Steffi Czerny at the 2019 DLD Conference in Munich.
© Daniel Grund

Seeing Change as an Opportunity – an Interview with Steffi Czerny

Yoko Ono, Mark Zuckerberg and Ursula von der Leyen — the international conference and innovation platform Digital Life Design (DLD) has big names to offer. That might very well have to do with its co-founder and Managing Director Steffi Czerny, whose excellent network has allowed her to recruit well known speakers for DLD events in Munich, New York, Tel Aviv, Brussels and Singapore. In our interview, we wanted to find out how DLD came to be, how she gauges Munich as an innovative city and whether she, despite global crises, sees the future in a positive light.

Munich Startup: Ms. Czerny, you co-founded DLD — short for Digital, Life, Design — in 2005. Could you briefly explain what has already happened within the framework of the conference and innovation platform?

Steffi Czerny: Originally, DLD was a small, intimate meetup of friends, and we’re obviously proud of what it has turned into. Today, DLD stands as Europe’s leading innovation conference in which visionaries from around the world take part. Founders like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jan Koum (Whatsapp) or Kevin Systrom (Instagram) all stood on the DLD stage long before becoming some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Our goal is to inspire discussion, cross boundaries and together look for answers to the most challenging questions that have arisen from digital transformation. From one individual event, DLD has developed into a series of conferences and events that are held in cities such as Munich, New York, Tel Aviv, Brussels and Singapore. The list of speakers we’ve had the pleasure to welcome over the years includes Norman Foster, Arianna Huffington, Tony Fadell, Satya Nadella, Lady Gaga, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey, Alanis Morissette, Ai Wei Wei and many more.

Munich Startup: In January, the DLD Conference will once again be held in Munich. The speakers include the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Evan Spiegel, founder and CEO of Snap. The theme of the conference is “What are you adding?”. What exactly can participants expect?

Steffi Czerny: The digitized, globalized world offers us major opportunities, but also poses daunting challenges. I’m convinced that every one of us has the opportunity to play an active role — in business, through social, academic or political commitment and also in our personal lives. With this year’s motto “What are you adding?,” we want to spark the necessary international discourse with exceptional role models. It is not only a matter of interdisciplinary discussion, but also of best practice examples and solutions that we will be presenting on stage.

Very interested in having a better understanding of how the world is changing

Participants can expect interesting talks and discussions from leading politicians and corporate leaders, tech pioneers and investors as well as environmental activists and artists who, as seismographs of our day and age, play an important role in the DLD program. In addition to artificial intelligence and robotics as well as leadership and politics, we will be addressing climate change and sustainable consumption, art and creativity and the new journey into space.

Munich Startup: You are a journalist and the current Managing Director of DLD Media GmbH. How exactly did your strong affinity to digital subjects develop? And did it take a lot of convincing to create a future conference like DLD 2005?

Steffi Czerny: I would say I’m more curious about tech than having an affinity for it and that I’m very interested in having a better understanding of how the world is changing. That curiosity brought me to the US in the 90s on behalf of Hubert Burda to take a closer look at an innovation known as the internet. It was there that I quickly realized the internet would change every aspect of our lives. That sparked my interest in a better understanding of that change to be able to meet it in a positive context. Hubert Burda, the Israeli investor Yossi Vardi and I therefore founded DLD together because we were convinced that an innovation conference was needed to find the answers to the key issues of digitization. It didn’t take a lot of convincing on my part — on the contrary, Hubert Burda offered inspiration and support to create the platform from the very beginning!

Munich Startup: Would you say as a woman that you had to be particularly assertive in the digital industry, which was and still is dominated by men? And have any women particularly impressed you in that context?

Steffi Czerny: I have never felt discriminated against or less respected as a woman. Men might have underestimated me somewhat in the beginning, but I see that as more of an advantage, because I was able to boldly and directly approach individuals who might have otherwise taken offense. Throughout my career, I have met so many amazing women who still support and inspire me now. Certainly my mother was particularly inspiring to me. She raised me on her own and lived her life with such energy and assertiveness. She never held me back from being fearless or from wanting to conquer the world on my own, and I am so grateful to her for that!

Munich can hold its own and just needs to network better

Munich Startup: DLD has its roots in Munich. In terms of innovation and future technologies — how strong would you gauge Bavaria’s capital compared to other national and international players? Where do you see a need for improvement?

Steffi Czerny: Munich is home to excellent startups and tech companies working on future topics and innovations that will change the world. Compared on both a national level — for example with Berlin — and on an international level, Munich can hold its own!

What I would like to see is for startups and major players as well as investors and universities in Munich to improve their networking and to collaborate in more depth to further strengthen the innovative power of the city. With our DLD events, we want to support this kind of networking and constantly provide new inspiration.

Munich Startup: When it comes to solutions to major future issues, startups play an important role. Is there a startup in Munich that has left a lasting impression on you? If yes, what startup and why?

Steffi Czerny: I’m very impressed by Konux and its founder Andreas Kunze, who is extremely well networked.

Munich Startup: Within the framework of DLD, you are always looking ahead. Despite the digital revolution, climate crisis and difficult political circumstances around the world, do you still see the future in a positive light?

Steffi Czerny: The world is without a doubt facing major change that will affect every aspect of our lives at breathtaking speed. But it also doesn’t help to bury our heads in the sand and hope it will all be over at some point! The only way to accept change positively is to view it as an opportunity. The only way to stop fearing digitization is to understand it better. And it is only by getting involved — politically, socially or in the field of science — that we can actively shape the future.

Munich Startup: Thank you very much for the interview, Ms. Czerny.