Interview with Simon Schoop
Founder & Managing Director @ 4-advice GmbH

4-advice GmbH is a management consultancy and thought leader for change & innovation within the omnipresent and increasingly fast-paced digital transformation of our economy. Our major focus is making organizations agile enough, in order not only to cope with but to drive digital transformation. Our change management approach aims at motivating the involved stakeholders as well as resolving resistances to change situations such as mergers, or during the rollout of large IT implementation projects.
Simon, what’s the idea behind 4-advice? What led to your founding the consultancy in 2004?
The idea behind 4-advice is very simple. Very early on I had a lot of projects in the consulting area at Hewlett Packard where I worked before that concern digitization. So for example in the 90s I did projects for Audi large come manufactory in order to implement prototypes with digital technology that they would use for better collaboration in-house, and therefore it was very clear that when I left HP because I did not really want to continue working for a large corporation for the rest of my life at the age of 30 I decided that I want to do something myself that suits my capabilities and that actually leverages the knowledge that I've built up within eight years at Hewlett-Packard and doing so I basically decided that my main focus would be to enter projects that are related to change and nowadays biggest change driver is basically the digitization. So when I founded 4-advice back in 2004. I tried to take what I can do, my capabilities, my knowledge and to leverage the project experiences that I had made in the past at Hewlett-Packard in various functions in Germany and in France doing strategy planning, doing consulting, doing marketing management for the Intel Inside program for EMEA. So that's what I did and that was a very good very good experience because starting my company was quite easy for me went very smooth and I had my first project within a couple of months after starting my new business.
What kind of growth has 4-advice experienced since the consultancy was founded? Has it shifted its service offering or revenue model since it launched?
The growth we've experienced since founding 4-advice in 2004 is multifold, first of all there's growth on a personal level. So when I look at myself and what I've learned from being self-employed this has completely changed the way I am as a professional person, before when I worked for Hewlett Packard I did not have responsibility for people managing people, adjust my the responsibility for several topics. And those topics were of course very very great and strategic planning on a worldwide scale or something that's really good fun. Nevertheless managing people is a whole new dimension and I'm starting that back in 2004 and 2005 I had my first employee and therefore since 2005 I'm managing peoples on a personal level there has been a lot of growth not just for me but I hope also for my employees who have worked for me or who are currently working for me. And yet in total we've had I think about 70 people working for 4-adviser in all of those years and I hope that I managed to give all those people who worked here something positive a way to grow personally for their future work life as well. Of course in terms of business growth we experienced a lot of different growth path and it takes some time to find out what's the right path for you. So for me it certainly was always combining consultancy on the one hand with online services on the other hand because online is my passion and therefore I think that we have to eat our own dog food and develop own services. So for the digitization of consulting services the growth is very substantial. Nevertheless, we were a little bit ahead of time at the beginning and therefore at the beginning, the growth didn't work as we thought it would. But now it does.
What has been the feedback from clients of 4-advice? What is your main acquisition channel for new clients to your platform?
We got a lot of feedback from our clients over the years and probably one of the feedbacks that I'm most proud of is that people actually really get the brand promise that we have to consult and to work with our customers at eye level. I do not believe that it's the right way to work like traditional consultants especially from large consultancies are still doing to trying to convince the customer that they know better. I believe that the strongest power is to have the external side on one side and the internal side of viewpoint on the other side and to combine those put two in a team that mingles external and internal competence. This is how we like to work and this is also a feedback that we got that we are really very pragmatic, very solution-focused, very implementation focused and not just delivering a ton of great slides but really help the customer to implement the ideas that we developed together. Of course, there are some areas of expertise we where customers expect us to come with some very valuable insights and knowledge that they don't have and that's part of our job but the other part of our job is to find the optimal way of working together with a customer and I think this is where we have a USP in comparison to many other consulting companies. How do we acquire new customers or clients. So when we talk about 4-visual.net our platform where we offer digitized consulting services such as presentations, explanatory videos, prototypes or business intelligence models and else we do just simply have a very competent person in-house who does search engine optimization and besides that, we do of course acquisition by telephone. So those are the two main channels how we drive traffic to our platform and we also try to partner with companies.
