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Get to know the team behind the fast-growing startup WorkBoost
Two years ago, Jason Gawke and Robin Naar met at a party. Today their startup WorkBoost is recognised as the ‘future of work solution’ and in January they are going to CES in Vegas as one of the first steps to scale up their company.
From professional judo athlete to startup founder
To understand how WorkBoost was founded, we first need to dive into the background of the founders. It all started with an initiative from Randstad called “goud op de werkvloer” which gave working organisations the opportunity to have a professional athlete in their team for a few hours a week. As a professional judo athlete, Jason joined this initiative and worked with multiple different organisations in different markets. He soon saw an interesting pattern within the organisations. They all spent a considerable amount of time attracting the right people and helping them develop their skills within the organisation. At the same time, Jason could see that they all struggled with the same challenge, “What I noticed, was that the most difficult part was to activate employees to work on their development,” Jason explains. Considering how fast things change in today’s organisations, looking at aspects such as new technologies, ways to work, remote work, AI opportunities and much more, this posed a real challenge to the companies.
Jason continues, “I saw an opportunity to write a proposal because I said to myself ‘I think I can change this and I want to write a PhD on this’. That’s how it started! So, for 6 years I did research on how to make employees more proactive and especially more entrepreneurial. I got my PhD on this topic and that was actually the foundation for the theoretical background for WorkBoost.” Jason did not want his findings to remain merely an idea. Instead, he turned the concept into a basic mock-up with cards to test it – and it worked. At this stage, he started to look for someone who wanted to invest and co-create the WorkBoost journey together with him.
How did you two meet?
“We met at a party where I was dressed out as Austin Powers with fake teeth and all,” Robin says laughing. At the party, they had a good conversation and after that, they stayed in contact. A while later they met again during a course and when Jason was looking for a co-founder for WorkBoost Robin was the perfect match.
But the duo has very different experiences and backgrounds. “I am a serial entrepreneur, mostly focused on talent development and sustainable employability,” Robin explains. “Since 2018, I have turned this around by making a platform to help people develop. In my spare time I run, I do sports to stay fit,” he adds with a smile.
Defining the problem worth solving
Once the founders had started the journey together, they joined UtrechtInc’s validation programme for tech startups to validate the concept further. “We did have a solid theoretical and scientific base, but that does not make a solid product”, Robin says. He continues, “We joined the programme to really solidify the business proposal. We validated what we were selling: the software, the theory, the combination of both. We had to decide what our focus would be and we had to define our own ambitions, ‘Do we want to exit or grow?’. So these were important points we had to think about, but we needed experts to brainstorm with and the UtrechtInc validation programme was tremendously helpful. We were able to pinpoint all these things.”
“We did have a solid theoretical and scientific base, but that does not make a solid product.”
Robin goes on, “Every day we were challenged to think about two questions: ‘What problems are we going to solve with WorkBoost?’ And ‘for whom are you solving that problem?’.” After a few pivots, they were confident in what the problem was that needed solving and who the problem owner was.
“Every day we were challenged to think about two questions: ‘What problems are you going to solve with WorkBoost?’ And ‘for whom are you solving that problem?’.”
“What we are fixing is a self-regulatory issue within humans,” Jason explains. “As humans, we get distracted really quickly and this can hamper our development. What WorkBoost does, is that we boost the self-regulated learning of employees whilst they are working,” he continues. “We know that people are distracted by their phones a minimum of 300 times a day – which means we have a time gap of an average of seven minutes before we get distracted. If we can get one of these seven minutes and dedicate it to development-learning, then we know that every employee, every person, has one important learning experience per day. That is what we are boosting with WorkBoost – every day one dedicated learning experience. This accumulates over time, and eventually, it will end up in a true learning experience and growth within the person. This is the issue we are solving,” Jason declares.
Can you describe WorkBoost?
“WorkBoost is a self-regulating tool that helps people grow in their behaviour, emotions, and knowledge, for example by helping employees get more knowledge on a certain topic, get more confident in work and develop better ways of doing one’s work,” Jason explains. The WorkBoost app supports the development of this process and the companies decide the topics. They can either use the template provided in the app or develop their own templates using the methodology provided by WorkBoost.
“WorkBoost is a self-regulating tool that helps people grow in their behaviour, emotions, and knowledge.”
“Our unique value proposition is that we are not a micro-activation tool. Instead of giving people only bite-sized knowledge, we activate them to learn,” Jason further clarifies. He explains that WorkBoost’s value proposition is twofold. “Firstly, we activate the team and supervise them to do the right thing when the coach is not there. Secondly, we provide data on what employees are doing on a day-to-day basis. Because what a coach needs to actually do is give good coaching and have insights into what people are doing, what are their barriers, what is working, what is not, and what kind of topics they need actual consulting on. With WorkBoost, they get a more complete overview of what the employee is doing and what kind of help or consulting they need”. Robin fills in, “Exactly, we come in and we stay. Because learning and development are forever. You don’t begin with learning and development and stop tomorrow – you continue for years, that’s the new normal.”
