Felix Plötz is a multiple bestselling author and internationally sought-after keynote speaker. His book “Das 4-Stunden-Startup” was on the bestseller lists for more than three years and is one of the best-selling business books in Germany. Today, Felix is a shooting star among Germany’s top speakers, addressing customers such as Audi, Bosch, E.ON, Innogy, Lufthansa, Siemens and Volkswagen. He is an expert on topics such as digitalization, motivation and start-up spirit. We had the opportunity to speak with Felix and ask him about success, role models, and his journey to becoming a keynote speaker. Of course, we also wanted to know what he thinks your chances are as a management consultant for a keynote speaker career. But best read for yourself!
The path to becoming a keynote speaker
You’re a former sales manager, founder, best-selling author and now keynote speaker. Most importantly, how did your latest move to become a keynote speaker come about?
Yes, that’s a good question 🙂 To be successful as a keynote speaker, you basically have to meet three requirements :
- You need some expertise in a field. So you must have dealt with something in such a way that you know much more than most of the others.
- You also need a personal story, which is usually linked to expertise. For example, a professional poker player has an expertise in “taking risks and making decisions”, but at the same time he needs a story. Maybe he was once at a world championship and can tell something about it.
- The last requirement is familiarity.
These are the three factors that make a keynote speaker successful, and in the end, these are exactly the three factors that were relevant to me personally: Expertise, story, and name recognition. For me, it came about when I got a lot of attention through the books I wrote – specifically The 4-Hour Startup. I was then invited to give talks on topics such as digitalization, change and, above all, start-up spirit and entrepreneurship.
Certainly some of our candidates are also interested in the profession of “keynote speaker” after their consulting exit. What do you think a management consultant in particular needs to bring to the table to be a successful keynote speaker?
The three factors above apply to everyone for now, because in the end they are the reasons why someone buys you as a keynote speaker. If someone buys you just for the expertise, it’s a technical talk, not a keynote speech. Then you are also not a keynote speaker, but can perhaps simply illuminate a specialist topic very well. I think that’s also the strength per se that many management consultants bring to the table. They have built up a great deal of expertise in quite a few business-relevant topics. The thing that may be missing from most is a personal story. What have they experienced? Were they in the jungle? Were they at the world champion poker table? Have they founded something themselves?
So that certain something extra that goes beyond expertise?
Yes, exactly, that certain extra that makes this technical lecture a keynote lecture, because the whole thing then becomes tangible, entertaining and personal. As an audience member, I want to hear extraordinary stories AND learn something. But the extraordinary story must also be of the one up there. Then it’s also not enough to say, “Hey, I was at Adidas now on a project and the founders of Adidas have the following story.” That’s nice for a presentation, but it’s not enough for the keynote speech. You have to be the one who did something cool. The awareness factor then arises in most cases by itself. But your own personal story and expertise are a prerequisite, and that actually applies to consulting careers in general.
You mean a consultant per se needs not only expertise but also a personal story to be successful?
When I look at the consulting market, it makes sense – regardless of whether a consultant wants to become a keynote speaker or not – for every consultant to ask himself: “What makes me stand out? What is my personal USP compared to all the others out there? Is that just the expertise? Is it really just the fact that I’ve been on 35 projects and can do this and that? Is that still enough? Is that enough to stand out in a pile of applications or to snag a freelance project? Or can it be something personal even at this point, like the experience or story?”
So I think this learning, which is what keynote speakers inevitably do if they want to become successful, is transferable to any other career and especially to management consultants. After all, consultants have a responsible job in which people have to be convinced at times. You don’t have some clerk job that’s all about some expertise.
The career of the future
You write in an article that platform careers are the careers of the future. You compare the candidate to Super Mario, who jumps from platform to platform. In consulting, it has long been the case that many consultants leave after just a few years and take on a new challenge. So are management consultants pioneering this career of the future?
