Lab1886: The Company-Builder of Daimler

What innovation platforms are there at Daimler and who is behind them? At #venturewednesday on Wednesdays, we give insights behind the scenes of the Daimler ventures and their exciting task: the future of mobility. This time: Lab 1886.

What would be your occupation if you had everything you needed to live? If your basic requirements were fulfilled and you could decide without any constraints? That’s a question I ask myself every time that I’m faced with a fundamental decision. My name is Philipp Joas and I work at Lab1886.

In front of me there’s a sheet of paper with the words “Contract of Employment” written on it in capital letters. I’m sweating. Two recruiters from Daimler AG are sitting facing me across the table: a Californian with an Afro and a Norwegian with a hipster mustache. Both are employees of the Innovation Unit Lab1886. Is this really what the dark side of the Force looks like?

In the end, I came over to Lab1886 and thus to Daimler AG because I always did pay attention to my intuition, and not so much to what my acquaintances and my crowd thought. As far as my friends in the startup world were concerned, I had in effect gone over to the dark side. Nonetheless, since then my professional carrier has been strongly influenced by listening to my gut feelings and by following my passion.

I founded my first company when I was 18 — in the year 2005. Growing up in Munich, I probably soaked up and incorporated entrepreneurship at the kitchen table, since both of my parents are entrepreneurs.

As a teenager, I spent every free minute in the snow; hence, along with some friends, I established an online shop called Snowaddicted GbR. Because of my university course, I sold my shares and quit the business two years later. My first baby was gone, but the passion for being an entrepreneur had been born and stayed. Building up a company and attempting to make it successful was apparently my thing.

After successfully completing my degree, I spent three years as an assistant to the management board of a company specializing in women’s clothing. There I learned, in person, just how analog, inconvenient, and complicated it was to book and settle accounts for business trips. And that gave me the idea for my second company. I founded eWings.com together with my partner Thilo Erhardt. A software-as-a-service company that enables small and medium-sized customers to book and manage their business trips within seconds.

The company developed very well, and four years later we had 20 employees. But it was clear to us that in order to keep growing, we needed a strong partner. Then came an unbeatable offer from the Hogg Robinson Group, and we sold. I felt that my career had reached its first peak with the sale and the concomitant guarantee of the existence of eWings.com.

What drives me in my professional life?

So there I was, 31 years old and — courageously or maybe recklessly — never having given a thought to my financial situation. But for the first time, I could afford to take time out. Nevertheless I was back where I had started. At a time like that, you once again ask yourself the fundamental questions of life: What really matters in (professional) life? What drives me? What do I really want?

I’m convinced that most individuals in this world want to shape something sensible as soon as their basic needs are met. The definitions of sensible may well be different, but not the desire to give shape to something. As so often happens, my new “meaning of professional life” seemed to come to me coincidentally. Daily life offers lots of possibilities and twists — I just had to recognize them and decide. I came to Lab1886 by way of an innovation project in the area of corporate travel for which Lab1886 commissioned me as an external start-up and industry expert — a consultant — on the grounds of my experience with eWings.com.

I was at once astounded and enthralled by the combination that had been made possible by a unit like Lab1886, with its around 100 employees in Stuttgart, Berlin, Beijing, and Atlanta. You can use the established structures and resources of a global group in order to implement game-changing innovations, without having to surrender your creative freedom.

The Daimler innovation unit offers me the unique opportunity to combine radical innovation with emotional security and time for the family.

Where else can a young creative drive decisive innovations forward with a sector’s big players? And do that with an innovative power and a speed that is rather unusual in the corporate world? I accepted the offer of a fixed job.

A typical working day at Lab1886

Since then, I’ve been here for several months and am nonetheless “surprisingly surprised.” I don’t have a typical work day here. We work in project-based constellations — every day is different and presents new challenges. To be honest, I had expected more bureaucracy.

Thanks to the tie-up with a group, you have significant advantages over external start-ups. I’m also very happy about the added value offered by the name Daimler and its associated renown. Other companies’ doors open unusually quickly when it’s Daimler knocking, and not some unknown start-up.

The broad scope of the Group is also not to be ignored. The amount of specialist expertise in the company’s various units is sometimes inconceivable for an “external.” You’re almost inclined to feel like Alice in Wonderland when you get the key to this wealth of knowledge and can use it to achieve synergies. The downside is obvious: The processes of the internal partners sometimes may take a little longer, but they also enable us to turn a significantly bigger wheel.

And the exchange means that you aren’t in danger of losing yourself in your own bubble. We work at our places in co-working offices in both Stuttgart and Berlin. This also guarantees the mutual exchange of ideas, both internally and externally.

There are five different professional groups at Lab1886:

  1. Product managers, who are responsible for building the digital product and work closely with the designers and developers.
  2. UX/UI designers, who are responsible for the user experience and the user interface — i.e. for ensuring an optimal and aesthetic experience for the user.
  3. Our tech developers, who are responsible for the programming of our products.
  4. Strategic designers, who work on the user interface with the respective product. Their objective is to resolve user problems in the best possible way.
  5. Venture architects, who deal with the question of whether the existing product represents a viable business model.

My role is easy to explain: I’m the team leader of the venture architects.

Our role is to examine whether the market for the innovation idea is big enough, and what the competition looks like. If this is the case, then we normally develop decisive advantages together with the product managers. We also discuss the business model and the pricing structure with potential customers and calculate if and when the future profits will amortize the necessary investments.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into detail about what we and our internal partners are currently working on. There are a number of things such as the digitalization of the Aftersales unit, the processes in manufacturing with the plants, an app intended to increase the appeal of the advantages of electric mobility to future customers, and an idea that has to do with micromobility. New startups and official announcements from Lab1886 are scheduled for the coming weeks.

Looking back at the past year, I ask myself my favorite check question: Was it right to take this job? I want to emphasize that I don’t tend to feel excessive euphoria — too much of that in the business environment can cause confusion. But when I think about the accusation of “wimp” from parts of my startup environment because I enjoy the advantages of more than one world at Daimler, then I know: I like it this way.


Lab1886

Lab1886 is an independent innovation laboratory within Daimler AG. The goal is to speed up the development from the idea to the product or the business model and thus safeguard a sustainable and profitable future for Daimler AG. In Lab1886 we identify and incubate new business ideas that may fall outside Daimler’s core business areas, and develop them to market maturity. Take, for example, the strategic partnership with Volocopter, the German start-up from Bruchsal.  Here Lab1886 is combining the top expertise from the world of start-ups and entrepreneurs with the aim of opening up the completely new market segment of urban air taxis. This machinery of innovation has more than ten years’ experience in the implementation of new business models and is globally established and active at four locations on three continents: in Stuttgart and Berlin in Germany, Beijing in China, and Atlanta in the USA.


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Philipp Joas works as a Lead-Venture-Architect at Lab1886, the Company-Builder of Daimler AG. From a young age on he is a passionate entrepreneur and Business-Angel.