MediaMarkt Saturn & Innovation – Empowering Innovators (Part I)

– Welcome to Empowering Innovators, the series where we talk about
innovation the startup way. Today, I have with me Martin Wild, the chief innovation
officer at MediaMarktSaturn. Welcome, Martin. – Hi, Patrick, thanks for having me. (upbeat music) – Let’s go back to 1997 when
you started Home of Hardware. Why did you decide to
become an entrepreneur? – Well, I was a very big computer, I loved computers. Computers’ my hobby. So I realized that the
business was growing and I decided, wait, I know how to do it, so let’s just try it out. I did not have a business case, back then you just needed a little paper that allowed you to do business, and I started the business because I saw the market is not really professionally
already fulfilled, and that’s the reason why I started without really thinking
what would happen next. – I think you started by yourself or did you start with a co-founder? – No, I actually started by myself only. In the first years, Home of Hardware was focusing
on doing computer services and small hardware sales, and in 2002 Home of Hardware
became an online business only. And then I got two friends helping me because I was traveling a lot and they helped me to ship the
packages and stuff like that. So we all said it’s just
a little extra money we would earn with the whole business. We never planned to make it that big. – So you felt the opportunity, basically, and said, let’s move into online. Which was quite early, right? E-commerce in end of 2001, early 2002. – Yes, well, it was just after the bubble. I didn’t wanna go into regular retail so online was early and we started actually on eBay. Because eBay was a very easy start. We sold a few products and we saw that demand is very high, and then when we decided to
launch our own online shop, bought the software, and started very, very lean, bootstrapped without any external money making money from day one because we did not have money
to lose, so not an option. – But that’s great,
bootstrapping a company from zero to 15 million eventually in
revenue a few years later. – 80. – Well, that was the end when
you sold it, the company. But how did that feel? Did you just reinvest all
the business that you made directly into the company again? – Yes. Well, we took some money to live but the rest we invested into growing and it grew really, really fast. It was always planned as an extra, just a little bit on top, and after the first year
it was like, I don’t know, a few thousands percent and then growing a few
hundred percent every year. And we couldn’t even grasp
how fast it was growing because the market was
growing, apparently, and consumer electronics expect then was already very interesting
for consumers buying online, so, really fortunate to make that happen. – What did that mean to your life, going from basically university and then directly into doing business? I guess your life must have changed, specially since you were riding a wave that was becoming bigger
and bigger and bigger. – Yeah, it’s was very, very stressful. In the beginning we had a lot of fun. We were a group of 20 people and we had time to play some
computer games in the morning, we would come in early to the office and play against each other, and after time it became more stressful because the business was growing that fast and we had to grow because
the market was growing. So you can imagine that
it’s a lot of stress but I’ve always loved my job and I remember I made my hobby into my job so that’s helped a lot. But I did not really plan it so it was really interesting. And I learned on the job. Because from university apparently I did not have all the knowledge I needed so I learned logistics, I learned finance, I learned all the processes
you need to run this business. I learned HR. Really learning all of
the functions on the job, which is really also
interesting but I loved it. – You’re talking about it was stressful but on the other side it was
also very energizing, I guess. How do you keep that balance
while a company is growing and probably demanding
more and more hours a day from you as a person? – It’s not easy. I think you need to definitely make sure that you have enough time to relax and step back a little bit, which was in the end not really working as good for me anymore. I got a knee surgery and
then I could not do sports and I love to do sports,
I could not do it anymore, so I was a little bit overstressed. So I learned that it’s very important to have the right balance because if you don’t have that, you will not be able to bring this energy to the work every day. That’s just one of my
learnings I definitely have. – And is that one of the reasons that eventually you decided, okay, maybe it’s a good momentum now to basically sell the company? – Well, I saw that the
market was growing constantly and at the same time I was under 30 still, no diploma in my pocket
because I grew a business and the banks were saying, “Yeah, it’s really nice of you “but you do e-commerce
and computer business, “that’s a little funny.” So I said we need to
grow to the next level, and I was looking for a strategic partner. And that’s the reason why I
was actively looking for one. Found one, and we said, together, yes, now it’s a good time to maybe even consolidate the European marketplace. Back then 2007, the market back then was in a very interesting
phase, apparently. We didn’t think about the financial crisis that was coming up in 2008, but nobody saw this coming. – And you took a break. – I took a break. We wanted to do a trip
around the world, I took it, which I don’t know how I got it. No, I was working all
the time, apparently, so I didn’t have too much time. And I said, now it’s time
to spend time with family. I think sabbatical was
just about to be used, it was not that common yet, and we said let’s do a trip
around the world with the kids and we planned to go around
the world for 1 and 1/2 years and enjoy life and enjoy family time. – And what did you learn from that time? – One of the best times of my life. I recommend to everybody to step back. Apparently, I started
to work really strong when I was 18, so I never got those what
you usually do as a student and hang out and fun, I never had this. I really started working with 18 and I thought at 30 or 29, it’s now time for a
first retirement phase. And stepping back, looking at the world
from a different angle is so important from my point of view that the first time I realized really how my friends who
are all in big corporates, growing and having good jobs, how much stress they had. And inside, if you don’t
even see it in this circle, from outside it’s so interesting. And I got a complete new
relationship to my family, to my kids. So I learned that it’s
very important to step back and really think about
