EARLY BRANDS INTERVIEW
About expedition spirit and innovation strength in the digital age
In this leadership interview, our Managing Partner Alexander gives personal insights on what distinguishes EARLY BRANDS. How value is created on EARLY BRANDS expeditions. And what’s important in order to create added value for our customers in the future. Let’s start this expedition and change our suit for a proper outfit.
EARLY BRANDS insights: EARLY BRANDS has been around for more than 10 years and supports a variety of worldwide leading brand companies with innovation and technology topics. How did it all come about?
Alexander: Sure, it sounds super fancy when your colleagues and you can help to shape many cool brand companies and brands from MARS to Jacobs coffee and UniCredit – and many other international innovation and technology topics. But it was not an easy road to become what we are today. Still giving our best every day. At the same time, it is very fulfilling. Creating innovation and technology success together with great people, passion and perseverance. And success can be very diverse – from the point of view of our customers, their consumers, technology partners and many other players in the exciting ecosystems, which we help to shape and rock forward.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What motivated you back in 2006 to suspend your corporate career and to set up EARLY BRANDS on your own, only with the support of a few freelancers?
Alexander: At KRAFT Foods and Kraft Jacobs Suchard, as a very young person, I had entrepreneurial responsibility from day one. I was just 26 years old, was studying for my MBA and at the same time took over responsibility for P&L and sales for very cool brand and innovation portfolios. Brands like Milka, Jacobs, Philadelphia or Kraft. The spirit of Johann and Klaus Jacobs was lived day by day. I was extremely proud to be part of this brand-conscious, entrepreneurial community. Even if this American enterprise was super tough. Everything was great and I felt very well. When I was in charge of European beverage innovations, I was very interested in “open innovation” and “corporate innovation ventures”, even after the job in the evening and at the weekend.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What was the concrete impulse to start EARLY BRANDS in 2006?
Alexander: If you deal with innovations for the group every day and at the same time think entrepreneurially, then you want to rock big things faster. We did not come into the world for stage gate processes or limited editions. Back in 2005, it was already clear to me that multi-billion brand companies only have a chance to succeed if they open themselves up, think bigger across market boundaries and take the chance to create bold, fancy innovations with technology partners. KRAFT Foods was not ready to take this step. Great brands and at the same time investment thinking with a focus on new factories, assets, advertising instead of experiments with innovation partners from all over the world. So, I took my savings and founded EARLY BRANDS. I invested in holdings and patents, built a few technology ventures for corporations. I also wrote a patent and was on “road show” around the world….. until the fuel was almost empty. The people from my network were not ready yet for agile start-up cooperation and open innovation. Today we have a great global networked tech scene and almost everyone wants to be part of it. If you are almost on your own, but on a par with companies and moving participation projects with them. Well, you need passion and perseverance.
In retrospect, you only see the good, the great experiences and new horizons. An expedition experience from 2007: I just thought it was cool when I was picked up by PepsiCo with a SUV in New York and pitched in the board room my first tech ventures. I am also interested in art and culture. And PepsiCo has great Rodin statues in the garden. I was totally impressed. At that time, there was also Fashion Week in New York. In the photo below, you can see how young I was back then. Of course, I took a selfie on the Empire State Building – glad to show you this EARLY BRANDS insight 10 years later. Besides, successful innovation and technology initiatives are always about inspiring and creating experiences. Just as excited as I am still today about all these exciting experiences.
The PepsiCo New York trip really inspired me. NYC is still a great hot spot for creativity and great brands. And as David, very cool things are possible today together with Goliath. Also, with the view on EARLY BRANDS business set-up. At that time, Coca-Cola Corporation had just bought the vitamin water start-up Glaceau for almost $ 4 billion. I thought to myself: This is exactly how it should be with our energy start-ups and investment projects. But unlike Glaceau I did not have the support of the rapper 50 Cent. Great to see how 50 Cent as an influencer in social media pushed it forward. Or in contrast how slow decision-making processes were at the board level of the corporations. When I arrived in Manhattan, I stocked up on Glaceau vitamin water. Delicious and refreshing. A few years later, Coca-Cola brought Glaceau to Europe. With my thirst for vitamin water, I contributed a small piece to it at least.
I also sent a very fancy “Energy Drink Tech Venture” Christmas greeting to Dietrich Mateschitz from Red Bull. A minimum viable product (MVP) photographed and framed. Back then, Red Bull was already a media and entertainment group with energy drinks. Even if Dietrich Mateschitz did not jump on our cool ideas, this was also valuable inspiration and is part of our EARLY BRANDS story. I have deep respect for this great entrepreneur. Our expedition to Fuschl on the lakefront was cool. Okay, night flights to New York to PepsiCo HQ may be fancier. The photo shows the RED BULL HQ at Lake Fuschl. Beautiful. Already back then, equipped with my tech ventures for Fuschl, I enjoyed agile thinking in creative technology combinations and MVPs with our EARLY BRANDS expedition spirit. For the “Energy Drink Tech Venture” we shot a very cool snowboard action video and used great electro sounds by Martin Solveig. They still sound really great today. Today you can find similar and much cooler clips at 13 O Clock by Alterna Film Productions.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What exactly did EARLY BRANDS do as a start-up in 2006?
Alexander: Well. Right from the start, we had a feeling and an instinct for the opportunities of combining strong brands and customer needs with certain technologies, growth trends and partners to something valuable and enthusiastic. Thus, I took my own money and developed creative technology participation concepts or so-called ventures, together with innovation designers and research partners. They were just right for a number of financially strong brand corporations. They included “energy boosters”, innovative “on the go beverage projects” or “initiatives for OTC pharmaceutical products for health & wellness and sports nutrition”. Today I would rather bet on blockchain or FinTech. And we will very soon.
