Member Spotlight: Stefan Pfandt, Deutsche Telekom

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Stefan Pfandt leads Deutsche Telekom’s Group Partnering and Business Development team in San Francisco. Representing Deutsche Telekom in Silicon Valley, the team is tasked with inspiring, qualifying and supporting the execution of product and service innovations that help Deutsche Telekom drive growth through partnerships. Stefan has 10+ years of experience in consulting and the telecommunications industry. His passion is to innovate by combining the agility, risk affinity and can-do attitude of startups with the scale and responsibility of the “Leading European Telco.”

You’ve spent nearly your entire career working in telecommunications — can you tell us a bit about the progression of your career and what you are currently focused on at Deutsche Telekom?

I got into the telecommunications industry by accident. My first career was in financial consulting. When searching for a job in Moscow, I interviewed with banks and consultancies before I had a single meeting with a Telco executive. He needed somebody to manage planning, roadmap and budget for the innovation unit at a telecommunications carrier, and here I am. Now, I’m a part of a larger telecommunications company — Deutsche Telekom (DT) — in a dedicated role doing Partnering and Business Development in lockstep with product management and operating segments.

Our team is pushing partnering as an operating model. There is a lot of value in partnerships, and this is the mindset we’re bringing to DT in different businesses. On the consumer side, we’ve focused a lot on entertainment and home experiences. DT is also very strong in the enterprise business segment, and we are the trusted companion for our customers on their digitization journey. We focus on bringing innovative companies to the table that help digitize our customers’ businesses.

What specific superpowers have you picked up from past roles that you bring into your current role?

At the end of the day, I think it’s listening. Listening to our external and internal customers, understanding their needs and also listening a lot in Silicon Valley and beyond in terms of what’s happening in innovation. It’s a superpower that I am continuously evolving and developing every day as I try to harness its full potential.

During your time at DT, what projects have you been most proud of? What’s been some of the more challenging work?

We are always working towards launching new products, devices and services and testing propositions with live customers. On the B2C side, we recently launched Disney+ in Germany, which is a big deal for us in Entertainment. A recent example on the enterprise side would be the launch of a precise positioning service with Swift Navigation from San Francisco. Overall, we’re proud of everything that reaches our retail and enterprise customers, whether it’s a tangible product launch or a proof of concept that enables us to learn and receive customer feedback.

Having spent many years working in the industry, how have you seen the telecommunications landscape change and what are you predicting for 2020?

Currently, as an industry, we are rolling out 5G globally. This will change the role of the operator in various fields.

Right now, this question is impossible to answer without reference to COVID-19. Overall, I think this situation has shown the value of communication and networks and the importance of telecommunication. Another shift we’ve seen is that customer interactions through this crisis have become entirely digitized. At this moment, the interesting questions are whether this will be a temporary or permanent effect and whether or not digital channels and telecommunication can substitute personal interactions with customers that we, at DT, have always put first.

If we were startup founders sitting here, what advice would you give us about working with DT?

Dealing with DT is not a sprint, it’s a long-distance run. DT has a lot of muscle in terms of marketing and go-to-market. Of course, dealing with a large enterprise comes at the price of a lot of processes, which translates to slower speeds than startups may hope for. But the good news is that DT has resources to guide startups along the way, so the best advice I would give to founders is to engage with our Partnering and Devices team. Our job is to make interactions with DT mutually beneficial, and we always strive for joint success.

Another pointer is that a lot of startups approach us strictly in terms of selling to us, but oftentimes there’s actually much more value in a partnership discussion about what we can do together. Many startups aren’t aware of everything we do in the enterprise space. Thinking about what we could do together beyond simply a vendor relationship is the mindset we are pushing.

Silicon Foundry is an innovation advisory platform that builds bridges between leading multi-national corporations and global startup ecosystems.

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