what do I wanna do next. So I recommend to everybody
if you have the chance in life where you change your job or
are going into a new business, take a few months and
do something different. Back then I read one book
which was recommended, it’s called The 4-Hour Work Week, it’s my favorite book, and this guy I took a lot of his examples and one of his is do an
early-retirement phase and really see what do you
wanna do next with your life and not just be in there and wait until it’s too late
to decide for something. – And did you there also have the epiphany to go into a different
environment with your life? Maybe staying still in electronics but going into the corporate world, right? – Actually, I planned to
stay in the United States. I never planned to go to
the corporate world at all. And I planned to stay there and then a headhunter found me on LinkedIn and told me that there’s
somebody in Germany that is helping e-commerce
and consumer electronics. I thought about it a long time and then I decided to
join the corporate world for the first time in my
life of 30, 31, back then. – And do you feel like that still can be the entrepreneur that you
were in the early days when you started your first company and successfully sold that eventually? – In the beginning it was not as easy because first, apparently,
I had to gain trust. They did not know me. They gave me a lot of early trust but not the full trust I was used to. Now in my actual role as
chief innovation officer, I think it’s the coolest job for me I can have in the company and
probably in whole of retail. I have a lot of freedom, I
work like an entrepreneur, but I get the perk of a big corporate. More or less the best of both worlds. Apparently not 100%. But it’s so important to have this freedom and the power to really
execute and also try out. If you’re always on discuss,
you will never innovate. – It’s about execution, eventually, right? – It’s about execution
and taking decisions. – Let’s maybe shortly go
back to startups and scaleups and entrepreneurship which
is in your veins, basically. You’re an entrepreneur still although you’re in a large company. How do you bring that
spirit of entrepreneurship and also the spirit of not
everything that you will start will eventually be
successful to your team? – Yeah, very important, we adapted a fail-forward
strategy into the company. – [Patrick] Fail forward? – Fail forward, fail fast. So, really, Germans always
wanna do it perfect. They say we do it perfect
and then we launch. And while we do that, other people from around the world are building a concept that is
rolling out across the world. So we said no, we need to change this, apparently this is not true. If we deploy a new ERP system– – Correct, correct, you’ll
wanna make sure that it’s fixed. – But if it’s a palate
project, a new innovation, we try to build an MVP,
a minimum viable product that’s going live as soon as possible, and we usually do it
with a startup together. So, we founded Retailtech Hub. Retailtech Hub is a startup
innovation platform, I sometimes call it Tinder
between startups and corporates. So we look for startups out
there that are interesting, we understand them, we talk to them, we connect them to our team, sometimes to domain owners, we build a pilot. We have no business case for a pilot, so we really wanna experiment, we wanna learn, does it work? What’s the result? We’re taking it live
hopefully after a few weeks, sometimes after a few months. The project is live
consumer-facing usually, or at least employee-facing,
depending on the use case. And we learn from that. And sometimes we fail. But it’s important to talk
about the failures you have and to help everybody to understand it’s not wrong that you fail. Because I think the worst case you can do as innovation unit, you try to make it work every time because you wanna show that you succeed, and then maybe the first two
projects go totally wrong and then your whole innovation stops. So it’s so important to say, okay, wrong, too early, whatever, wrong team, wrong setup, stop it, kill it, maybe try it again later or
maybe try something else. – And what’s the states
that these startups are in? Are they still in the startup
phase in the MVP stage or are they already in the scale-up phase and have proven that they can work with
other corporates as well? Because it’s not so easy
for young small companies to work with a large company
like MediaMarktSaturn. – We mostly look for startups that are already in the scale-up phase so they need to be able to pilot. Sometimes we have a
little of the younger ones and sometimes we had just a year ago a team that broke apart because they did not
understand each other. That happens. So we try to focus on really scaleups that are able to pilot
and to execute fast. Sometimes even with the
small ones it works. But for us, the most important topic is that we re are able to pilot together and to make something that
the costumers can feel, not just discuss how it could
look like in the future. – And touching upon the
entrepreneur side again and bringing those examples
to your team members, is entrepreneurship a career
path now within the company? – Not yet. That’s something we are
evaluating right now. Most innovation today is
still brought from outside, from startups, because I really believe that they always have a different view and they don’t see the
problems that we see internally and they just make it happen. So that’s why I love to work with them, and they’re full passionate. Apparently, internal some
people also have this DNA and they wanna make it happen, and we are just about to set up a program where we allow them to work on the idea, help them to make it happen, and hopefully then help them to launch something on their own. We are just evaluating now and hopefully we find
something that’s working. – I got a great book for you. It’s about sports. It was written by this
lady, Bibian Mentel. You might have heard
about her, she’s Dutch. She’s a paralympic gold medalist but also got diagnosed with
cancer over eight times. And the book is called Live and it’s about dealing
with sports, family, but also creating a
business around what you do and the hard times and how
to overcome them, basically. So I hope, since you like sports as well, you just told me before, it will be a great source of
inspiration for you as well. We support Bibian and her foundation where she basically helps
young children and young adults who have a disability to go into sports, because we both know how
important it is to do sports, also to free your mind and to achieve things in life. So I hope you will enjoy it. Let me know if you did. And then I hope to see you soon again. – Thanks very much, thanks for the book. (upbeat music)

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