Jason enthusiastically continues, “Not only are we helping them to optimise their own processes because we deliver data, but we are also helping their client to actually show how they are improving over time. So with the use of WorkBoost, consultants can deliver more evidence-based consultation. This means that the consultant becomes more of a strategic partner instead of an incidental partner to their clients. Instead of just helping their clients to solve one problem, the consultant will be able to solve every other new problem that the client presents, because they now understand the way the client is working and they see what kind of issues they are working on”.
How have WorkBoost and the team developed in the last year?
“We grew to love each other more and more – I talked to him more than my own wife!” Robin says laughing. He continues,”We made some tremendous steps! We got a solid client base of consultants, coaches, trainers and entrepreneurs – who we discovered all had the same problem, namely that their job is to add value to a learning process, but when they leave their clients, the client shows other behaviour. We learned that WorkBoost can act as an extension for the consultant. With our app, the spike of the ‘sought-after behaviour’ that commonly shows just after a meeting with a coach or consultant can be longer and in the end, result in permanently changed behaviour. The fact that people can do that themselves creates more motivation and ownership, and self-regulation.”
“We learned that WorkBoost can act as an extension for the consultant.”
“I think the journey that we have had up to now has been focused on finding out which of all assumptions we had upfront were true and not,” Jason fills in. This resulted in pivots when it comes to the target group as well as how they deliver demos and presentations. “We thought it was intuitive and easy to understand, but we found out it wasn’t. In the beginning, our demos led to us having to set up more and more meetings to clarify things. Now it’s just one 30-minute meeting in which we explain to people how to use our product, and that’s enough.”
“I think the validation programme was a huge help, but it was just the start. The actual pivoting of the product and the implementation started after the validation programme. It gave us a headstart in what we were offering, but how we were offering it is what we learned in the past months,” Jason adds.
Next step: Scaling up!
What is on the agenda for 2023?
“First CES,” Jason shares. “We won the innovation award for software apps and are recognised as the ‘future of work solution’. At CES we will show everybody that our solution is the solution of the future. So we want to come into contact with consultancy companies that could use our product and make it standard practice. We will also connect with clients, that is organisations that are having issues when it comes to learning and development and build a better and bigger client base. CES will be the first stepping stone to scale up.”
Jason continues, “In 2023, our goal is to go international. We are already in Germany, but we still have our roots in the Netherlands. Therefore we are having talks within the academic circles in Colombia, Germany, Belgium, and Bulgaria.”
“We won the innovation award for software apps and are recognised as the ‘future of work solution.”
Challenges, learnings and some valuable advice
What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?
“Scaling up!” says Jason conclusively. He explains that they need to grow the team, have a proper HR system, professionalise their back-office and at the same time scale up with their clients. Robin continues by explaining that “Another issue we are facing is matching with the right partner. Matching is crucial for success and, once again, staying in”. With a smile, he adds that “We have a ton of ambition, but also a ton of work to do. We will do it following our theory ‘one step at a time’. But, it is a difficult balancing act, especially when looking at costs. Liquidity needs to be in line with the investments and costs you make. So if CES helps us find investors we will definitely explore that opportunity.”
Jason agreeing states that “Robin here hits the nail on the head: the scaling up is both the mission and the challenge, and what helps would be an investment upfront to actually build a great team at the beginning of the scale-up phase”.
“The scaling up is both the mission and the challenge.”
What are your key learnings from the last few years?
“For me personally, I have never worked with an academic before,” Robin begins. “The same goes for Jason, he has never worked with an entrepreneur like me. So that has been fun, but challenging because we think differently. We have vivid discussions and bring different perspectives to the table, but there is a lot of love”. Robin explains that he goes on a lot on feeling, whereas Jason bases his work on validation. But over the years they have both developed. “I have become more of a researcher and Jason became more of an entrepreneur. The blend is good, we found our shared language which makes us an agile, fast team. And our clients feel that and understand our language”.
Jason shares that his biggest learning is related to time. “The longer you take to validate something, the more time a market has to catch up with you. So my learning is finding the balance between the right amount of action and the right amount of validation. Making decisions fast, failing soon, and getting better quicker. That works if you can have controlled failures. On the other hand, too many “controlled failures” takes valuable time, so it’s important to find the balance”. Jason says that sometimes they identify one specific failure which is important to experience, so then they spend more time on experiencing that failure before putting it out. “We have learned how to fail,” he concludes.
“My learning is finding the balance between the right amount of action and the right amount of validation.”
What advice could you give to first-time tech founders?
“My main tip is: make sure you have a diverse founding team,” Robin says. “Your passion can be the same, but it’s important that you as a team/co-founders look at things from different angles and have different backgrounds. That gives a lot of discussions, but also data and decisions. My other tip is to have a good mentor that is a serial entrepreneur.” Jason continues, “I agree completely. In the end, when there is no match in the team, the team will fall apart when you face difficulties.”
Robin continues by adding that “We are also brutally honest with each other. That is necessary, and you can be that if you have the same passion and goal. Don’t take the feedback personally, it is in order to make the company better.”
“My main tip is: make sure you have a diverse founding team.”
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