Empathy, mental wherewithal, resilience – all of these are undoubtedly important qualities to thrive in modern business environments but rarely anyone would name them as the most important. Still, the promotion of emotional intelligence as the most integral skill is the vision of “DeepSkill”. Founded in 2020 by WHU alumni Miriam Mertens (EMBA 2010) and Peter Goeke (MBA 2017), the young startup has already gained the attention and support of reputable business leaders and concluded a number of successful financing rounds. They claim that emotional intelligence is the most important skill to possess among executives and employees alike. How this might come to be the case is answered by the founders in our interview series “five questions for…”
1. At DeepSkill, you don’t focus primarily on developing employees' technical abilities but rather their emotional capacities. Why will "emotional intelligence" become increasingly important for a company in the future and what exactly do you mean by this?
Miriam Mertens: Emotional skills are abilities that are not based on theoretically acquired specialist knowledge, but rather on personal abilities, character traits, behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics. They are the skills that make us capable of action, strong communication, and resilience, especially in uncertain or unforeseeable situations. Particularly in times of permanent crisis and turbo-digitization, these skills are absolutely necessary within the workforce in order for a company to be successful in the long term.
2. In the past, this type of coaching was reserved for executives. With DeepSkill, however, you want to address all employees of any given company. Why is that useful?
MM: The challenges that employees at all levels in modern companies face are completely different than they were 20 years ago. Work intensification and automation, for example through AI, have led to recurring routine tasks often being taken over by algorithms and employees primarily taking on creative or conceptual work, communication, and controlling tasks. In addition, the classic management structure has become obsolete in many companies as more and more employees receive project-related, virtual, or sometimes temporary leadership roles.
In all of these roles, emotional skills are crucial. We impart these skills through a mix of group training and individual coaching adapted to the target group, so that these skills become truly accessible to all company employees.
3. How does individual coaching with DeepSkill work in concrete terms? Every employee has vastly different prerequisites and skills. To ensure the right coaching, you also incorporate the extensive use of technology in your coaching, correct?
MM: We don’t rely on coaching alone to develop these skills. Instead, we combine digital learning methods such as eLearning, self-study, and reflection exercises with individual and group coaching in an effective mix over an extended period of time. For participants, our programs are always tailored to their respective companies. They go through all the relevant modules necessary for their further development over a period of 6 or 12 months – and they do so completely digitally and interwoven with their everyday lives. For example, well-founded methodological input is followed by an exercise in everyday work – which is then in turn followed by an individual coaching session, which is so effective because it relates to a concrete, previously defined problem. We combine the advantages of a flexible and scalable coaching platform with the structured skill development of a training provider – and everything is completely digital and flexible to use.
4. Your company was founded in 2020. Since then, you have managed to garner many prominent supporters and conclude several successful financing rounds. Was the time simply right for this new form of coaching? And what role did the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic play with regards to your digital business model?
Peter Goeke: The time was basically ripe even before the pandemic as there were simply no innovative solutions to this sort of problem. People were familiar with the concept of individual coaching sessions on site and weekend training sessions in a fancy hotel at the Spree. When we presented our innovative product, the feedback was clear and consistent: finally, there is a solution to set up our personnel development as holistically as we’ve always wanted to. For us, the COVID-19 pandemic was essentially the kick-start that made our digital solution even more compelling for HR developers.
5. Each of you have completed one of WHU’s academic programs and met at an event at the business school. What was your impression of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and spirit at WHU and to what extent have these experiences influenced your own founding?
PG: The ecosystem at WHU is unique in Germany. I also met one of the co-founders of my former startup at WHU. The great thing about WHU is that you come into contact with many ambitious people who are interested in founding a company and who are willing to support each other in any way. After the first conversation with Miriam, it immediately became apparent that a joint start-up would have huge potential. The shared WHU background is definitely a good starting point for building a relationship of trust when it comes to founding a company.