Wouter Bakker, CEO of GoodUp tells us about turning personal purpose into action by connecting time, skills and knowledge to projects that have a positive impact.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Wouter Bakker: Thanks for asking. Luckily we are all healthy. We are grateful to have a decent house (with garden space) to spend our days at home. And it’s great to see that we are able to grow the impact that we’re making with GoodUp in these turbulent times.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded GoodUp.
Wouter Bakker: Well, I started as an eager beaver with the ambition to become Prime Minister of The Netherlands, Secretary-General of the UN, or CEO of a large multinational. But I learned quickly that most professionals who strive for money and power are not the happiest people. In contrast, people who work from a sense of purpose generally seem to be happy. That’s why I changed course and started to focus on living my purpose.
This led me from large multinationals and international consulting firms to becoming a social entrepreneur at GoodUp. It took introspection and experiences to find this direction, as well as some guts to leave the security of my traditional career path. But I did not regret this move for a second. Being a social entrepreneur makes me feel alive, as helping others is much more rewarding than striving for personal gains.
I want to focus on making a positive impact now while doing a job that helps me to pay my bills, supports my personal development, and allows me to meet and connect with amazing people from all over the world. And I’m on a mission to help others to discover this path too.
How does GoodUp innovate?
Wouter Bakker: Firstly, we’re a social venture. Our business model is innovative in itself as our purpose is not to generate profit but to make a positive impact on society and solve the challenge of corporates who are searching for their place in the new purpose economy. Our ultimate goal (BHAG) is to let 1 billion people live their purpose by 2030.
GoodUp innovates together with leading corporate companies, our customers. They are searching for their place in the new purpose economy. Hence they design volunteering programs, write CSR strategies, set sustainability targets, and formulate purpose statements. But as operations are mostly geared towards financial KPIs, it’s a challenge to operate sustainable targets in the day-to-day work of all of their people.
Essentially that’s where we come into play. We help to bridge the gap between a written sustainable (or purposeful) company strategy and the execution of that strategy with employees, communities, customers, and other stakeholders.
How? On our software, employees can start, join and share sustainable projects. We match people to relevant projects that allow them to live their own purpose at work. This is how we help to organize and democratize sustainable strategies.
We’ve always delivered on our promise. But our biggest leaps forward in finding our product/market fit have come from close collaboration with customers like Unilever, Mars, Deloitte. We’ve learned that the behavioral change needed to make a positive impact with a lot of people does not happen overnight. We had to humanize our software. We now work with a combination of software and handholding services that deliver results quickly and helps clients progress and engage more people over the course of several years.
Basically, we learn with the frontrunners and provide all lessons to others via our software and services.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Wouter Bakker: Over the last couple of years, a lot of companies have made promises of sustainable business practices. I feel that these promises are now being put to the test, and we see how companies struggle on a crossroads between a long-term sustainable business vision and short-term risk mitigation.
The key question will be: are the leaders of companies strong enough to defend their long-term license to operate, even at the cost of short-term results?
At the moment, some are while some aren’t. Some leaders lead; others follow. The regrettable situation at Danone – where a sustainability-driven CEO was replaced by short-term-focused shareholders shows that we still have a long way to go.
But we’ve been able to close a lot of deals thanks to the commitment of brands like Mars and Athlon, especially since they have strong leaders running their sustainable strategies. At the same time, we’ve seen some of our sales pipeline freeze or fade and lost some of our longtime partners because of cost cuttings or short-term survival mode.
In general, though, the market for CSR and purpose software is growing. Companies increasingly take their societal responsibility seriously. Employees want meaning in their job and feel the need to act. And consumers demand purposeful products and services. Lastly, societal impact is an important factor for investors now. Time is on our side.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Wouter Bakker: We are a relatively small social venture. Every person you have to let go of is regretted, so after an initial and planned reorganization last year, we proudly managed to keep everyone on board.
My personal lesson learned is that people-powered by purpose work together with great positive energy, no matter how difficult circumstances are. Once someone is intrinsically driven and doing meaningful work, that person is always searching for opportunities to go the extra mile and find a solution. That’s what I have seen happening in our team: despite the larger distances, we might be closer to each other than ever before.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Wouter Bakker: We are really close to our clients. We frequently communicate transparently and think along with their challenges. This direct relationship allows us to learn, iterate and improve our software at a high pace. We involve everyone in this process, from customer success and sales to product and marketing. Apart from regular check-ins, we have built our own support center with technical and inspirational content. We organize meetups and webinars to engage, educate and broaden the network of our customers. Apart from our own tool, Miro has been of great help to keep innovation going.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Wouter Bakker: Yes, we did. The Dutch government supported us in early 2020 when COVID hit our revenue. But we’ve decided to keep the amount of support to a minimum. As a social venture, we feel that we have the responsibility to stand on our own two feet, so we stopped making use of these systems once possible. And I am proud we managed to get through!
Your final thoughts?
Wouter Bakker: I’m convinced that It’s time for purposeful actions. The United Nations have clearly described our global challenges and formulated the powerful Sustainable Development Goals. We need to take action in this decade. If we don’t, we might be too late to provide future generations with the opportunities that we’ve had. So, I wish for all the people on this planet to embrace these goals and start acting.
I am personally intrigued by the Ubuntu philosophy from South Africa, which basically states, “I am because we are.” No individual is more important than society. No one can realize transformation on his or her own. We need one another. This goes for individuals, companies, governments, and for society as a whole. But some of us tend to forget this fact. If COVID teaches us one thing, it’s that we are in this together as we are more connected than ever before.
So, even if this year has been tough for you, there is always someone who needs your help. Some of you have money; others have time. Some have challenges; others have solutions. Some of you have ideas; others have execution power. Whether small or big, please do something. You can make a difference, and you will experience that making a true impact is much more meaningful than going to work just to make money.
For anyone reading this article, feel free to reach out to me about anything purpose-related via LinkedIn. Also, here’s a link to a free download of my book Purpose Powered by People.
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