We recently had the privilege of interviewing Martin Sandmeier, Founder and Owner of Ignite Digital Consulting. Martin shares the expertise of over three decades in the corporate world, from being an expert in digital consulting, where he has successfully built, managed, and launched e-commerce businesses in multiple sectors.
As the owner of Ignite Digital, Martin Sandmeier adopts a holistic approach. He offers a unique blend of operational expertise and technical awareness to find impactful solutions to a company’s digital problems. In this interview, Martin Sandmeier speaks of his professional background, the motivation behind founding the company, its objectives, challenges, developing a good work environment, and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
We started the interview by asking, “Could you start by telling us about your career path?”
Martin Sandmeier shared, ” I have been in retail for almost 30 years, with over 20 of those in the Digital and E-commerce Space. My career started as a Commercial Graduate Trainee at Marks & Spencer, one of the hardest and most competitive graduate programs to get accepted into. There, I gained a fantastic introduction to retail and management skills, many of which remain with me today. I was also in store & Head Office management for several years with companies including Dixons Stores group, one of the largest electronics retailers in Europe, and Staples, a Fortune 500 company at that time. This broad experience has given me the unique position of understanding traditional, bricks & clicks, and pure-play retailing.
At Dixons Stores Group, back in 2001, I worked in the PC World division and was given my first opportunity to experience the digital world, which involved leading and managing a project from ideation to post-launch. This experience helped me secure a role at Amazon, where I remained for almost eight years, building the Home & Garden and then the Sports & Outdoors categories in the UK and undertaking some strategic European partner collaborations with brands such as Philips.”
He added, “Wanting to experience something with an international flavor, I was then fortunate enough to be headhunted for Souq.com, the self-proclaimed Amazon of the Middle East, where I was the Regional Head of Lifestyle. It was this more consulting-oriented role, helping Souq understand Amazon processes and operations, that eventually led to me becoming a freelance consultant, where my clients have included Sharjah Cooperative Society, Al Mana Group, and Jones The Grocer.
When Covid hit, I returned to the corporate world as the VP of Digital for Etisalat by e&, where I was responsible for both completing the Consumer Digital Transformation program and managing the Consumer Digital Channels. Some key achievements there were introducing agile, driving empowerment & an experimentation mindset, use of data insights and concepts such as MVPs and POCs.
However, the call of consulting and helping others to learn and succeed was too great, which has led me to launch Ignite Digital Consulting.”
The Spark Behind Ignite Digital
We were curious to learn more about the factors that inspired Martin Sandmeier to start his consulting business. So, we inquired, “What inspired you to develop the idea of your company?”
He responds, “When I look back over my career, the things that stand out to me as the most impactful and enjoyable have been delivering successful projects, problem-solving, and helping others to learn and succeed. I take great pleasure and pride in seeing individuals and clients get to a place where they can continue a successful journey themselves.
I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing companies where I have learned so much, and my desire now is to use that knowledge and experience to help others succeed in the digital space”.
Every business has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Working with a client to identify problems and come up with relevant solutions to deliver tangible results is what Ignite Digital has been created to do.
Businesses are often forced to shift their goals, adapting to the emerging trends. To learn more about similar transitions in Martin Sandmeier’s business, we asked, “How have your priorities in business evolved since you first started?”
“As my career has developed, I have become more macro-oriented and holistic in my approach; however, I have never lost focus on the operational side of a business.
Having been fortunate enough to gain exposure and work with all functions across a business, and thereby, an understanding of the needs, wants, and challenges of stakeholders across functions, this has helped me understand over the years that fostering a culture of collaboration is key to success in delivering successful digital projects.
Cutting out all the noise, identifying what is truly important, and focusing on quality execution has become more of a priority over the years.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, people are at the center of everything. That has always been a priority but has grown in importance over the years to become the starting point for anything I have worked on. In the corporate world, the key to my success has been my teams and all the people I have relied on to deliver results. Without them, I would not be where I am today,” Martin shared.
Adaptability Amidst Adversities
While challenges are an indispensable part of any business, overcoming them with the right approaches counts the most. So, we asked, “What are the most challenging situations that your company overcomes?”
Martin responds, “As has been widely reported over the years, the majority of digital transformation programs fail, with the challenge being that stakeholders do not understand why. The same is true of e-commerce, where unprecedented growth during Covid has not continued post-Covid, with many businesses not understanding what they need to do to achieve sustainable growth for the long term. It is identifying the reasons for and recommending solutions to overcome problems that Ignite Digital excels at.
We can look at every aspect of a business with fresh eyes, talk to and empathize with all stakeholders, and identify bottlenecks and barriers to success. Stakeholder buy-in is another key challenge we help overcome, as well as the move away from silo operations to cross-functional collaboration. Most importantly of all, we focus on mindset change, for example, moving digital projects away from being tech-led to customer & operations focussed, with IT being the key enabler, not necessarily the driver.”
