Great things often evolve from a crisis. This is certainly the case with Nextview signing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals this month! In this blog I, Huub Waterval, as one of the founders and CEO of Nextview, will explain more about my personal journey to change our strategy towards becoming a purpose-led company. As you will read, you will see that no system changes itself. Disruptive change, which implementing a true purpose-led strategy is, requires strong and holistic leadership, vulnerability and empathy, and last but not least a lot of co-creation.
Climbing one of Austria’s highest mountains
Nextview is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. Initially starting as an SAP Consulting company, but soon followed with a Salesforce Consulting and Design Thinking Consulting arm. When we founded the company in the midst of the financial crisis we defined a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for ourselves. We wanted to build a company with five million Euro revenue and fifty people within five years. The reward that we promised ourselves was climbing one of Austria’s highest mountains with the entire company. Having hiked Mt Kilimanjaro and the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalaya I knew what it would take, so the reward could not be bigger being on top of a mountain with all colleagues that joined in the first five years. I thought.
Nextview climbing 3660m Grossvenediger in Austria.
Since the start in 2009, Nextview has been a FD-Gazelle which means we are among the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands. For the first five years this was an amazing driving force. However, on top of that mountain, where everybody was in a higher state of mind after realizing this fantastic achievement, I felt as if I was in an existential crisis. In 2009 it seemed very simple to define an ambitious goal that would drive everybody’s energy. Just extrapolating the numbers for the next five or ten years suddenly felt superficial. Growing every year and putting emphasis on financial targets alone might be rewarding for the first years when you start a company, but after some years it becomes more or less the same.
Leadership, Stewardship, Entrepreneurship
Some say that an MBA is done to get you through your professional mid-life crisis. For me, back in 2014, I figured I had two options:
I am going to hire a CEO to manage my company to the next phase
I am going to invest in myself, become the best version of myself and hopefully become that CEO
Since I was not ready to retire yet, I started an Executive MBA while running my company. This study took place at Nyenrode Business University, which has three pillars:
It was the stewardship that caused a massive change of direction for Nextview. It all started with the book Firms of Endearment from Raj Sisodia, and more specifically with this visual:
Firms of Endearment are companies that are driven by passion and purpose, rather than profits or revenue. However, they earn large profits by helping all stakeholders succeed; customers, employees, partners, investors, communities, and society. This group of companies, such as Patagonia, Whole Foods and Ben & Jerrys, outperformed the ‘previous best group’ according to Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, which is generally considered as one of the best management books ever. But, I also learned about Dutch heroes such as DSM and its CEO Feike Sijbesma, who in 2013 already publicly stated that the direction of his company needed to change. It was this quote which will always stay with me:
“You cannot be successful, nor call yourself successful, in a society that fails”
It was this exact moment that I was convinced that doing good would become the business model of the future.
Becoming a B Corp
One of the first important milestones that we defined was that of becoming a Benefit Corporation. Benefit Corporations can be seen as early Firms of Endearment, in the sense that they share the same DNA only with the difference that they are not that successful yet. The B Corp community is a growing movement of 2500+ companies world-wide that use their own core competences to make the world a better place. Business as a force for good. The first goal that we set ourselves was to spend up to 25.000 hours on social & environmental projects, this being the expected accumulated 1% of all hours over a period of ten years.
Designing Business as a force for Good
It also led to our new “why”, for which we adapted the b-corp mission “designing business as a force for good”. We wanted to become that purpose driven company, creating positive impact by using our own core-competencies and by helping other companies maximising their own positive impact.
Around the same period we started re-evaluating the way “how” we did business with our clients. It often felt as if we were in dead-end streets, forced to comply with comprehensive RFP’s (Request for Proposals) and according procurement & legal procedures, without room left for questioning the problem or the requested solution. It felt as if we were champions in building the perfect solution for often the wrong kind of problems.
