Startup Intelligence Center: The beauty lies in networks

Innovation arises spontaneously and often in places you expect it least. We at Daimler, too, had to learn that we are not the “Mecca” of innovation but that there are many creative minds located outside of Stuttgart. We are eager to learn and want to change ourselves. No sooner said than done – but now we’re facing a much bigger challenge: the real world.

How do we find exactly these new ideas and inspirations which will take our financial, insurance and mobility services to the next Level?

The answer to this question are global networks like the Startup Intelligence Center of Daimler Financial Services. It all started with a handful of colleagues in Stuttgart, Singapore and the US, who teamed up in order to screen the world for fascinating startups which could be a good fit for us and would prosper from our partnership.

But what exactly do we mean with “a good fit”?

The Startups…

  • … have innovative and relevant ideas or products in the fields of finance, insurance and mobility
  • … are highly motivated teams which are able to solve problems in creative ways
  • … bring very specific technology and developer expertise to the table
  • … are ambitious to scale their solutions globally
  • … are open and keen to work with the other side of the force: us, the corporates

Networks are growing. Even though we are not a second Facebook, our community is constantly growing and currently consists of more than 40 colleagues from different regions, such as Europe, Asia and the US, with diverse professional experiences in HR, IT, sales and finance & controlling.

Each of us contributes expertise and know-how from their respective field, knows the challenges of our customers and is motivated to define new solutions which are going to change the customer experience in the future. Both, the corporate as well as the startup side, are therefore the perfect fit in order to develop these new digital service experiences.

One example is motionscloud. This startup is a perfectly scouted match because the team is very talented: it provides tech know how and innovative products in the field of car insurance. Together we are currently co-creating a solution for claim tracking after a crash. We want to provide our customers transparent overview about the status of the damaged car and give him the opportunity to interact with claims experts to create a smooth and efficient process.

What are we doing in the Startup Intelligence Center network?

The core team consists of 10 scouts which are regularly scanning the startup landscape with the help of our internal partners like the R&D Innovation Hub in Tel Aviv and Lab1886 as well as external partnerships with Plug&Play, Factory, Capital Factory, KPMG and some others. Moreover, the latest tech trends are being observed by our IT colleagues. For all of these processes we developed specific criteria on which we base the quality and the relevance of the impulses for Daimler Financial Services. Especially important to us is:

The team: what kind of skills do the team members have? How well is the co-operation going? How are challenges being solved and did a pivot already happen? (Startup knowledge 101: pivoting = a change of strategy without changing the vision of the startup)

The customer impact: does the startup already have customers? What added value does it deliver to the customers and what everyday problem does it try to solve?

After we have identified interesting startup ideas or tech trends, we will transfer them to our business and connect them with our experts in the relevant departments. With the global network, we achieve full transparency for all startup activities which we want to promote within Daimler Financial Services and also have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others.

In our role as a match maker, we support the departments and startups to get to know and learn from each other so that they are able to create new or implement existing products together as partners. That is one of the most important outcomes for us.

Power Point concepts can become reality

Furthermore, the cultural change we experience when working together with startups should not be underestimated. We get to learn many new creative work methods, how to embrace mistakes, how to work together across team borders and to focus our resources most efficiently.

It is important to remember that it doesn’t require an “all-in-one solution” if in the end the users don’t know what they can do with it. Then it was forgotten to ask the users what they want and need because we thought we would know best. Especially in these cases we count on the startups to challenge us with their new working methods and perspectives so that we are forced to leave our comfort zone and implement solutions faster.

Finally, power point concepts can become reality and can get tested in direct connection with the users – even though nobody can tell yet, if the product will be a success at the end. It is important to remember that we weren’t able to do that before either – it was just a delusion… But it is easier to create this delusion by overanalyzing everything and base the solution on these results and on our experience.

When are we going to be successful with the SIC?

To determine and communicate that is especially important because pushing innovation with startups does not mean playing with unicorns on the green field and eventually creating something of value by chance. In contrast to that, we are following the 80:20 approach: we focus 80 percent of our time on innovations which are targeting and improving our core businesses – in our case: financing, leasing and insurance – and only 20 percent on completely new technologies and business models, together with our IT colleagues.

A great example for this is Loomo. Loomo is our little robot which shows customers around the car showroom, introduces mobility services to them and quickly calculates for which monthly rate they can fulfill their dream of driving a Mercedes. Customers get instant feedback and no longer have to wait for the information they want.

But do customers trust the little humanoid machine? Will they get used to machines like Loomo and integrate them in their everyday life by interacting with them on a daily basis?

These questions should be answered as early as possible to get to know the customer better and to offer individual services which also generate enthusiasm in the future.

The three dimensions

We measure three dimensions in the Startup Intelligence Center, which makes the progress of innovation with our external partners transparent for everybody in our company.

  • How many startups have we met throughout the year and based on our criteria (the attentive reader will remember that I outlined them in the beginning :)) and validate them with a score.
  • What percentage conversion rate have we achieved? The conversion rate measures, with how many startups we were able to take the next step and develop either a show case, prototypes, finish products or even execute an acquisition.
  • Last but not least: How high is the impact on our Customer Satisfaction Index and our EBIT going to be? After all we want to collect data, earn money and reduce costs by implementing new Solutions.

This active co-operation in the global network has resulted in 15 successful projects with innovative startups in 2017. The goal for 2018 is to extend this list and to deepen our joint experience.

The future remains exciting and we are looking forward to every startup which is contacting us on our new website or on our Twitter channel. With every pitch deck or new idea we receive, we ring our team-bell in the office. So let’s make music together and write our own song!

She is responsible for „Innovation and Partnerships @Daimler Financial Services (DFS) and is the driving force of the global Startup Intelligence Center (SIC). With her expertise as an economic psychologist, her team and the close cooperation with other units, she is identifying customer needs and developing new solutions and business models – all in combination with the high innovation power and the deep technology knowledge of the startups. What inspires her most about startups is their courage and the ability to explore new paths, yet to be able to admit that they have been following the wrong one and change direction quickly.