We each face challenges differently, and no one has faced 2020’s challenges like Joost MF Liebregts. He shares with Brian the story of how he successfully pivoted his business, and they discuss the happy intersection between sustainability and good business.
“It’s an erosion of status quo that makes change happen.”
Joost MF Liebregts
Joost: I’ve heard Shell and oil companies purchasing these startups basically to kind of slow down their progress, but the ideas are out there. They’re they’re out there now. They cannot, they cannot be unheard or people can be uninspired. I guess like people can be uninspired in a way that they’re bored, but they, if they’re inspired once, You cannot take that inspiration..
Brian: Hey, I’m Brian Pagán. Welcome to episode four of MindFolk: Human Creativity and Mindful Innovation, in a podcast. In this episode, I’m speaking with a trusted friend and co-creator Joost, MF Liebregts. He’s an entrepreneur and a technology designer who founded Purpose Design, offering services like design sprints to teams working on sustainability.
COVID-19 gave Joost just the spark he needed to pivot his business, which is now doing better than ever. He’s even been able to ditch per-hour and product-based pricing models to experiment with value-based pricing and a pay-what-you-want scheme. But I also wanted to catch up with Joost as a true Maker and test my theory on what makes him so successful in adapting to change. Enjoy.
Joost: It’s another vegetable… patch, vegetable garden patch box.
Brian: Did you build it from scratch?
Joost: Yeah. Yeah. From, from old pallet wood. And it’s like, it’s a very simple rectangle, right? It’s like 120 centimeters by 90 centimeters. I’m using a system calle like, it’s a Dutch, it’s a Dutch app and roughly translated, it’s Easy Vegetable Gardening. And they have a system where like, it’s, it’s also an international system called square foot gardening. Like and then it’s like 30 by 30 centimeters, where you take a square of 30 by 30 centimeters and that’s where you plant one type of vegetables. And so like, if you’re growing ahead of like, like one head of lettuce, you can start with that in a 30 by 30, but you can also do like four little gems of lettuce in a, in a 30 by 30.
Or like 16 beets or whatever. But basically if you think that if you take that system of 30 by 30 centimeters, you just.. right? You can make whatever you want. So I’m building these 120 by 90 centimeter boxes.
Brian: Yeah. 120 is four, four times 30
Joost: next to each other.
Oh no, no, no. So they’re like 30 high, right?
So 30 centimeters high. So that’s like the height of the box. And then, and then they’re like different widths because I use different pallets. So it’s like, it’s a little bit of a puzzle. It’s a very easy puzzle.
Brian: It still impresses me, like how you got into just building things with your hands, because you’re so crafty and handy. Were you just raised like this or how does it,
Joost: how did it work for you?
okay. First of all, thank you. Let me just dive into that. I think I, I never got into building or experimenting. I just, I just grew up experimenting with, so I dunno how that works. I mean, we can like, I’ll be glad to take a deep, psychological dive into my… into the young Joost, like… for example, I used to, I don’t know how old I was probably six or eight, and I got like a box of like DIY electronic experiments where you could build like a little motor out of…these simple brackets.
And then of course the inside of a motor is coils and wires. Right? So then you have to put the brackets outside of it, adjust to right angle and you attach a nine volt battery. And if you did it right, it’ll start rotating. But this kit also had like a light in it. So for some reason I built a light in my very tiny closet.
So I could just sit in my closet. I don’t know. I built that stuff. Lots of Legos. I mean, I remember that I always destroyed my toys, trying to like. And now that like now rationalizing that behavior. I think I did that to find out how, like, how it was made, how it was built. Of course the downside of it is that it’s a one-way ticket to the garbage can where like, toys were not very well, like they’re glued together.
Right. So if you open them up, it’s pretty hard to repair them. I mean, now I could, but then, I didn’t have the means, but yeah, I was always experimenting. So, that’s that’s me. But if you were to, I think what I’ve always noticed growing up is people are afraid to try stuff. Right? So they, for example, I remember a lot of people asking me, like, what does this button do on a remote?
It’s like, yeah, well just find out, man. It’s not programmed to blow up your TV. Right. So what’s going to happen? And I think the same goes for basically anything, right? If you’re building, of course, there’s some stuff that is on the limits of where you should ask a professional to do it, but most of the stuff is you learn by doing, and if it goes wrong, you can repair the damages.
