedback to Dell.

Investing in an employee’s innovation and talent resulted in an entirely new product serving a previously untapped market for Dell. What could the same strategy do for your business?