Interview with Stephen-Wolf Müller: “The Bridge Builders” program & the importance of startups

Meet Stephen: this MB.ioneer has quite a range of tasks around here. From his core role as a Product Designer, to customer journey tracking, to being a Communicator in cross-product relations, actions and developments.

Today we want to focus on the fact that on top of that, he also participated in The Bridge Builders program far from home with startups from all over the world. What is that all about and what were his key takeaways? Keep reading to find out more about the innovative program The Bridge Builders and why we need startups.

Question: Let’s dive right in why don’t we! You have attended The Bridge Builder program twice already, could you tell us more about the program?

Answer: The Bridge Builders is a commercialization program for startups to get in touch with global companies, located in Israel. The major companies that are part of the program are Daimler, Coca-Cola, and Warner Media with Walmart joining in 2019. Initially the program was kicked-off by Coca-Cola in 2014 and in 2017 Mercedes-Benz joined. I attended two fixed events out of this whole seven month program.

Israel is one of the major countries for startups with a high-tech ecosystem and innovations and finds itself among the first places in the world in Research & Development and in venture capital investments as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Since the “quality” of Israeli Startups is extremely high, global companies such as Cola-Cola and Mercedes-Benz searched for a way to establish an exclusive connection with these startups. 

To do so, Coca-Cola started this commercialization program in Tel Aviv, where on the one hand the startups not only benefit by doing POC’s (proof of concept) and projects within several business units of those major companies, but also receiving in-depth marketing training, access to experienced mentors and connections to business sponsors. On the other hand, we also benefit from learning more about their inspiring technologies, ideas and solutions.

Question: So, it is not to be confused with a recruiting event or such?

Answer: Not really, the Program has what is called a “Bridge Class,” which consists of a selected 11-20 startups and they are in the program for seven months. The class then goes to Atlanta to visit interested business partners from Warner Media, Coca-Cola as well as Mercedes-Benz USA. And they also come to Stuttgart, to visit us.  

In the “Launch Event,” which I attended in 2019, it was all about identifying relevant business units and projects. Within those seven months the startups collaborate with the companies and their business units to do multiple pilots together. 

Question: Is there is a pre-selection of all startups depending on the quality of the startup itself?

Answer: Yes exactly! All the startups are curated. The Builders in Tel Aviv are a corporate accelerator that use their innovation platform to foster partnerships with Fortune 100 companies. In 2019 I went to the “Interview week” of the Bridge Builders Program, where around 90 startups (initially over 200 startups that were reviewed and curated) introduced themselves. Each major company then scored those startups within the review platform upfront. 

That year, after rating about 90 startups, they then were invited to an interview week and had slots of 20 mins each to pitch their solutions to the company’s representatives. 

Within those 5 days of the interview week, we heard over 15 pitches a day and at the end of each day, there was a joint evaluation slot for all of the global companies to discuss the pitches. At the end of the week the most outstanding startups were selected (by all of the participating global companies) and made it into the program. 

Question: And so, the selected startups were then in the program for seven months and were able to work with us and Coca-Cola and Walmart…

Answer: Yes, and the goal was to do as many POCs and projects as possible with these companies. In 2019, for example, we had two projects together with KonnecTo.

KonnecTo is a startup that does research and benchmarking—from a data analytics point of view it is like customer intelligence platform. They build data communities in several countries and analyze the user’s behaviors on multiple devices and touchpoints. KonnecTo enables you to know your consumers with an unprecedented level of intimacy and confidence that enables new disruptions or interventions in their purchase journeys, unparalleled competitive analytics, as well as identifying previously hidden new product and market opportunities. With their help we were able to explore and get to know our customers better, by for example doing research on “Who’s the benchmark for an online booking process?”. 

So, with this way we were able to match several digital functionalities and user tasks by comparing us not only to close competitors or other OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) but also to other industries. 

Question: KonnecTo was a startup that had already come up with this idea and program and was therefore able to work with us on a solution for our questions, right? 

Answer: Yes, most of the startups are already in a mature state and have already received major funding by investors. Most of them have already been working on projects with other global companies as well—so the quality of the startups is really, really high.

Question: Wow, all of this happened in 2019 and you went back in 2020! Can you tell us about what happened then?

Answer: In 2020 I went to the “Launch Event” week. This happens after the “Interview Week,” so after the selection of the startups that made it into the class of 2020. In this week it is more about sitting together with the selected startups, getting to know each other better, learning about their solutions, as well as preparing them for their visits to Atlanta and Stuttgart. It is all about identifying relevant business units together with Daimler, who could be potentially interested in their solutions.

So, it was more about the hands-on work on identifying “leads” within our company. This means we took deep dives into their technology to then be able to identify where they could fit to our business units. The goal was to identify possible projects, use cases, and prepare them for their (now remote) visit to Stuttgart.

Question: So, are they coming to Mercedes-Benz.io as well?

Answer: Well originally, yes. They would have come here and given a short pitch, however, now everything will be held remotely. Nonetheless, they will present themselves, give us a rough overview of their solution and you can book one-on-one sessions with the startups if you, e.g. as a product owner or as a business unit owner are interested in doing a project together.

Question: I can imagine it then being quite a challenge for you to decide what is really needed in our company and what is maybe not so fitting for our line of work, am I right?

Answer: Well, there are a lot of startups coming from different areas focusing on solutions which widely spread. 

We were there as an automotive company in the midst of so many global companies from different areas. A big beverage company like Coca Cola, as well as Warner Media and Walmart as multinational retail corporation were all participating, and at first, I wasn’t sure if they were facing the same problems we are facing and if it beneficial to sit together with them, scoring on startups. But after the first joint interview sessions together with the representatives from the other companies I had an “eye-opening moment,” seeing that it doesn’t matter from which area you are because all of us were facing the same kind of problems. For example, last mile or plant-optimization, as well as data/ cybersecurity topics is something that each of us tackle. 

