Multiple volunteering initiatives have popped up globally during the coronavirus outbreak. Individuals, businesses and communities are willing to lend a helping hand for those in need. But how to coordinate and manage effectively such a huge number of volunteers and projects?
That’s where Deedmob comes in. Deedmob is a social tech startup founded in 2017 that helps more than 1,500 organisations in Europe with the deployment and organisation of volunteers. At the beginning of the corona pandemic, they launched Coronahelpers.nl – a coalition of over 150+ local organisations including municipalities, corporates and charities to coordinate help requests with volunteers. In the first three weeks alone, over 700,000 people have been reached and over 3,500 people were helped via the platform.
We spoke with Deedmob and Coronahelpers founders Boudewijn Wijnands and David Furlong about volunteer coordination and management, their recent call with the Dutch Prime Minister and their recommendations to entrepreneurs going through the corona crisis.
Hi, Boudewijn and David! Thank you for joining us. Could you tell us the story of Deedmob, where did the idea come from?
We came up with the idea of Deedmob 3 and a half years ago when we were both studying at Oxford University. One day we were brainstorming about current world problems and how we as a society could contribute to solving them. We realized that one of the biggest points of leverage people can have in their life and career is what they spend their time on. Discussing two polar choices – going all into something or doing nothing – we came up with the middle choice, which was spending some time outside your work on projects that you find important. We noticed that a lot of volunteering activities were not catered towards young people demanding long-term commitment and were not digitally-friendly. We decided to change the volunteering experience and make it more appealing for the younger generation with Deedmob.
You have recently launched the Coronahelpers platform. What is it and how did you start it?
We launched the platform on March 16. That day, we had a usual Monday morning meeting where we briefly discussed whether we should do something about the corona crisis. We came up with the idea and instantly decided to make it happen. On the same day, the whole team put in a joint effort and by the evening, the platform and the website were ready. For the next two weeks, we kept making necessary adjustments, working late evenings and weekends. During that time, we got more than 150 professional partners getting in contact with us asking how they could contribute with their volunteering efforts: Municipality of Utrecht, TomTom, KPMG, Red Cross and others.
What makes Coronahelpers unique?
What makes us stand out compared to other volunteering platforms is the fact that we are experts in volunteer coordination and management. There are a lot of challenges in handling thousands of requests and making sure that right people meet each other. Thus, it was natural for us to use our expertise we had developed and apply it to this problem.
The platform started in the Netherlands. Are you planning to expand to other countries?
We have already launched it in the UK, Germany and Belgium and we are expanding soon to Italy, Denmark and the US.
Last week only, you spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate Change Policy Mona Keijzer and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. What did you talk with them about?
The Prime Minister was very curious about our project and our learnings about the way other countries are dealing with the corona crisis and helping their citizens. He was very supportive of our initiative as well. It is actually quite unique that a Dutch startup is mobilizing people to help each other replicating this model internationally.
What are the three most popular services provided by Coronahelpers volunteers?
The top three requested services at the moment are: grocery-shopping for high-risk groups, dog-walking and medicine pick-ups. Grocery shopping is the most popular request since the delivery services are currently overloaded with orders.
How is the Coronavirus crisis impacting your business?
On the one hand, our impact has increased gigantically by reaching and helping thousands of people. So far, it is the biggest impact we have made as a company. On the other hand, like any other startup, we are experiencing a decrease in the revenue stream and in the number of new clients. Everything has been put on hold. Overall, we have been affected financially but from the impact perspective, we have helped a lot of people.
What recommendations would you give to entrepreneurs and company founders to survive during the corona crisis?
It is vital to be flexible in order to change your business or the way you do things permanently or temporarily. Another important aspect is the way you deal with adversity if things go bad. It is also crucial to be fair with your employees. We are having a difficult job market at the moment, so instead of laying some of them off, an option might be offering reduced salaries or cutting other business costs. For instance, we reduced some non-essential software costs to reduce burn rate.
What are the next milestones for Deedmob and Coronahelpers, and where do you see the company in 4-5 years from now?
We are a technology company and our core mission is to build the technology that solves challenges around volunteering coordination and management. In 4-5 years, we strive to become a de facto solution for volunteering data management. Regarding the Coronahelpers project, hopefully, it will end as soon as the corona outbreak is over. However, we see a lot of different disasters happening around the world and our platform can be a solution to capture and engage the good-will of people in such cases. We hope that this momentum of people willing to help one another will carry on even after the crisis. If we can facilitate that with our technology and help local initiatives thrive further, we will have a very sustainable and impactful business.