The Next Chapter: From forgood to The Room...
When you've helped grow an organisation from Helpless Baby to Cocky Adult, there's never a good time to leave. But if that organisation is stable, growing and has a world class team behind it - then there's no better "bad" time than this.
Forgood is now South Africa's biggest employee volunteering SaaS business. We're still fairly small in reality, because employee volunteering is a small market (for now). But we dominate the space, both in the quality of our offering and the impact we create.
This entrepreneurial journey has been a labour of love and scars - as many of them are. But it has to come to an end at some stage - because until senior leaders/founders step aside in a small business, there's no room for the next generation of talent to take over.
After almost 7 years as the CEO of forgood, it's time to hand over the baton. Really excited to announce that Romy Heldsinger (our current COO) will take over the reigns, with Mashadi Letwaba rising up to take over as Programme Director, running the biggest team in the business. Josh Lewis remains as CTO.
Girl power! Richly deserved. And apt, considering 75% of the impact on forgood is created by women. The company is safe in their hands, ready to continue its exciting journey of being one of the few profitable high impact social enterprises in the country. A company that makes money and helps people at the same time? For many of my 7 years, that seemed like a pipe dream. No more.
I'm delighted to remain on the Board as Chairman. I said moving on, not letting go!
- The best team a good culture can buy! It's taken time and there have been some bumps along the road... But Garth, Aphelele, Romy, Mashadi, Busi, Faye, Bokang, Josh, Rudi and Nerissa (along with the 3 new forgood'ers we're busy hiring and all our investors) - without you, this company would be nothing.
- Raising an incredible mix of philanthropic angel investment, institutional social impact grants - and traditional VC. We raised just under R15m during my tenure - which is quite astonishing in a risk averse capital market like SA. Social entrepreneurs out there - this proves it's possible.
- Breaking even. Turning a profit. Issuing our first dividend. All things that seemed so far out of reach at times.
- 18 pioneering blue chip corporate clients, including our first presence in the UK. Forgood's client list reads like the who's who of the JSE, couldn't be prouder.
- 25k+ employees currently registered on the platform, with a steadily increasing participation rate (averaging around 20% in non pandemic years).
- More than 41k connections facilitated between people and charities - around skills-based volunteering, goods donations, money donations and social impact events.
- A slick, stable and scalable B2B SaaS product - that's got through more than 20 corporate IT Security Audits. A product used every single day by charities and volunteers alike - to make the world a better place.
- The press generated by our long term PR agency - regularly pinging above R5m/year in coverage - forgood is a good story to tell after all!
- The upcoming redesign, essentially the 5th major iteration of our product.
- And finally, surviving and even thriving during the pandemic (a rare privilege). The birth of mainstream virtual volunteering was quite something to behold.
Where to now?
Thinking back, so much of our initial success was dependent on forgood's original founder, Garth Japhet - and his network. First funding. First client. All those important firsts. And so much of our subsequent success was due to my network. Subsequent clients. Subsequent funding. Talent. Strategy. PR. Marketing. Mentors.
On a continent where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not, unlocking the power of the network to accelerate people and businesses seems like the right place to be playing. I am very honoured to be joining Fred Swaniker and a world-class team (from 29 different countries already) at a new startup, The Room. I'll be heading up the Entrepreneurship Tribe, and you'll hear a lot more about this in time.
You may know Fred and his team's work already. The African Leadership Group is made up of some pioneering organisations including the African Leadership Academy and the African Leadership University.
The Room has a few interesting parallels to forgood, the biggest in that it's a for profit social enterprise. Using capitalist models and value creation for social development outcomes. The future.
What are we trying to achieve with The Room? Oh. Just to create 2 million jobs on the African continent by 2030. Think of this as a capstone project to ALA and ALU, who have perfected how to select, develop and connect top talent. We now need to select and connect even more talent - at low cost and real scale. With this goal, entrepreneurs (small business or large) represent the greatest lever we can pull to create opportunity. They will be my Tribe. It's funny, I've often enjoyed helping entrepreneurs more than being one. Perhaps that bodes well for this adventure.
The Room is a purpose-driven, high touch, opportunity network - for the top 5% of global talent.
Imagine we took everything wrong with LinkedIN? The spam (the life coaches!). The endorsements that mean nothing. The meaningless follower count. The inflated, unverified talent indicators. The melodramatic language. The image crafting. What if we made it better. Because we were deliberately smaller and deliberately high touch and had a deliberately crafted meaningful relationship (physical, virtual and data) with our members. We were push. Not pull. In the right way.
Why? Because anyone who's been around the blog knows that networks actually matter most. 75% of jobs aren't advertised. Warm intros rule business. Few people have become successful without the leverage of their network. We need to be the network for those that don't have it - and be a better network for those that already do.
I don't want to give too much away, because I'm still learning. But I highly suggest you go check The Room out - and watch this space. It's a big, audacious and scary goal. Perhaps I'll see you "in The Room"?
AN ACTION: I'm really interested in speaking to Pan African Entrepreneurs right now - to see how we can build a proposition for you at The Room. Reach out on Twitter - @andyhadfield!
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