Screw business as usual
I was 21 years old when I first read ‘Screw business as usual” by Sir Richard Branson. In this book, Mr. Branson argues that it’s time to turn capitalism upside down and shift our values from an exclusive focus on profit to also caring for people, communities and the planet. It’s an amazing book full of inspiring stories of (social) entrepreneurs who are already using business as a force for good.
Reading this book for the first time was nothing short of an epiphany for me. It made me realize more than ever that companies have the power and responsibility to tackle the most critical social and environmental issues our planet is facing. And that choosing for purpose AND profit is the most efficient way towards creating sustainable impact.
Companies have the power and responsibility to tackle the most critical social and environmental issues our planet is facing.
Sir Richard Branson
Since then, I’ve read the book two more times. Each time from a different perspective. The conclusion was always the same, though: the world needs more entrepreneurs like the ones in Mr. Branson’s book.
See it to believe it: the impact of traveling
I’ve been lucky enough to have spent quite a couple of months backpacking through Latin America and Africa. Off the beaten path. Next to being tremendous experiences, all these trips were real eye-openers to me and my travel companions. Seeing the living conditions and the effects of climate change in some of the poorest regions in the world really changed my perspective. It's impossible to stay on the sideline after such an experience.
I truly believe that one month of volunteering in a developing country would do wonders for the education of our kids.
CSR versus greenwashing
In 2010, I started working as an account manager at a communications agency. Next to writing marketing strategies for our customers, I also specialized in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative). I wrote the CSR reports for a plethora of companies and I felt like I was getting closer to creating a real impact.
But was I really? For a lot of companies the CSR report was just something they had to do to not lose customers and money. CSR wasn’t a part of their vision or strategy. My job: to make them look better (and compliant). Not exactly what I had in mind. So I quit.
Engineers as a force for good
I was also the CMO of a Belgian cleantech startup that was working on an off-grid (solar-powered) water purification solution. A cool project, where I implemented the idea of business as a force for good for the first time, by fully integrating a non-profit organization into the company’s business model.
What I learned most about this experience? Engineers have the knowledge and skills to tackle the world’s biggest problems. What they often need, though, is someone who can help them to:
- make sure they create a viable solution that clearly answers someone’s needs
- create a ‘lean’ build - measure - learn loop
- market their ideas
- instill them to use their incredible skills as a force for good
That’s how the idea of Quest first came to be. By combining engineering skills with the design thinking mindset and the marketing skills of Quest, we can strongly increase the chance of success of a product and accelerate its positive impact.
The power of saying no
I got to know my personal mentor Chris Raman at the start of my entrepreneurial career. Out of the many lessons he has taught me so far, I believe the most important one is that you need to say ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes’ if you want to grow in life and in business.
Jeroen and I, being former colleagues, had been thinking about starting a business together for quite some time. So we decided to run a ‘find your why’ workshop for ourselves for once. Our why turned out to be exactly the same: to use our skills to accelerate the change we want to see in the world.
Now we knew what we had to do: the most efficient way to maximize our own impact is by using our skills to maximize and accelerate the positive impact of other purpose-driven organisations.
The most efficient way to maximize our own impact is by using our skills to maximize and accelerate the positive impact of other purpose-driven organisations.
The main conclusion after our workshop
In other words: we had to make the choice to dedicate ourselves 100% to finding and helping the 'right' customers and projects. The ones that are truly meaningful to us and our planet.
My interest in the design thinking methodology was reignited by Jeroen, and we came to the conclusion that our studio needed to incorporate the following in order for us to be successful and happy:
- Services: strategy and design continually reinforcing each other
- Methodologies: design thinking & scaling lean
- Customers and projects: positive impact customers and projects only
Now we only had two more questions: is this niche market interested in our offering and is it big enough to make a living?
Screw it, let’s do it
The answer is simple: yes. Purpose-driven startups are emerging and more & more corporates are finally starting to understand the value and necessity of integrating purpose and sustainability into their core strategy.
So Jeroen and I decided to follow the advice of Sir Richard Branson once more: Screw it, let’s do it. Quest was born. Three months later, my first daughter Elena was born. My determination to change the world for the better has never been bigger.