EARLY BRANDS Insights: What were your experiences during your travels around the world? And what did the companies say to your ideas?
Alexander: Well, most companies were open to ideas. It’s like on expeditions in the Stone Age. People around the campfire have always liked to hear something exciting. On the other hand, the so-called “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome and the belief in complex project management systems and old school strategy plans à la BCG Matrix and others were very strong. It was different than I thought. I feel, in 2006 it was like everything that challenged the status quo of an existing market, had a guaranteed 0% chance of receiving an investment due to a thick layer of fog between base and top management. One exception was Procter & Gamble. The boys and girls were already ahead back then and had a very inspiring CEO with A.G. Lafley. He is a leader who focused on open innovation at a very early stage. And he writes great books.
EARLY BRANDS insights: So, was it hard or a cool party to launch EARLY BRANDS?
Alexander: It was both. In the big ivory towers of the brand companies, where I had felt so comfortable before, there was no VP or Director who really had the desire to entrepreneurially push innovations beyond market and category boundaries. I felt like glue, or TESA-film – by the way, a great company with a great sense of exploration and discovery. You can go full throttle, but if you do not get the racetrack that suits your tires then you just have to build helicopters instead of Formula One race cars. And that is exactly what we did.
The time for corporate innovation and technology investment projects was not as ready as it is today. So, we have put the development of racing cars on hold and went full throttle with Innovation & Tech Consulting. That was just right and is a lot of fun. With the sale of our first tech venture, we couldn’t cover our costs, but we had fresh fuel to build a few small helicopters. In other words, we started “innovation and technology consulting” for success in the digital age and we developed our own “digital tools”. From scouting to networked collaboration with and for our clients.
EARLY BRANDS insights: Where do you feel EARLY BRANDS is today and how about its future?
Alexander: Today, we carefully think about who we spend our time with and for what. Of course, we have to fight every day, win projects and challenge our status quo. Especially, to gain success for the exciting companies we were allowed to work with. Simultaneously, we are well positioned and able to invest continuously into new technologies like clouds, artificial intelligence as well as tech ventures and the expansion of our innovation and technology team. That is what makes us successful: Calmly listen to the people we work with. Be an independent, loyal and faithful partner. Be a 100% positive partner that knows how ideas, brands and objectives can be combined with attractive growth opportunities to reach valuable innovation and technology portfolios.
EARLY BRANDS Insights: How would you convince people to shape their future with EARLY BRANDS innovation & technology consultants in a joyful and successful way?
Alexander: With one of our core values and beliefs: Despite of all the hype about new technologies and innovations, we always put our focus on humans. This is also demonstrated by the innovative “Coffee Robot” on the picture below – best coffee enjoyment will always be prepared by humans and I am very happy about that ..
.. but the coffee market and its players will change radically. Further, there will be less “consumer loyalty”. This is also illustrated by our new political landscape. Newcomer like Emanuel Macron were given opportunities in our digital age whenever they offer something new that meets the sweet spot in a credible way.
Video: French President Macron launches tech visa to make France a ‘country of unicorns
Every day EARLY BRANDS supports to be responsive to fast developments such as Amazonization, democratization of innovation or disruption proactively and resolutely. It is our mission to make people and their teams successful. This is exactly what matters in our digital age: digitalization is not only about data but more about connecting humans and their ideas, assume a brave attitude and become open for all the new opportunities we were offered today.
In our digital age, success is caused by humans. With an agile, flexible partner like EARLY BRANDS you will reach your goals faster and with much more fun. A few weeks ago, I got the possibility to visit the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Lab of D. School in Stanford – very exciting sessions concerning Design Thinking and agile collaboration.
Since then, my conviction for success in our digital age was strengthened. Also, innovation and technology consultants need new perspectives for key success factors. It is all about PPT but in a completely different way: People Passion and Trust, a bit of variety and the openness to think and act in several playgrounds. Thereby, exciting perspectives arise – also for big players with iconic brands like Jacobs, Milka, HypoVereinsbank or Sparkasse.
The same applies to the current hype about “Crypto Currencies” and “Blockchain”. Many exciting possibilities will arise from that and we from EARLY BRANDS will support you to exploit them. In short: rocking forward with innovation plus technology plus partners in an agile way.
Today, Airbus and Lufthansa do not only put their primary future focus on the replacement of A380 or miles and more programs. Indeed, they want to stay successful with that while exploiting new agile playgrounds without losing the roof over their heads. For example: drones for passenger services or blockchain technologies in the purpose of the democratization of travel businesses. Within an ‘Valley like’ atmosphere and a cuddlesome buddy (see creative cuddly toy from Hasso Plattner Stanford Design Lab on the picture above) such proposals come off much faster. Of course, also in Bremen, Zurich, Berlin or London this can happen. Maybe more often and more successful with our support. With our own Real Time Scouting Engines and Teams, Design Thinking, Lean Start-Up tools and much more. Or even from taking time and listening to our clients to create and shape cool innovation concepts with high values. We are completely independent so that we are a strong partner across all organizational levels. Especially for all the big players we were allowed to work with. No matter if Germany, Europe or wherever and whenever – we always set our focus on the success and happiness of our clients.
EARLY BRANDS Insights: Keep us updated about your exciting expeditions and insights. And do not put on your suit so often. Your mountain bike or San Francisco Hoodie looks much better – even in the office.
Alexander: Thank you. Without doubt, we will build on these insights. Catch the future…
Now, off to the weekend :-).