Join Lab1886 and help shape the future of mobility

06/14/2018  |  Corporate Innovation, Interview, SPACES and Residents

Looking to upgrade your career in tech, but still pondering upon the work environment that suits you better? Startup or corporate? Lab1886, the innovation incubator of Daimler, has created the best of both worlds. With offices in the US, Beijing, Berlin, and here in Stuttgart at CODE_n SPACES, it combines a big company’s know-how with the spirit of a startup to create an environment in which talent can thrive and innovative ideas can quickly be transformed into successfully running standalone businesses. For already a year now, Lab1886’s team in Stuttgart has been very busy ramping up efforts to bring ideas to life and establish new business models for mobility solutions and services. We recently had an insightful chat with Dennis Dickmann, Lead Product Manager at Lab1886 Europe, about his expertise and how he leveraged his diverse background to pursue a successful and rewarding career path.

Iulia: Hi Dennis. First things first. Could you tell us a bit about your background and your work at Lab1886?

Dennis: Sure. I joined Lab1886 a year ago, but I’ve been working for Daimler for almost ten years now and I’m probably one of the few people within our incubator with a corporate background. However, I don’t have the standard resume and a rule-following career. My work history has been kind of non-linear, so I also ended up working in jobs outside of my field of education. I studied engineering and management and I’ve always been the “typical nerd,” so I’m also interested in software development. One thing I can say for sure about myself is that I’ve always liked coding and doing data analysis, so I’ve even spent a lot of my free time programming in different languages. But at the same time, I wanted to explore other fields and get my head around business-making, and at some point I started working in the purchasing department. I think that’s where I experienced the real corporate world and this bolstered my negotiating skills. They’ve become really important in today’s increasingly complex and transversal world of business. Later on, I stepped out of my comfort zone by joining the HR department to shift my career toward leadership and people management. After that, I transferred to the IT department and built up a diverse data science team. I tried to take on or choose projects that match my goals and even though they might seem different, it all came together when I joined Lab1886 last year as a Lead Product Manager. My responsibilities here are quite diverse and among others, I’m in charge of ramping up our team of experts in Stuttgart – from recruiting new members and setting up a proper team to working closely with our Lab1886 colleagues in Berlin and leveraging synergies between the two offices. I’m also coordinating the overall process of strategy implementation.

Iulia: Many established companies have an innovation department or an internal lab for digitization. How is Lab1886 different from other corporate incubators?

Dennis: Business incubators and accelerators have been around for quite a few years. It’s certainly great to be one of the first people to invent something, but in our case at Lab1886, we’ve learned a lot from others’ experiences. We did our homework and researched other companies’ innovation strategies. We then combined the lessons learned with our strengths and creative ideas and established our own incubator ecosystem. So we developed an end-to-end process, from the inception of an idea to product launch. One thing that’s quite unique for a corporate incubator is that our processes span the entire value chain – from proof of concept to the MVP stage and even extending to a new business model and a spin-off product. Lab1886 is quite different from other corporate incubators. Although it’s a 100% subsidiary of Daimler, it’s a separate legal identity. This has allowed us to set up agile and extremely fast processes. So we’ve even got special working arrangements that are different from the parent company. The parent company has around 280,000 employees worldwide, so obviously it’s not always in a position to make decisions quickly. Innovation needs to happen much faster than corporate structures can allow for. So we believe it’s important to foster a culture that fuels ideas and experimentation – a place where our team can tap into outstanding skills and work beyond corporate constraint. Despite this, our mission is to develop new business models for Daimler, so we do actually collaborate closely with different areas at the company and this allows us to connect the dots between different topics and any ideas this gives rise to. Last but not least, innovation is down to the people you hire, so our goal is to recruit the most talented people in the market.

Iulia: What is the vision at Lab1886?

Dennis: Daimler is now facing one of its biggest challenges of all times. The company has to transform itself from a classical automotive manufacturer into a future provider of modern travel solutions, or “mobility.” As an incubator inspired by entrepreneurial spirit, we aim to make a difference by supporting this transformative process. Our aim is to shape the future of mobility by developing the business models of tomorrow.

Iulia: How would you describe a typical working day? What is the most exciting thing about working at Lab1886?