Re-designing our own customer journey
With this conviction in mind, we started thinking about how the ideal customer journey for a consulting company should look. We already applied Design Thinking methods, since this was deeply rooted in our approach. Design thinking stands for: solving environmental & social problems. Wicked problems. To describe the thought process of creating our own Design Thinking Centers in Amsterdam (2016) and Eindhoven (2018) would require an entire blog. However, the idea to create such physical safe spaces that combine experience & innovation labs was rooted here. It also led to a self-explanatory emphasis on ‘doing good’, taking in mind the reason for the existence of design thinking.
Plastic Whale (& Goal 14: Life below water)
While designing our customer journey, which included the use of the Design Thinking Center, we wanted to come up with an innovative way to:
Let people experience sustainability in a positive way instead of talking (preaching) about it
Let people see that creating positive impact can be a viable economic business model
Have the right people on board the entire journey with both physical as mental presence
Create democratic groups that felt safe to open up, since there is no innovation without trust
Make sure to start workshops on time in the center of Amsterdam
The Nextview Design Thinking Center Plastic Whale in action. The boat is made from Amsterdam Canal Plastic.
This is why we came up with the great idea to work with Plastic Whale, the first professional plastic fishing company in the world. Initially, we worked with them to transport our groups from the back of the Amsterdam Central Station over the canals to our Design Thinking Center, which resides next to the river Amstel. But, also to inspire our visitors and clients to create positive impact themselves, leading to multiple new ground breaking initiatives and even global awards! Oh and in the end, our collaboration with Plastic Whale has resulted in a very sustainable partnership, not only as one of the Plastic Whale partners, but also as one of their investors and co-owners! Nowadays we do not only make boats from PET plastic bottles, but also Plastic Whale Circular Furniture!
The Plastic Whale Circular Furniture Launch on Feb 22nd in Amsterdam
Waterwatch (& Goal 1 + 2: No Poverty and Zero Hunger)
The moment I started talking about becoming a B Corp and changing the strategy towards a purpose led company, or let me rephrase that, the moment I decided to become a B Corp and to change the strategy towards a purpose led company, I initially received scepticism. Not in the least from management and even co-founders. However, I had already made up my mind. It was either this, or I was going to step out. As mentioned before, I was just not motivated anymore by growth on itself without a more profound purpose.
It took exactly one year for the change to deliver the first successes. SAP has a long standing tradition of rewarding partners each year in several categories. One of the most prestigious categories is Most Innovative SAP Partner of the Year. Since the start of Nextview in 2009 we have been on the list of three nominated partners for several years. For us this felt like winning, knowing that the chance of actually winning (given the fact that some of the big guys needed to go home with an award as well), would be low. But hey, we celebrated our nominations each year in such a way that everybody thought we actually won, annoying the competition as an additional benefit.
The initial design for the Crop Disease Alert App for Suikerunie.
However, in 2017 the odds changed drastically. In such a way that we sort of felt ashamed on behalf of all the other SAP Partners. In the midst of the annual award ceremony stood a table with artifacts from all the innovations belonging to the nominated partners. Four out of six were from Nextiew, fully purpose led, and all a direct result from the Design Thinking Center. In 2017, Suiker Unie and Nextview were awarded the Most Innovative Partner of the Year by delivering a new solution to increase the yield of sugar in sugar beets, while reducing the use of water and pesticides. Thereby, delivering business, social and environmental value.
We managed to do it again with Waterwatch in 2018 and became the first SAP Partner ever to win this award two years in a row! Besides, we won two global awards in that year … which proves the point that ‘doing good’ is a profitable business model.
The best thing that happened is that one of my co-founders took up the challenge to become the CTO of Waterwatch, continuing the business relation with Nextview as one of the consortium partners and helping Waterwatch end hunger and reduce poverty among 570 Million smallholder farmers.
Design week at School (& Goal 4: Quality Education)
Another initiative that ‘just happened’, came from one of my colleagues and his wife, Jan-Willem and Floor. Having three young children in elementary school they noticed that schools struggle with teaching 21st century skills, as coding, computational thinking and design thinking. Sometimes you just recognise a great idea if you hear one. And this was one of them.
