Venturing Innovation with Digital Ventures’ Managing Partner

Stefan Gross-Selbeck on inventing, launching, scaling, and investing in game-changing businesses at BCG’s Digital Ventures.

What’s your role at BCG Digital Ventures (DV), and what does a typical day look like for you?

As a managing partner at BCG Digital Ventures, I’m responsible for the business globally. In my role, no day is the same. My life consists of a combination of spending time with clients—who we call corporate partners—with teams building our ventures, and internally among our own partnership to discuss and develop our strategy going forward.

You have worked with BCG previously, but you also have external experience with eBay and in other tech-related roles. What were you doing after leaving BCG the first time, and what motivated you to join Digital Ventures?

I first spent around three and a half years at BCG and left because of an offer I thought I couldn’t refuse. It came from my client at the time, a company called ProSiebenSat.1, a television company in Germany. The offer was to run their non-TV business, which at the time meant their internet business. It was during the late phase of the internet bubble when everyone was excited about dot com, and I was too, so I took the job and have remained in the technology space pretty much ever since.

I also spent seven years with eBay in different roles, including running the company in Germany and also running operations in China for a while. These years marked eBay’s growth phase. Later, on I moved on to become the CEO of a much smaller company called Xing, which is now a household name in German-speaking Europe and a local LinkedIn competitor. I ran Xing for four years and then took a little time off. In the summer of 2014, I joined BCG DV as employee number one in Berlin.

What motivated me to come back? The first time I heard about DV and the vision behind it, I was immediately intrigued. Given my own experience as a tech executive, I would have loved to have had a partner like DV to help me consider and invest in growth opportunities for my business. When I learned about what DV was trying to accomplish, I immediately got in touch with the right people (which is easy as an alumnus), and a few weeks later I was initiating DV’s operations in Berlin.

Is there a particular project you’re working on with DV where you see any immediate correlation with your past experiences outside of BCG and BCG Digital Ventures?

Having spent seven years at eBay, I became familiar with the content of marketplaces, what makes them successful, and how they operate. At DV we have built several marketplaces, including Matmatch and merQbiz. Obviously, my past experiences at eBay were quite helpful in this regard.

What is your perception of BCG’s digital perspective? What did you notice that BCG does better overall?

I’m quite impressed watching BCG develop their own digital capabilities over the past five years. They’ve really made significant investments and developed capabilities across the board, by bringing in new people from the outside, but also by leveraging internal resources. All 900 people we have globally today have been externally hired. I think that was a really good move by BCG to bring in additional expertise and experience and offer them the opportunity and the freedom to clearly position their offering around what they’re best at, which in our case is building technological capabilities from scratch.

How is BCG’s message different from how you remember it from a Digital Ventures perspective? How do you collaborate with BCG teams?

We collaborate very closely with BCG throughout the entire process. We almost always go to market with BCG, meaning BCG brings us into their existing relationships that they have with CEOs across industries across the globe. That’s how we typically begin our dialogue with potential corporate partners. From there, we partner to coinvest in opportunities. Even along this path, it’s helpful to get access to the deep industry expertise and strategic perspective that BCG colleagues typically bring to the table.

What kind of advice would you give an interested party looking to be a part of Digital Ventures?

We continue to grow, and we’re always interested in people who combine experience in professional services, and consulting in particular, with hands-on startup building and general business sense.