During the last two decades, Felix Holzapfel has supported many SMB, DAX, and Fortune 500 companies on their way to the Digital Age. Having sold his digital marketing agency to one of the world’s leading IT services providers, he now focuses on Quovabiz, a company building and consulting boutique. Felix is also a speaker and author of several books. Thinkers360, the world’s leading B2B marketplace for thought leaders, analysts, and influencers, recognized him as one of the top 10 global thought leaders for digital transformation and marketing.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Felix shared his professional trajectory, the mission and vision of Quovabiz, take on leadership, personal sources of inspiration, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Felix, please tell us a bit about your background and areas of expertise.
I began to work for an IT Systems Company in 1997 while I was still attending school. In 2002, my brother Klaus and I founded the digital agency conceptbakery based in Germany and the US. After establishing an agency alliance, we became a part of Zone. I became a shareholder and member of the C-level of one of Europe’s leading independent full-service digital marketing agencies. In October 2017, we successfully sold Zone to Cognizant, one of the leading digital businesses worldwide (listed on the NASDAQ, a Fortune 500 company). Since 2020, I have been running Quovabiz, a mixture of a management consultancy and investment company. In this role, I’m an entrepreneur, business angel, sparring partner, and consultant for startups, SMEs, and corporations regarding strategy, marketing, and digital transformation. I’m also a speaker and author of several books.
As an entrepreneur and thought leader in digital transformation and marketing, what does digital transformation mean to you? What sort of organizational changes are needed to drive a successful digital transformation?
Frankly, I don’t like the term digital in digital transformation. I prefer to call it simply transformation! Why? Over the past 25 years, I have accompanied numerous Fortune 500, DAX 30, and SMEs on their way into the digital age. Many projects were right at the intersection between technology and change management. The main challenge was usually not implementing technologies but overcoming barriers and blockers regarding processes, culture, and alike. The most important thing is understanding transformation not as a one-off event but as a continuous process and aligning the organization accordingly. A key factor is to get an organization to a point where not just managers, but the entire company see change less as a threat and more as an opportunity.
Tell us about the mission and vision of Quovabiz. What sets it apart from other market competitors?
As early-stage investors, company builders, and consultants, we accompany startups, SMEs, and corporations on their journey into the digital frontier—and beyond. I guess the main difference from most competitors is our boutique approach. We already successfully founded, scaled, and sold our own business. Quovabiz is not about scale anymore but about passion and quality. Therefore, my brother Klaus, with whom I also founded Quovabiz, and I take personal care of all our clients and ventures. My role is usually to be an architect who helps develop new business models or extend existing ones. My wide range and many years of entrepreneurial experience in digital transformation, technology, and marketing across many categories make me a generalist who can connect dots others often don’t see. That enables me to support clients in challenging their organization, making smart choices, recognizing opportunities that lie in change, and creating the best possible use of them.
You are also an Investor & Member of the Advisory Board at agriBORA. Can you please tell us about this company and your role in it?
agriBORA is one of my seed investments. I’m also a member of agriBORA’s advisory board. The founder, Kizito Odhiambo, is an exciting entrepreneur with an inspiring vision: Making Africa self-sufficient within our generation. To achieve this ambitious goal, agriBORA merges the benefits of an agritech SaaS (software as a service) platform with technologies like satellites, AI, and blockchain to disrupt agriculture in Africa. The company benefits from strong partners like the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission, and The World Bank. Last year, I had the chance to visit agriBORA’s operational team in Kenya. It was amazing to see what a game-changing impact the company already has on farmers’ daily lives and income. This project is the perfect example of using technology to improve our world—and still have a solid business case.
What surprised you the most in your journey so far and what did you learn from it?