Question: Can you tell us your personal highlights from your Bridge Builder experience?

Answer: Well the first year I attended, we had breakfast and lunch all together and then I was in the office from 8 am till 8pm. So yes, each day was very busy but worthwhile because otherwise I would have never gotten the chance to connect with those brilliant founders and entrepreneurs in such a short period of time. It was so inspiring to hear the 15-20 minute startup pitches offering their solutions on different topics.

The year thereafter, in 2020, it was more about focusing in detail on the selected startups and about getting to know the startup scene in Israel. So, we went to Start-Up Nation Central, which is the biggest NGO in Israel supporting the local startups. I got a lot of interesting background information, like what are the key ingredients for the “secret sauce” of the Israeli startups.

Question: What was it like to be surrounded by those big global players?

Answer: It was very inspiring and interesting because the exchange we had was like receiving a type of consulting from the top management of other companies. Normally you would never be able to get such advice from any kind of consulting agency. All in all, meeting these people was a fruitful experience.  

Speaking to Stephen about his time in Tel Aviv and the experiences he had, has truly illuminated the importance of inspiration, innovation, and teamwork in every part of our daily work. Stephen found value and inspiration in every aspect of the program—from the collaboration with large Fortune 100 companies and startups.

Thank you, Stephen, for an insightful interview and letting us be part of the Bridge Builders experience!


Way Forward: Digital House Product-Centric Organization

Mercedes-Benz AG and Mercedes-Benz.io strengthen their product teams within the “Digital House” initiative – realizing a product-centric organization. 

Customers expect the best digital products and services worldwide. Hence,
Mercedes-Benz aims at strengthening its operational e-commerce environments on an international level. Therefore, they will enhance the collaboration with 
Mercedes-Benz.io by scaling digital deliveries for e-commerce and online sales even further. 

The goal of the “Digital House” (a joint initiative of Mercedes-Benz AG and 
Mercedes-Benz.io) is to optimize the business units behind the company’s digital sales and marketing platforms and channels by restructuring them to the upcoming and growing needs of markets and regions worldwide. Within this context of digital products for Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz AG will continue focusing on business and market enabling, strategic portfolio management and respective phase measurements, while Mercedes-Benz.io will be responsible for the development and operation of digital products even more independently. Within the next two years, Mercedes-Benz.io will strengthen its digital product teams in Lisbon, Portugal. The Lisbon site will become the development core unit and a dedicated product organization that focuses on scalable product organization, vehicle leads, and sales-generating products. More than 100 additional digital product development positions will be established at Mercedes-Benz.io in Lisbon. The core of the alignment is a product-oriented organization with the aim of concentrating digital product responsibilities for online sales according to a clear business strategy.

The .io Cook Off

It all started a month ago. We were asked to keep an eye out for a special delivery. The next few days packages came flying in to make sure we were fully equipped for the experience. It was the 3rd Anniversary of Mercedes-Benz.io as well as the first time we had to cope with an all-remote setting, which as you’ll see didn’t stop us from having an unforgettable evening.

The Cook Off

An event from MB.ioneers for MB.ioneers.

Here’s what happened: every MB.ioneer received the necessities they needed to participate in the #ioCookOff through the mail. Throughout the evening, we tuned in to the kitchens of our colleagues, listened to their home office stories and achievements from the last 7 months and watched a compilation of bloopers from our remote meetings.

Our digital guests dialed into the livestream from 315 devices. Additionally, we were connected through our internal messenger which had an impressive activity including 742 posts with 6902 reactions.

The Hosts of the Evening

The evening was hosted by our fellow colleagues Abu and Filipa, live from our office in Lisbon. It would be wonderful to share the whole experience, but that would involve a 2-hour show… Anyway, here’s a little sneak peak of our intro for you to get a taste of the spirit.

Did you know we have some colleagues who joined forces and started a band?

Over the last 1,5 years Rock.io has established quite a fanbase so of course we selected them as our special guests. The 15 minute concert ended with a smashing encore of the German version of 99 red balloons. If there were an MB.ioneers choice award, they would definitely win it!

The Results

Our recommended dishes included options for every taste: from chicken piri piri and a vegetarian broccoli pesto to a vegan pumpkin risotto. Sounds delicious, right? Well, wait until you see the pictures…

We are so proud to have pulled off the whole evening solely with our internal resources. Once again we would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who contributed and our amazing guests. It was definitely a night to remember!

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New year – even better us!

On Monday we had our Kick-Off for 2019. Our Managing Director Sophie Seiwald shared the results from our bi-annual shareholder meeting and gave us a taste of what this year will have in store for us:

We are currently almost 250 employees and looking forward to hiring over 100 more amazing colleagues this year. We will especially focus on talents who are passionate about our company and the technological trends on the market. Starting from #artificalintelligence, #datascience, and #cloud to the inspirational #productowners and #designers, we have many new things in place to make Mercedes-Benz the digital champion of the automotive industry.

With recruiting goals like these, our teams in Berlin and Lisbon are going to need more space and will move into bigger offices. In Lisbon the office at the Hub Criativo Beato will be ready for us by the end of this summer. In Berlin we will announce the location of our new home soon.

We were also introduced to a new process of people development. With flat hierarchies and a role based organizational structure we developed our own process of employee evaluation. Our new performance, development and salary process grants a transparent and equal evaluation process for every employee and will point towards growth in your functional expertise rather than management career.

All in all, our goal for 2019 is to:

TEAM UP –  GROW UP – MOVE UP!