Setting Ignite Digital Apart
To ensure sustainable success, it is crucial to offer unique services and products. We asked, “What makes your company stand out from other businesses in your industry?”
Martin Sandmeier shared, “Ignite Digital Consulting is very operationally focussed and hands-on. We do not rely on fancy presentations or theoretical models that promise a lot but may deliver little. Every client’s capabilities, needs, and wants are different, so we prioritize understanding each client’s individual situation and adapting our approach as required.
We also recommend solutions that are relevant to the client and will allow them to deliver tangible results.
We are platform and solution-agnostic – we do not partner with any specific providers, as we remain committed to finding the best solutions for our clients.
At the very core of what we do is knowledge transfer – we set out with the objective of our client not needing us anymore. We want our clients to get to a stage where they can succeed on their own, with us, then returning post-engagement if required to undertake checks and balances and course correcting if required.”
Measuring Business Success
We further asked, “What KPIs do you use to measure your business growth?”
He continued, “Ultimately, achieving the milestones agreed with the client is the main gauge of success, coupled with being able to complete an engagement knowing the client can successfully continue their journey alone. Clients referring us to other clients is also a key measure of success for the business, and subsequently needing to scale the business to accommodate client demand would also be a KPI of growth.
The ability to scale internationally, with the initial focus being KSA, is an important growth objective for Ignite Digital Consulting.”
To learn more about the services offered by Martin Sandmeier’s company, we asked, “Tell us something about your services. What are you working on currently?”
“Having recently launched Ignite Digital Consulting, the main focus currently is raising awareness and building a project pipeline. In terms of services, the list is quite comprehensive, but to summarize, we help medium to large organizations identify the problems that are hindering their digital transformation programs or stopping their e-commerce channels from scaling.
We would generally start with a discovery or audit phase, deep-diving the entire business to identify roadblocks or bottlenecks. This would be followed by recommending relevant solutions, with the ability to find and onboard network partners to implement solutions where required.” Martin shared.
Fostering a Healthy Work Culture
Another factor that’s paramount for ensuring business success is employee satisfaction and promoting a healthy work environment. We asked, “How do you build trust with your employees and boost productivity without causing burnout?”
He shared, “In previous roles, I have always taken the approach that “my” success is entirely dependent on my team and those we need to work with to help deliver.
Ensuring my team can perform to the best of their ability has therefore been of paramount importance, achieved through empowering, guiding, coaching, supporting, and protecting them when required. Ensuring open communication and transparency has also always been key to enabling my teams to understand what we are trying to achieve and perform to the best of their ability.
Burnout is something I have personally experienced, and this has helped me ensure my teams do not go through the same as I did. Helping teams prioritize, removing unnecessary ‘noise,’ and ensuring a better work-life balance are necessary to help boost productivity and reduce burnout.
In high-pressure digital environments, this can be tough, but there are always things one can do to ensure people in the team get the necessary downtime and help ensure they perform to the best of their ability and continue enjoying what they are doing. Ultimately, true leaders are those that focus on the above more than anything else, in my humble opinion.”
Acing The Latest Trends
We were intrigued to learn about the approaches adopted by Martin Sandmeier to stay updated with the latest trends and technologies. So, we asked, “How do you stay on top of the latest technologies and trends in your industry?”
He responds, “Being in the digital space, keeping on top of the latest technologies and trends is imperative. Fortunately, there are numerous ways by which to do this. Reading is one, be that books or online articles. The latter is perhaps more relevant, as the digital world can change by the time a book is written, published, and read. Taking courses helps a great deal, too, and LinkedIn learning is a good way to both enhance existing skills and learn new ones.
Attending events and conferences is another good way to keep up to date, be that virtually or in person. This also helps you discover new thought-leaders, grow your network, and hear different views on digital subject areas.
One has to have an inquisitive mind to keep on top of things in the digital space – there is so much going on, and so quickly, that challenging and asking questions is important to understand the relevance and application of new technologies – blindly jumping onto the latest tech trend can be a very costly mistake.
One of our responsibilities as a client partner is to stay on top of the game and help ensure clients make the right decisions to ensure technology can help them achieve their digital objectives most effectively and efficiently possible.”
Tips For Beginners
Addressing the beginners, we asked Martin Sandmeier, “What advice would you give to starting entrepreneurs?”
“Remain positive, even in adversity, and be tenacious. Do not be afraid to ask for help. And when you do, listen, Try to refrain from the stubborn pursuit of what you believe is right if it is not working or is not what the customer wants. Experiment – test, learn and iterate. Above all, do not fear failure or making mistakes – you will learn more from failure than you ever will from success.” Martin concluded.
Follow Martin Sandmeier on LinkedIn.