Like the damages won’t be that big. Right. So, I’m 29 years old now and I’m also. I’m gaining a lot of perspective. And I mean, I think a couple of years ago I read The Four Hour Work Week and that’s like, you should, you should, outsource everything you can and blah, blah, blah. But to me, there’s so much enjoyment to doing all that stuff.
Right. And I it’s probably because I, because I always did it, I always considered stuff. Or at least now listening to you talk, there’s a whole different dimension because experimentation. Some of the stuff is super scary to me. Right. So it’s not everything that, that is, that comes easy to me, but basically, physically building stuff or digitally building stuff, basically building stuff is very easy for me.
Brian: That makes sense. So how can someone like me get into building stuff like you do?
Joost: I don’t know. Starting small probably. Well, I think for one, right. I I’m raised in a, in a white, middle-class family. So in that sense, I’m, I’m privileged that, I always had the means to experiment. Like my parents, they didn’t throw around money.
Right. They, they really tried to teach me the value of earning my own money and I was washing cars. And, but I, I remember at some point we had a family computer and I, I was really enthusiastic about computers. So I was really like getting into computers and I was learning about like building your own computers.
And then at some point, this computer was slowing down. So I was going to, I was going to clean it. So I took out the processor, but I didn’t know. And if you don’t own motherboards, or if you don’t know, computer is, there’s a motherboard in it that has like a lot of components that connect to it. And basically those interconnects all the components of your computer. And your motherboard has a socket where your CPU, the processor goes, but it also has a little latch that’ll just kind of attach or make sure the processor doesn’t fall out.
I didn’t know about that latch, so I just pulled it out. And I tried to, like, when I was done cleaning, tried to put… put it back in, and all the pins on the processor bent. So at that point I had to build my own, like my parents were like, “okay, well you destroyed this computer. Now you have to use your own savings. If you want to get a new computer, it’s up to you, what you do with it.”
It’s like, okay. But like that experience basically taught me how to properly build a computer because then I had to source my components and build a new computer. So in that sense, I guess to me, the privilege is that I had a little bit of savings so that I could, build that computer and learn from that experience.
Right. And I think that goes for everything that I do. It’s like, if it goes wrong, the fix is probably it’s. I mean, the fix is either for me, the, the fix was always. Attainable, I guess, but then again, there’s, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do that I don’t think that that should cost money to replace.
Right. Or that like a little bit of duct tape goes a long way, for example. Oh yeah. but then again, right, so I’m talking about privilege because we’ve, we’ve talked, you and I have talked about privilege a lot, and I’m starting to realize that if I talk about like my opportunities, of course, they are due to the, the capacity, the capabilities… the financial capabilities of my family.
So, but I think, I mean, I’ve seen, I’ve seen a lot of documentaries where people with less means have been way more creative. Right. And if there is, I mean, if there is a necessity for creativity, with the means that you have, I think it’s when money is an issue.
If you see what happens in, in like these in, in. countries where you’re taking whole villages, that have a lot of problems with getting water or irrigation. I just saw this at this event, I saw a very short video about, I dunno, I think it was in India where a guy was an engineer at a classical company and he was going to board of his life, a board of that life.
And he wanted to search for meaning. So he went back to the village where he was raised, where farming was just. It was very hard because of irrigation issues. I think so. So this was like a three minute video. So sorry if I, if I don’t completely correct, tell it correctly. But he started like digging these ditches together with all the villagers and, and with the creativity, just like man power time and the creativity, they were able to really successfully, like, I don’t know, like 10 times or 20 times, the food production.
So, wow. I mean, of course money, right? Money kind of smooth things over. But I think when you don’t have a lot of money that that’s where real creativity comes in.
Brian: Well said! And I feel like Purpose Design is a great example of that. Since COVID, your business is doing better than ever like a shot of jet fuel.
Joost: What’s that like for you?
I’m very confident about my abilities to build stuff, to make physical and digital things. And it’s interesting how that does not apply to ventures. There’s a saying, or an overquoted statement that like in crises, like bad companies go away, good companies survive, and great companies will thrive. And so I I’m, I kind of believe this statement, although there are some bad companies that just have too much money that’ll survive anyway.