I’m in the industry for more than 25 years. Nevertheless, I’m surprised repeatedly about how many silos still separate different people, departments, and data pools within organizations and how resistant people and organizations can be against change and overdue transformation. What did I learn from all that? It is very beneficial to feel at home in many different worlds. In many ways, this is a recurring theme in my life. Based on this skillset, I built Quovabiz with a diverse and, at the same time, very independent position and approach. Having one leg in the startup ecosystem, working with young and ambitious founders, and the other in the corporate environment offers me a highly varied everyday life, which I enjoy a lot and again, from which our clients benefit a lot.
The meaning of leadership can change from one era to the other, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?
Disruptive technologies like AI, quantum computing, robotics, or nanotechnology can potentially turn markets upside down relatively quickly. The global economy has become way more competitive with international supply chains, and more and more of the value creation is happening digitally. Global warming forces us to rethink our way of life and some of our economic principles while, at the same time, the global south asks for a fair share of the global wealth. These are just a couple of examples. Bottom line: The world is changing faster and more fundamentally than ever before in many ways. Management styles need to keep up with this progress and the changing needs and demands of a more and more heterogeneous landscape of employees. Talking about employees, the competition for the most essential resource of any business, talents, has also become more global. Facing all these challenges in times of continuous change, good or even outstanding and inspiring leadership is more critical and has become more demanding than ever before.
Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Of course, my parents and siblings fundamentally impacted me in becoming the person I am today. But when we talk about my professional career, the first person who comes to mind is the founder and CEO of the IT service company where I started my professional career in 1997. Soon after I began to work in his company, he already gave me opportunities that were way beyond what would have been expected for someone of my age and experience level. When clients increasingly asked for web design, e-commerce, and online marketing, I was tasked with setting up this department. In early 2000, the company developed a toolkit to build websites offered as SaaS. Three rounds of venture capital investments accelerated the company’s growth. I worked alongside the CEO and executive board, was involved in all parts of the organization, and became a constant in the shareholder and supervisory board meetings. It was a perfect learning environment for a future entrepreneur.
What is it that motivates and inspires you in your everyday life?
First of all, of course, my family. Making my wife and two little kids smile is my biggest motivation. Also, I’m the youngest of four. Looking up to my older brothers and sister was also an essential factor that turned me into the curious and competitive person I am today, motivating me to go above and beyond—every day. Last but not least, I simply love technology. I bought my first computer when I was eight, and my fascination for technology has remained the same. My daily life often still feels like being a kid in a candy store, which I’m very grateful for!
What are you particularly proud of in your career?
That I’m 100% self-made. My brother and I built our first company from scratch without external support. There was no existing network from our parents, no external money, nothing. Just our hard work and strong will to build a company we can successfully sell one day to achieve a certain level of financial independence. That’s what we did with conceptbakery and Zone. With Quovabiz, we now have the possibility to take our entrepreneurial passion to the next level. That makes me proud, grateful, and, probably most importantly, happy.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I will still explain the latest technology, management, and marketing trends to ambitious entrepreneurs and executives, helping them turn this knowledge into action. Also, I would be delighted if we built a good portfolio with Quovabiz of various ventures that use technology creatively and impactfully to turn our world into a better place. Finally, I would like to give more keynotes on future technologies and discuss their impact on our economy and society. I believe many exciting insights remain dormant at the interface between technology and sociology that could significantly advance us all.
What would be your recommendations to large organizations as they look to maintain momentum in their digital transformation journeys?
Let me try to answer this common question with kind of an uncommon answer. Whenever change creates critical situations; many people get scared and only see risks and blockers. But if change creates an environment of growth and improvement, people usually are confident, see opportunities and potential. This phenomenon applies on a personal level as well as to companies, large organizations, and even entire economies. Therefore, we are all well advised to create an environment that promises growth, both for individuals and organizations, to maintain momentum and make the best out of all the transformation and change ahead. Also, collaboration with startups or even strategic investments can help to stay open-minded, extend the product portfolio, and strengthen a company’s innovation power and readiness for change. Impulses from people like me and companies like Quovabiz can help with all of that and support corporates in widening their views, staying focused, and setting the right priorities during the exciting times we should all be lucky to live in.