Floor had joined one of our design thinking courses and they both had also previously led an initiative combining design thinking & technology with another good cause; Dommelstroom. A community funded hydro electric power plant for which we created an app to monitor the production. The initiative was picked up by national media, creating positive PR for everybody involved.
Jan Willem was also our B Corp leader. Knowing that change is inevitable if you can reach at least 15% of any population, I told him I would sponsor everything as long as he would involve at least 15 colleagues. And so he did.
The initiative was called DesignWeek@School and the first school that we took over for a week, was the Koningslinde in Vught. We sent along a video crew to make sure that if it would become a success, we had captured it to spread the word to other schools. We even invited the entire school to our Design Thinking Center in Amsterdam. We did not envision that the headmaster would involve the mayor, the local newspaper, and how exactly we got on the national evening news is still unclear. So again, if you do good, you get good in return.
We just liked the idea and sometimes that is enough. No business case. No clue what would be the outcome. However, what happened is that amongst other things:
The initiative has turned into a formal foundation, with already 17 schools visited, 450 teachers and 5.500 children impacted, with Floor, the headmaster and myself in the board of the foundation.
Large companies, such as ING, SAP and PwC started supporting the initiative in various ways.
Our consultants and other companies’ employees learn how to explain stuff to children, so they can now also communicate clearly and intelligibly to their customers
And Floor and Jan-Willem? For Floor it has become a fulltime job and Jan-Willem has recently quit his job as an employee, but still works with us as an independent contractor to have more time and flexibility in managing the social enterprise.
At the end of 2018 we have made an important decision to focus exclusively on our Salesforce alliance, where thus far we supported both SAP and Salesforce as alliance partners. We have been very grateful working with SAP as a strategic partner for the last ten years and it has been a great partnership as well. For our own reasons we decided to bring back our focus to one alliance, which is Salesforce.
Salesforce is very well known for its integrated corporate philanthropy. They are a leading example in catalysing change beyond the borders of their own company. One of the examples of this is the one percent pledge, of which they are one of the founding partners.
Companies that take the pledge give back 1% of equity, 1% of product / service, 1% of profits and 1% of time. All on a yearly basis. There are now over 2.000 companies that took the pledge. Among which Nextview!
UN Sustainable Development Goals
During my MBA I was taught the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, it never occurred to me that since then we have actually been working on a few of them. So perhaps the time has come to make more conscious choices on which goals to work, instead of the evolutionary route that we have taken so far.
So, when the opportunity presented itself to sign the SDG’s as part of the Brainport Eindhoven region, we did not hesitate for a moment. With Tamara now leading Nextview’s positive impact team we will involve all of our colleagues to direct our efforts towards one or two central SDG’s. I am really looking forward to that dialogue.
We have used them in sessions with clients at the Design Thinking Center, so in this case we are going to drink our own champagne as well.
Psyche Income instead of Monetary Income
Looking back, I think that we have become a company where people primarily work for a psyche income, rather than a monetary income. So many people have joined us in the recent years also because or sometimes just because of our deep-rooted focus on creating positive impact with our core competences!
Oh and last but not least, half of our fleet is already electric, everybody can use first class public transport, 26% of our workforce is female, we raise money, run for cancer, do voluntary work, and all that other stuff, which I know a lot of companies do. But, these are sort of prerequisites nowadays, so if there is one thing that I would like you to think about, it would be; what positive impact could your company create using your own core competences?
https://www.nextview.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Global-Goals-Sustainable-Development.png10181999nextviewhttps://www.nextview.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/nextview-logo.svgnextview2019-05-10 11:33:172019-05-12 16:26:05SDG - Why Nextview is signing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Nextview Design Thinking Center
Willem Fenengastraat 4C
1096 BN Amsterdam
+31 (0)85 0043065
Nextview Design Thinking Center
High Tech Campus 27
5656 AE Eindhoven
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