The digital expert and HPI D-School alumnus Joël Kaczmarek strives to develop innovation by creating and promoting digital capacities. In doing so, he is active in various fields, for example, as an editor-in-chief and founder. Specializing in the digital economy, he operates in a creative, energetic and innovative environment that he also addresses in his podcast digital kompakt.
As a first-year Design Thinking graduate at the HPI D-School, he looks back on the beginning of the innovative approach in Germany and reflects on how his career was influenced by participating in the School of Design Thinking program.
You are a Design Thinking graduate from the first HPI D-School cohort. How did you become aware of the program back then, what appealed to you about the call for applications, and how do you remember your time at the School of Design Thinking?
Back then, it was really still the beginning of the D-School's activities and like a new world. Today, when you talk about Design Thinking, most people in the business world are familiar with it. But back then the D-School was one of the first ambassadors for this topic. In retrospect, it's actually totally unbelievable. I had learnt about it through a poster at the university and was very attracted by the idea of applying design methods to the development of innovations.
And quite honestly, putting the time at D-School into words would almost go beyond the scope here. It was an incredible creative ride! If you were used to being cramped in dusty lecture halls listening to a moderately up-to-date lectures, working on site was quite a culture shock. But a highly stimulating culture shock. We were able to work with unique, inhaled concepts such as diverse teams, iterative work, or user-centeredness at rapid speed, and made an incredible number of contacts. On top of that, we worked on real business problems and had this incredible creativity, which at the same time attracted an immense amount of attention. We were a creative family and I would be surprised if there was anyone who didn't like it there.
How did your career evolve after graduation and what Design Thinking approaches have accompanied you in your work as a founder and editor since then?
One of our D-School projects developed so successfully that one day Uli Weinberg put me in touch with Kolja Hebenstreit. He was a young investor who had invested in StudiVZ and to whom I should present our project. I pitched the whole thing - an electricity meter concept with a modern twist - and was totally cut up. But Kolja and his partners had a magazine called “Gründerszene”, where I started producing content and eventually joined as editor-in-chief.
And after I had already written my master's thesis in Design Thinking style with lots of post-its, I was supposed to continue there, with a mixture of user proximity and rapid product development. But let's face it: if you don't keep at it, that knowledge fades and you run the risk of getting sucked into your day jobs.
Gründerszene became a real success and was eventually bought by Axel Springer, and at my new startup “digital kompakt” I am now in the process of reintegrating the methods of Design Thinking. We have converted part of our furniture to mobile, instead of big bang product development we try to develop iterative MVPs and prototypes that we test on our users and talk regularly (but still too little) with our customers, partners and listeners. The one thing that always accompanied me were whiteboards, without them nothing works and now it is more important to maintain contact with the users.
Moreover, my D-School network lives on until today: With my fellow student Jens Moeke I founded my second startup, a meeting company, and my former co-worker Ahmet Acar is a good friend until today. We obtained furniture from System180 for two of our startups, the list of D-School connections goes on and on. Concepts always live from the people who implement them, and D-School has always been able to attract the best.
The digital economy is the central theme of your many activities - whether as editor-in-chief and publisher of the online magazine "Gründerszene," bestselling author of the biography about the Samwer brothers "The Godfathers of the Internet," or founder and CEO of the podcast label "digital kompakt”. Why did you specialize in this area and to what extent do you think it is essential for an innovative future?
I think it's fair to say that the profession found me. The start at Gründerszene initiated by D-School, which I outlined above, laid the foundation of a love for this segment. This simply has to do with the fact that startups and digital entrepreneurs already caught my eye back then because of their incredible energy, creativity and confidence. And these people are totally unpretentious and enjoy networking and exchanging ideas with others. So the inhibition thresholds are very low and you encounter a lot of openness and creative will.
And when you add to that the fact that the content and approach produced by these people promise incredible leaps in performance, the calculation was somehow intuitively simple for me. At the end of the day, there's technology and software in virtually everything these days, and if you stay in this industry for a while, it teaches you the laws of scale, user-centricity, and problem solving. To this day, this stimulates me immensely and that's why I would like to bring these skills and perspectives to a broad mass of people. To this day, the whole thing feels like a little gold rush, the digital land of unlimited possibilities - as cheesy as that sounds. And then it's just a matter of sometimes looking at where technology euphoria is appropriate and where rather a little healthy skepticism and caution.
What is your vision for the future of your career? Are there certain digital and cultural transformations that you would like to drive forward with your work?
With digital kompakt, we see ourselves as an explorer, navigator and cartographer for the digital world. These linguistic images may sound almost a bit antiquated, but in essence, that's what we're about: starting a journey that we let others participate in by acting as their enabler. We develop a deep understanding through our content, which we then share with others. To date, we share knowledge primarily through content; in the future, we will do so even more through community approaches, mediation, and similar concepts that allow us to accelerate others in their development.
Therefore, our vision for the future is to always come up with the most innovative digitization content ourselves and thus help others accelerate it. And we certainly won't get bored anytime soon, especially since there is still a lot to do in terms of digitization in Germany.
The interview was conducted by Anna Dotzek and Stefanie Schwerdtfeger.