What I wrote at Business Punk about the platform career also applies to everyone for the time being. That’s because the working world is opening up and this classic tunnel career no longer exists as often. You can no longer rely on it and say, “Hey, you’re going to start somewhere and hopefully ten years later you’ll be the head of the department. But for the time being, many people find it difficult to use this flexibility, which is also freedom, for themselves.
And sure, management consultants have learned that. You know what it’s like to get involved in different projects and topics. You can quickly adapt to new people, problems and companies. That’s why it’s especially true for them in this respect. What I find exciting about that is keeping that thought and not just saying, “Okay, I’m a management consultant, I’m going to go to a certain company, and now I’m going to be a manager.” Instead, consultants should always keep it in mind that the next step may also just be a platform. Maybe the next stop after consulting is industry and then starting a business. Perhaps the foundation of a company is the first priority after the station as a consultant and then the company is sold to an industrial group in which one then makes a completely different career step as an intrapreneur. You should keep this freedom in mind and use it for yourself.
So a management consultant has it easier than the typical employee?
Of course, because a management consultant is not only accustomed to a bed of roses in his job. After all, a consultant lives like a founder in a way for a while. He has an extremely high workload and extremely high responsibility because he has to deliver. As a founder, you need to deliver to your customers and investors. If you are sold as a management consultant for 2,000 euros a day, you also have to deliver. That is, you are used to living for two to five years in a way that most people do not want to live. In the best case, however, you will acquire a great deal of freedom if you do it right.
About success and failure
In your books and lectures you mention many success stories, but you probably also know a few Failure stories, right? What’s your favorite story here that might also highlight a key reason why startups fail?
I don’t really have a favorite story because failure actually always sucks. But it is an unfortunate fact that nine out of ten start-ups fail. 90 % are gone. Sure, you always learn something somehow and that’s okay, but you can’t transfer one learning to the next one one-to-one. There are too many other factors that play a role: How was the timing? How was the product? What did the website look like? What colors did you use? Did you use the right channels? All this may look very different in the next project. That’s why failure usually sucks and you don’t learn much either.
But what I find exciting is the question: What is failure in the first place? I like to mention the example of Pebble in my presentation. For me, this is a success story. The guy just did it, had a huge success with it and was able to do what the big guys couldn’t do. But every now and then people come up to me after the lecture and say, “Wait a minute, you already know they’re broke.” Then I say, “Yes, I know that. But doesn’t that make it a success story? Hasn’t he still celebrated great successes? Didn’t he still enrich his life? Isn’t it still awesome what he did?” Pebble is now bankrupt, but they previously rejected a takeover offer of 765 million euros. They said, “No, we are worth much more. We have bigger goals.” Would they have been successful if they had taken the cash? They could be a four billion company now, too, and then everyone would have said, “Good thing they didn’t take the offer.” Now it just didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. Now you say, “Gee, if you’d only taken the money.” Yet the initial story is exactly the same. I therefore find the question of what success is difficult. Do you base it on money or on other measures?
Felix Plötz about his role models
Last question: Who are your role models? Who inspires you?
First of all, I have all the people as role models who just did it, who got off their asses and did something cool. By “cool” I don’t mean because others thought it was cool, I mean because they were into it and they thought it was cool by their standards. What became of it in the end, whether you went broke, whether you got seven million, or whether you beat out the seven million, that’s a whole other question.
I’m also lucky to have a very exciting friend who is also on today’s podcast episode(interview with Martin Plöckl, retired founder): Martin Plöckl. Martin also originally comes from a management consulting background. He then founded his own company and sold it to Mobilcom-Debitel. What I find exciting about Martin is that he had so much success at the age of 32 and then said, “Hey, that’s enough for me. I’ve had enough. Since then, he has been a retired founder, now advises start-ups and does quite a bit of mentoring. I’ve had many conversations with Martin in the Munich beer garden about how it works when someone is such an ambitious alpha dog and then with success just says, “You know what? Thank you very much, I’ll stop. At the zenith, I’ll stop.” I find that impressive.
Thank you, Felix, for the exciting interview!