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“I see a risk in not taking any risks.”

Dirk Ploss is the Digital Tech Scout at Beiersdorf and meets startups and developers every day that he considers for potential joint projects. The 47-year-old talked with us about world-improvers, technical affinity and the misunderstandings of digitalization – and about why it’s so important to him to give preference to opportunities over risks.

Dirk Ploss, Digital Tech Scout at Beiersdorf

Hello, Dirk. To start off why don’t you tell us what a Digital Tech Scout at Beiersdorf does.

I have basically three areas of responsibility. Primarily it’s about identifying relevant startups that can offer Beiersdorf added value, but it’s also about evaluating new technologies and developing new business models.

How big is your team?

There are three of us. Both of my team colleagues focus primarily on the new business models. I am primarily responsible for scouting.

How does the collaboration with startups begin?

It’s a multi-step process. The first step is finding interesting startups. That’s not particularly easy. That’s why I go to a lot of demo-days, startup conferences and events where I can meet founders and learn about their ideas. Afterwards, I take a selection of the startups back to the company and consult with the corresponding departments about whether we can derive a specific use and a calculable added value from them. Then the actual collaboration begins.

Dirk Ploss, Digital Tech Scout at Beiersdorf

Do individual departments approach you with special tasks too?

Yes, of course. In general, we differentiate between active scouting and on-demand scouting, which focuses on a specific need. So, it also happens that a department approaches me and is looking for startups that can support them.

Why is it so important for Beiersdorf to cooperate with startups?

Each year tens of thousands of startups emerge that use fascinating new technologies. If we can identify them early on and work with them, we can generate a real competitive advantage. But most of all, we can learn from the collaboration: at Beiersdorf we now have different in-house startup models in which dynamic working methods are implemented free of company hierarchies and processes. In this way we are nurturing digital intrapreneurship leaving a lot of space for individual ideas.

Startups often fail. What does your risk management look like?

There is a certain amount of risk in collaborating with very new and rapidly growing companies and of course with our own in-house startups and their projects. But that’s the nature of the beast and so I see more of a risk in not taking any risks. Because if you don’t stay curious and consider the opportunities of new possibilities and relevant developments, you may fall back or stagnate.

Dirk Ploss, Digital Tech Scout at Beiersdorf

What is the biggest misunderstanding in your opinion with respect to digitalization?

In my view, it’s precisely these opportunities that emerge through digital innovations that are often discussed far too little in public debates. Of course, we’re in new territory – that can create uncertainty. I just wish we could collectively open ourselves up to the positive aspects more.

What are currently the most exciting projects and the biggest digitalization trends?

Most of our startups operate in the area of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the sub-discipline of machine learning. So, with the startup “Bewgle,” for example, we have found a way to analyze online customer ratings, as we know them from Amazon etc., on a big scale. This way we can better understand the needs of our consumers and optimize our products and marketing messages based on their feedback.

What is the most fun part of working with these kinds of startups for you?

The great thing about my job is that I have access to the resources of a globally successful company and at the same time can remain very close to the joy of innovation and the enthusiasm of startups. The teams that we choose radiate great enthusiasm that is just contagious. But the most fun for me is seeing and supporting the high aspirations of the startups that not infrequently want to change the world.

And working at Beiersdorf?

I feel our everyday work life at Beiersdorf is full of new experiences. It is an enormous asset that we can carve out new paths with our teams and sometimes leave behind the well-trodden ones. We learn more every day, develop new processes and sometimes throw away ideas too. It’s a very creative and exciting and disruptive process – we’ve already come a long way as a company in this regard. That’s a daily motivation too, and it’s just plain fun. 

Catarina Neumann

About the editor: Catarina Neumann

Since 2014, Catarina has been responsible for Beiersdorf's digital corporate presence, from social media and our corporate blog to the global corporate websites. As a communications strategist with a focus on digital, she also works on lots of buzzwords such as #digitalstorytelling, #influencerrelations and the #digitalization at Beiersdorf. Prior to that, she has been responsible since 2008 for various financial, HR and scientific communications topics as well as global brands PR.