Wayra Boss and Crisis Manager: Interview with Florian Bogenschütz

In January, Florian Bogenschütz took on his position as the new managing director of the Munich-based Telefónica accelerator Wayra. Not long afterwards, the corona crisis broke loose and Bogenschütz had to immediately prove his skills as a crisis manager. We asked the new Wayra boss how he fared in those first few months and about the desired future direction for developing the program.

Munich Startup: You started working as managing director of Wayra Germany in the middle of the corona crisis. How were your first three months as Wayra’s boss?

Florian Bogenschütz: Turbulent, there’s really no other way to describe it considering the current crisis situation that has surpassed anything I’ve ever experienced before. I got started at Wayra in January to enhance the visibility of Wayra startups within Telefónica and to develop the innovation hub into a cutting-edge technology lab. There was no hint of the crisis at that point. In early March, we had just managed to open our new 5G campus in Berlin, and then the effects of the pandemic hit full force — every event was cancelled and all of our employees, startup teams and partners in the Telefónica business units were suddenly working from home. After just three months, I suddenly became the crisis manager in office — because no one knew what was going to happen. Right at the beginning of the crisis, we had to motivate the teams under exceptional conditions, mitigate their uncertainties as well as possible and maintain communication. After all, the innovation hub is based on networking and communication. But it’s also true that we were relatively well prepared, because we’re already completely digital. We do daily morning check-ins via video conference, have an all-hands meeting every two weeks and even have digital coffee breaks. A lot of our startups have come up with really good solutions that can be used to fight the effects of the pandemic.

“Our goal is enhanced and more rapid operation of startups at Telefónica”

Munich Startup: Before working at Wayra, you co-founded Airgreets. You also worked in Wayra workspace for a while. What did you learn during that time that helps you now?

Florian Bogenschütz: Wayra brings together all of the elements of my career up this point. At Airgreets, I gathered all sorts of startup experience — which is obviously essential if we want to integrate startups into Telefónica. Thanks to my time as a co-founder, I have a fairly accurate understanding of how startups work, what they need and where the pitfalls lie in terms of scaling. Before my startup period, I worked for Deutsche Telekom. Knowledge about how telecommunication companies work is the second key to understanding that you need an innovation hub as the interface.

Munich Startup: Where would you like to take Wayra? What will be different for startups that want to collaborate with you and for teams that use your workspace?

Florian Bogenschütz: Our goal is enhanced and more rapid operation of startups at Telefónica. To achieve that, we need to create an understanding for the needs of both sides and make optimal use of the strengths of the different parties. Corporations have fixed processes and a successful business model, while startups produce innovations and have the major advantage of also being allowed to fail. To make sure both sides can benefit, both startup and Telefónica employees need to be open to each other. The business units need to become more aware of the fact that startup solutions aren’t time-consuming experiments, but that they instead provide targeted solutions to problems as well as a competitive edge. Moreover, the corporation as a customer can have an impact on startups in an early stage and help shape solutions. In return, startups get a customer with the ideal conditions. Many startups — particularly in the fields of 5G or the Internet of Things — rely on the infrastructure of large corporations like Telefónica to test and employ their products in real-world environments. It is at this interface that both sides truly benefit from one another. When we start working with startups, we first offer a four-month program in which a pilot project is planned with one of Telefónica’s business departments. The aim is always for Telefónica to become one of the startup’s customers after those four months. In this way, we support startups with everything they need: bringing them together with others to collaborate, networking with new partners or even organizing funding rounds.

Bogenschütz: “We want to establish real and resilient customer relationships between established corporates and innovative startups”

Munich Startup: What startups do you aim to attract with your offer?

Florian Bogenschütz: Our application portals are open to everyone. Although we in essence work with tech-oriented startups in the fields of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity in particular, we’re also interested in working with startups that focus on a whole range of challenges in various fields of business, such as HR, fintech or retail. In general, we work with all startups that develop solutions to problems that the company is unable or unwilling to address internally. What’s important to start is for our employees in the business units to understand that and for us to learn about the problems. Based on those problems, we then start looking for solutions. We also go in the other direction and proactively offer business units innovative approaches to give employees new impetus and ideas.

Munich Startup: The venture client model requires established companies that can serve as pilot clients for startups. What do you think about Munich as a startup location for that purpose?

Florian Bogenschütz: With the venture client model, we want to establish real and resilient customer relationships between established corporates and innovative startups instead of counting on investment vehicles. We believe the economy as a whole can benefit much more from startups when companies simply start implementing the many startups’ solutions and ideas on the market. At the same time, giving startups real customers is much more helpful to them. A customer with a real need and competitive pressure accelerates the development of a startup and new work comes in much faster than if I had just provided money to build the company. Munich provides an excellent ecosystem for this new kind of interaction between corporate business units and young startups, which is why it was no coincidence that we located our innovation hub here. That being said, it’s also extremely important for corporations, despite the excellent location, to look at the bigger picture. The corona crisis has particularly highlighted how important it is to establish strong partnerships online and to be able to successfully organize collaboration with colleagues, partners and startups from home offices or anywhere else in the world.