The 'doppo' effect Featured

10:03am EDT July 22, 2002

Want to hold on to your best em-ployees? Help them start their own companies.

That may sound like a contradiction, but that's exactly what the MAYA Group, parent company of MAYA Design Inc. and now MAYA Viz, has done.

MAYA Design, a high-tech product design and development consultant, faced the dilemma of how to retain talented professionals while it simultaneously harbored the intent to remain small, according to Peter Lucas, co-founder and CEO of MAYA Design.

Steven Roth, a former employee of MAYA Design who had the entrepreneurial itch, now heads MAYA Viz, a venture between Roth and MAYA Design that develops customized information-visualization applications for organizations that must manage and analyze large amounts of data.

The new partnership of sorts is based on a concept which Lucas came across called a "doppo," a structure used in Japan to form a federation of companies. The ownership of each company is shared by a parent company and an employee who becomes an entrepreneur. Both, then, share an equity interest in the new venture and responsibility for its survival.

The MAYA Group retains controlling interest and helps bootstrap the doppo by providing seed money, physical space, administrative help and, Lucas says, immediate credibility and market recognition.

With the addition of doppos, the MAYA Group will be more able to "sustain higher-risk ventures as we grow," Lucas says.

But the MAYA Group isn't about to spin off new ventures indiscriminately. Each new company must be complementary to the other units with no overlap in functions.

The initial doppo preparation and launch has been a sobering experience for the rest of the MAYA Group employees. "We've made this a very visible and open process," says Lucas.

Discussions about the doppo concept went on for about two years before implementation, and Roth had to develop and submit an exhaustive and exacting business plan.

While some employees remain interested in the notion of entrepreneurship, Lucas says their expectations are realistic. "There's no doppomania around here."