When did e-learning become a core facet of 4-advice? How does the company ensure that its e-learning resources and curriculum are up-to-date and relevant for students?
Very early on when I still work for Hewlett Packed in the 90s I did a training program. And within 18 months I had to do 15 trainings roughly on all consisting of two to three days classroom training. At that time it became very clear to me that just classroom training don't really help because only about two or three of those training were contentwise something that I could put into practice in the next two to four weeks after the training and any classroom training you take that you do not have the possibility, might it be time wise or skill wise or resource-wise doesn't matter but if you're not able to put it into practice within the next couple of weeks you will lose the knowledge because you don't apply it properly in your everyday work life. So when I heard of the possibility to create e-learning I was very enthusiastic about it because my own learning experience at HP at the time wasn't optimal and I wanted to write a better customer experience for our customers. Then we had a machinery company and be the Fed and the managing director requested a training from us and I said Hey Tim we can basically do a classroom training as you requested but I truly believe that it makes a lot of sense to make a blended learning out of it would with combined e-learning and classroom elements he bought into that idea. So we delivered the training that way and he was enthusiastic about the results and I was enthusiastic about the results. So we are both very happy and this made me take the strategy that basically almost all of our learning contents should be blended learning formats so a combination of e-learning and classroom training because you can learn wherever you want whenever you want. At the pace you want in e-learning modules which is a great thing to do. What we do to keep those things updated is basically just very simple. We listen to our customer and as I am a lecturer at the Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Cologne I also have an ongoing stream of news science information that we input into our trainings.
We saw that you also have another company, VAESTRA. How do you balance your work with 4-advice and your work with VAESTRA?
Vaestra is a different story than 4-advice because we do have a completely different business model and it's a different industry than the one I work in 4-advice although the postal industry or logistics is nothing that we couldn't address with 4-advice in 4-advice we do change and innovation consulting. Oftentimes we implement changes and innovations for our customers developing for example new digital products or rolling out a training program for high potentials or educating people on change and innovation or specifically how to develop digital products. But in Vaestra we have a completely different way of work, we measure and through measurements we improve the results of the postal industry and we have a participation in the success of our customers. So if our customer saves money we get a share of that and that's a very very powerful business model. If you're able to say hey guys I do not want money for something I do and I have to explain the value and the benefit of what you do, like in consulting but you're able to really say we take the risk, we really just participate in the savings you have. And this is something that I believe must be very attractive for the customers and most of my consulting customers on 4-advice I'm not really keen on having such a business model because they have different experiences or have different backgrounds or haven't worked with such a business model yet. So for me, it's great to have the balance of those two different business models. The only thing that's sometimes difficult is to balance the workload between Vaestra, 4-advise and of course my family which also requires my time, and that's that's just the only challenge and that's no different of a challenge than having a demanding job in one company.
What's next for your work with 4-advice? Where do you see the company in five years?
Where do I see 4-advice in five years time and what's next in the work for 4-advice. Actually, it's quite simple we want to scale our online services that is the strategy we have. We still want to continue the consulting projects that we do. I mean we've got a couple of awards, for example, brandeins & statista. We've been elected best consultants 4 years consecutively for the last four years in different areas such as digital transformation and so on so we want to continue that success story in consulting. Nevertheless, our strategy is to be ahead of the game in terms of digitization of consulting services how do we work. Of course, we work in an agile way when we develop new products or services. That means that we go about in little increments. So if you think agile it's difficult to really give a concrete forecast on where do I see myself or where do I see 4-advice in five years. Nevertheless, what we will do we will scale online services. At the moment we offer a couple of categories. So we offer for example presentations and to end digitally all we offer business intelligence models for example with power BI or other services that can easily be digitized. I am sure that within the next five years within our projects we will experience other use cases, other services that we have then implemented a couple of times in consulting projects that we think are ready to standardize are ready to digitize, so we will enlarge the portfolio for visuals.net and we will certainly try to leverage benefits of digitization for our own work as well, so the way we work I think we will become more and more agile more and more a mixture of home office and working on side and that is a very exciting time that we have ahead in the next five years. So I am basically really looking forward to it.