EPISODE 5 of the Managing Happiness Show!
How to build a tech company with 6 million users, raise 4 children and working side by side with your spouse – the story of Marieke van de Rakt and Joost de Valk, the extraordinary people behind Yoast.
Not long ago, I came across Marieke and Joost at a WordPress conference where all of us were speakers. In the beginning of their talk, they shared a beautiful picture of their 4 children – Tycho, Wende, Ravi, and Borre, and said that they like talking about their family more than talking about SEO. Ever since I wanted to invite them to be my guests in the Managing Happiness show. Listen to our great conversation about work-life balance, fostering friendly company culture and following one’s mission.
About Marieke van de Rakt
Marieke is a Ph.D. in Social Sciences and worked as a researcher and teacher at multiple universities. In September 2013, Marieke gave up her academic career and joined Yoast.
She is now one of the partners at the company. Her main focus is the Yoast Academy and developing SEO strategy products. She writes blog posts, eBooks and develops online courses. Her expertise is SEO copywriting and site structure.
About Joost de Valk
Joost is a 36-year-old web developer, SEO and online marketeer. In the early days of his career, he worked in several companies, ranging from enterprise hosting to online marketing agencies. He founded CSS3.info – the biggest CSS3 resource on the web – in 2006 and sold it in 2009.
In 2010, Joost created Yoast, which focuses on software, training, and services for website optimization. The Yoast team has close to 50 people around the world. Yoast SEO, Yoast’s main software product, is currently active in over 6 million WordPress websites.
Applying business principles to family life
Before joining Yoast, Marieke was a university teacher with a Ph.D. At that time Joost and her had 3 children and found it very hard to handle family and work. Joost was running Yoast while Marieke was pursuing her academic career and both of them were very busy.
In September 2013 Marieke decided to quit her university position and support Joost in his endeavor. They say that working together is the key to their work life balance and family happiness. This way they manage to spend enough time with their children and put all their efforts into growing the business.
Marieke and Joost have clearly defined their roles and responsibilities at home which saves them many arguments and misunderstanding. Marieke is an expert in planning and every Sunday she creates the schedule for the week for every family member. Joost is more about cooking and taking the children to sports activities and lessons. The weekly plan stays on a calendar board in the kitchen so that everyone can see it.
The business principle that they apply most to their family life is outsourcing the tedious home tasks such as doing the laundry, gardening, cleaning, etc. This saves them precious time and helps them spend more quality time with each other.
Fostering an amazing company culture
The Yoast team is absolutely amazing in fostering friendly company culture. Here are some of the great practices they have adopted in their company to make their employees achieve work-life balance and feel appreciated.
- Yoast gives its employees 5 extra days a year to spend with their families, volunteer at school, etc.
- Every year there’s a Lego Build Day at the Yoast office and the entire team builds legos. Last year they built 52,000 bricks of Lego in one day.
- The partners of Yoast gather every year for a big BBQ with their entire families.
- When a new person joins the team, Marieke organizes a “Know Your Colleague” game, where everyone shares interesting facts about their childhood anonymously and then the team has to guess who is the person. She also runs different surveys to encourage people to tell their stories and get to know each other.
- The team gathers for drinks and lunches regularly.
- When a new child is born, the whole company celebrates and the parent receives enough free time to enjoy this life event.
- 20% of the company profits are shared with its employees and another 20% goes back to the community.
As a result of these great initiatives, only 7-8 people have left the company in the last 7 years. Yoast is approaching its 50th employee.
We think that if something is good for our employees, it will be good for us as well.
We try to make it one big happy family.
Mission and vision
Joost built the Yoast SEO tool with the mission to make the SEO knowledge accessible to everyone. The company is true to its mission and, unlike many others, Yoast releases new features for both its free and premium products.
We want to make it possible for everyone to build a website that is actually found.
Not every decision they make is commercially driven. Many of the initiatives Yoast sponsors and supports are purely a desire to give back to the community.
Marieke and Joost share that making money is important when you are responsible for 50 employees, but money is not necessarily the goal that they pursue. Joost’s personal mission is to help the world understand open source.
That’s all about equality. We want everyone to have a fair chance on the web. Open source should be part of that. Our plugin is part of that.