In conversation with CPO Philipp Köhn about his revolutionary career from yesterday in the event management world to leading the product team at RYDE.
Philipp Köhn is Chief Product Officer at RYDE, with a background in entrepreneurship, organizational trainee, and event management. In this interview, he shares the lessons learned from his experience so far, and what made him transform his ideologies to lead the Product Development for RYDE.
A people’s person, Philipp believes nothing can make a company succeed but the support of a culturally and skillfully diverse team bringing the best of their synergies together.
Could you give us a little background on your professional journey?
I was born and bred in Berlin. I completed my schooling in 2000 and started helping my family in their financial struggles. Straight out of high school, I began working as a part-time barista in the Einstein Coffee Shops here in Berlin. Working my way to the top, from assistant shop manager to shop manager, very soon, I started working as a unit lead for West Berlin, organizing and leading the trainee programs for incoming baristas by 2003.
At the same time, I founded a party label for the Berlin Nightlife and started to promote my own brand for some of the most influential night clubs in Berlin. I would later find out that creating experiences for customers that they would enjoy was the core reason or motivation for doing this.
First, I pursued further education in Event planning. Post the completion, I started working as a trainee with cast events (now Dreinull), one of the most renowned event agencies in Berlin. Starting with smaller events I worked my way to become an executive producer for events with distributed teams around the globe of quite some of the Fortune 500 companies.
Can you recall the first bigger events that you ever organized and your biggest take away from that?
I think it was a Christmas party for one of the leading consultancies companies we have. It was my first big event. I had a lot of respect. The budget was a multiple of what I used to work with and just the internal team size tripled.
My biggest take away from the event was the lesson NEVER to avoid problems. You need to tackle them as they arise. To be able to that you need to have a strong team. This team needs to believe and trust in you in order to follow you into rough seas and uncharted territory.
Throughout my career, I was responsible for teams below 10 or above 200 team members. But this learning was always true for me and is one of the most important principles in my work life.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an Event Planner, and how did you overcome it?
I believe the challenges remain pretty same in every field you work in, just the environment changes. My biggest challenge is always to bring alignment and manage expectations between all stakeholders. While working for events, everyone is working on the same project but comes with their very different demands and agenda — the agency heads want the highest profit, clients want the best value for their money, and well, the vendors need to earn money too. Also, creatively you will have to manage all kinds of different egos internally and externally.
The same goes on today, the investor; clients and employees, everyone works to see the organization grow, but they might have different personal visions on how to get there.
The challenge remains to align them all and by aligning them I mean to communicate well and taking the time to make your stakeholders understand why. But also, it means taking time to listen and to understand other views. To try to see the good aspects of a different approach. You might be surprised what you find out when you do this.
The turns from events to a corporate startup job must have been quite a journey?
It has been quite a journey. I had extensive training for over a decade as a project manager in the events world. My last four to five years were spent leading more significant and global impact projects for Fortune 500 companies of all genres — mostly related to managing different aspects of the project generation.
A project is a project, irrespective of who your vendors are, where the money is coming from. It is just essential to transfer your skills and to learn to your new challenges, understand the stakeholders, adapt to their requirements, and present the best for the project. Especially comparing the creative and concept phase of producing projects to the world product development (in particular the discovery phase and the first steps of delivery) show a lot of structural and processual equalities.
It was, of course, quite a journey.
But like any other job shift, it was just about adapting to new situations. There might be different names, with varying zeros in the budget, but actually, a lot stays the same.
Did you face any cultural change from working for big brands then moving to a smaller team?
To say it out front, I never wanted to go entirely into the corporate world of working. I have realized that an agile way of working is something that brings out the best in me.
The rigid structures and hierarchy often established in the corporate world are mostly too big to be turned around. BUT, I have to say, that you can see that this is changing in companies that fill central and core positions with leaders from the new generation.
With the lessons learned to work in such companies, I moved forward and worked towards founding my own company. Taking the best from what I had experienced, we have objectives and goals that we try to follow, making everyone feel equal and honored as a team member.
We work with a flat hierarchy and the agile setup, making it faster to move forward with everyday developments in the market and community as a whole. Especially in times like these, I can see the value of having an aligned and trusted team with independent members that take responsibility for their work and have a true intrinsic motivation accomplishing great work and going the extra mile. Not for the company, for the team.
What were the three most important things that you carried forward from your career as an EP to co-founding RYDE that helped you the most?
The most crucial learning includes a project-based working habit that I try to establish amongst my peers as a part of the management. Giving a logical and structured way of working, we try to develop a very result-driven communication at RYDE. This is something I took forward from my days working as an Event Producer. That doesn’t mean the plans do not change. But it is critical to understand, when you do so and even more important to analyze and understand why. This will help you to learn and get better.
Apart from that, I believe the essential thing I learned over-time was establishing how I work and structure a team. I gained an ability to evaluate people with their work, understand their capabilities, and further nourish them as managers, structuring their fields of improvement by polishing their talents. It’s essential to motivate them to the best of their abilities — for not just their betterment, but overall growth objective. After all, all the excellent diamonds have their edges but don’t mean the worth is any less.
It’s necessary to understand how you are consumed and characterized by people around you.
Managing a Dream Team
How did you design your leadership strategy as a Chief Product Officer for RYDE?
The leadership style is not something by the book, or based research that you blindly follow, depending upon what works most profitability for an organization. It depends on what works best for the person leading the team and what suits their personality the most. I don’t like to set the goals and standards that contradict my character itself. I think leadership is something that you get better with experience and by working with a lot of different people and teams.
You cannot work the same way in a team of senior german men and with a distributed team of 20y old people coming from 10 different countries speaking 5 different languages.
You need to change and differentiate your leadership styles, depending and adapting to a different team member, different teams, and different situations. For me, there is a difference in communication, as well. I will communicate differently with my marketing team than with my product team.
The only things that you carry forward are core values: being reliable and having a structure for others to derive inspiration from. Being consistent in certain situations and to act as a role model to your entire team, irrespective of their working backgrounds.
With leadership, the most important thing you need to evaluate is CHANGE. Change is the only constant.
Be a leader. Not a boss.
Interviewed by Sheena Rajgarhia, Community Manager at RYDE.