Dennis: When you work at Lab1886, there’s no such thing as a typical working day. No two days are the same. That’s also because we’re expanding rapidly. Whenever you try to get a company off the ground, there will always be something new happening, so it’s hard to predict how a working week might unfold. I also travel a lot and work from our office in Berlin, so there’s a constant flow of new ideas coming up. However, we do have a morning office routine – we’ve made it a habit in our team to all gather and kick-start our day with a cup of coffee and discuss the latest developments, upcoming tasks, or simply exchange (harmless) gossip. Our working world is always in motion, but we do still need a degree of constancy! (laughs)

Iulia: To craft new business models, first of all you need the right people. What kind of people is Lab1886 currently looking to recruit here in Stuttgart?

Dennis: In order to bring our ideas to life, we’ve identified five areas of expertise – or cohorts, as we like to call them:

  • Product managers – they oversee the product roadmap, including the vision and strategy, and they’re able to align customer and business priorities to maximize product outcomes
  • Venture architects – they’re world-class business leaders responsible for economic models and business plans with a background in product prototyping and testing
  • Strategic designers – the ideal candidate for this should have experience in delivering complex strategic design projects and be able to assess user feedback and conduct concept testing, also by drawing on their extensive knowledge of technology trends
  • Software engineers – the profile of people in this area can range from front-end to back-end and even full-stack engineers
  • UI/UX designers – these are storytellers by nature and of course they’re responsible for the parts of the product that have a bearing on key users.

Iulia: Is it challenging to find suitable candidates for these roles here in Stuttgart?

Dennis: I wouldn’t say so. We’ve found that it’s similar to Berlin – there are professionals out there who have the right skillset and experience, but they are not looking for a traditional corporate environment. But at the same time, they don’t want the real startup life. Lab1886 offers the best of both worlds. People have an opportunity to make key decisions that could enhance the future of the company. At Lab1886, we have both the heritage of a strong company like Daimler and the disruptive mindset, speed, and flat hierarchy of a startup. It’s this unique culture that attracts candidates. I’d also like to mention that we’re generally looking for people with an international background – experienced professionals who can support our mission and use their skills to move the company forward as a team.

Iulia: What is Lab1886’s most recent success?

Ramping up the company to over 50 people (in Stuttgart and Berlin) is a fantastic achievement. We currently have a variety of projects in the pipeline and we recently launched RACE Scout, an innovative app-based platform for the global motorsport community. It’s aimed at all motorsport teams and racing drivers, and what it does is it allows you to manage the supply and demand of vacant seats at race events. It’s an online tool that was jointly developed with Mercedes-AMG. It’s a unique network that’s expanding with every new user and it’s lining up more and more opportunities to interact with areas of international motorsport.

Iulia: Your team has been a resident of CODE_n SPACES in Stuttgart since the beginning of last year. Tell us a bit about your experience here and what you like most about this location.

Dennis: For us, CODE_n is a partner that has accompanied us all the way from the very beginning of Lab1886. That relationship is not only built upon renting offices here in the Stuttgart, which gives us a bit of a startup-like taste. I believe that we have understood how to benefit from each other’s network and experiences in order to add value to the business. The environment, people, and atmosphere at the CODE_n SPACES has always been very exciting and inspiring.

Iulia: What’s the most important factor when you’re hiring new employees?

Dennis: Team fit and mindset. In my opinion those are the most important things. If I may say, they’re vital. If someone is smart and has valuable experience, but he or she isn’t motivated enough to learn or simply doesn’t match our company culture, it’ll be really difficult to adapt to our workplace and I’d rather say “no” to them from the beginning. We’re looking for enthusiastic candidates, people who live and breathe Lab1886’s mission. Last but not least, we believe that people with a good sense of humor make great employees. Humor may seem like a strange thing to look for when hiring, but I’ve found that it’s an excellent indicator of a person’s intelligence, self-confidence, and overall temperament. It is very important for newcomers to be able to connect on a personal level to the rest of the team and candidates have to know that there’s plenty of joking going on in the workplace.

Iulia: What does Lab1886 have in store in the near future? What are your goals for the company in 2018?

Dennis: In Stuttgart, our target is to set up the core team by the end of this year, meaning that we’d like to hire up to 10 additional people. At the same time, we are working on finalizing the ramp-up of our team in Berlin. Of course, we want to expand and I’d love to witness the journey as our first venture turns into a successful and profitable business.

Iulia: Thanks for this interview, Dennis! It seems that there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming months. We can’t wait to meet the bold, creative minds that will be soon joining Lab1886!

Browse here through the open positions at Lab1886.