Anyway. great. So what makes a great company? Right? And I think when, when a crisis hits, so right now we have the Corona or COVID crisis and when that hits things change drastically. So what do you do when things change drastically? Right? Is it, I there’s, I think there’s two main examples. One is just hunker down and kind of shiver in fear because you feel very uncomfortable with the sudden changes.
And you don’t know where like, where you can make a difference or where you can start or how you can actually like cope with these differences and changes. And the other one is innovate, right? It’s it’s either going with the flow or adapting basically. Right, it’s adapting to the new situation.
In January, I started working together with, with a creative partner of mine: Maarten Esseburg. And so this is before Corona was a thing in the Netherlands, right? It was a way it was already in Asia. and we’ve heard about it, but it didn’t really influence our behavior in a way where we were, we were hosting or we were planning to host a meetup in Amsterdam at a physical venue, basically.
Was it March 17th or 19th? Something like that, but this is the same week where cOVID really took a turn in the Netherlands where we got the advice, stay at home, work from home, don’t travel too much. That sort of thing.
Well, it wasn’t, it wasn’t official lockdown yet. And that was, that was the interesting part because I, we organized it with four people and I remember very vividly that I was with the, it was basically like, it was a little bit of a discussion.
Like maybe we should take this thing digitally. Right. Cause there’s a lot of value in meeting physically. Right? You do a lot of chit-chatting. I mean, if we meet digitally, you just click leave thing and the whole thing is over and you’re at home again. Right. So there’s basically this whole conversation kind of kick-started the, the online thing, the adapting to the new situation where it was two days away.
Right. And we hadn’t done a digital meetup yet before, but, Then again, I felt comfortable in my basically knowledge of, of the internet and software that I thought, well, we can, we can do this. Right. Even if it’s 30 or 80 people, it’s, it’s easy enough. and this is where, for me, at least a lot of built up experience as a gamer comes, comes around the corner where there’s like, there’s just platforms for very low latency communication, but yeah.
Adapting to the changes. So we did the thing, we got a lot of positive responses from that because it was, it was a unique experience for, for a lot of people. I think we actually attracted, I mean, we, we did it with 40 participants, but we attracted some people that were just curious for the digital variation.
Right, and from that day on, we just kind of – Maarten and I – started developing these digital workshops and we started. I think it was very low key in a way, whereas like, okay, we need to get this out, right? Because there’s this new, it’s not new, but digital workshops aren’t new, but they are a great way to get a lot of work done, very effectively, remotely.
And now, now there’s these companies that are all like sitting at home, they’re basically canceling all their, their business. They’re stuck. We were like, man. We’ve got to do something here. So we, we said, let’s offer this thing basically for free, where let’s offer this two hour workshop that we developed and let’s offer it for free, or at least let people decide what value it has for them afterwards.
So there could also be barter deals where they could give us other stuff in return.
Brian: That’s amazing. I like this. Can you tell me more about this? Like how did this come about?
Joost: Well, because… So, Maarten and I are kind of on the same, I think wavelength when it comes to, when it comes to money and value.
And once again, I guess, experimentation, I was just curious to what people to, what we would get in response. And for me, this was also because I’ve been, I’ve been basically building up my business for the last two years and together with Maarten, it kind of took a, like, it took a, like you’re saying it was jet fuel, right. So…
Brian: [Chuckles] Does it feel like jet fuel?
Joost: I would, I would go for like the analogy of an eye on thruster where. Okay, so in space. So, so the satellites that we send up in space, or, or we humanity… let’s say space agencies sent up in space. Some of them, they have thrusters and these, these thrusters, they don’t produce a lot of thrust cause they just release…
It’s a very complex, it’s a very simple and complicated process, but basically they don’t give off a lot of thrust. Right. It won’t lift us from the ground, but in the vacuum of space, the buildup of momentum kind of just, it it’ll move you forward faster and faster and faster and faster, but with very low energy.
So. I, I, I think that analogy is interesting because like, I haven’t been operating in a vacuum, but, it definitely took a turn for the better. And there’s a, especially when we started offering this workshop for free, basically where we did a bunch, we, we really did a bunch of these. We did two, three, four a week.
We’ve got a lot of contacts or a lot of like a lot of conversations with people that I wouldn’t have talked to. So when we’re talking about these barter deals, it’s just, it’s just the idea of, okay, we can offer this for two, four, 500 euros, because that’s what you can ask for like a workshop of this size and time.
But. We were just curious.
One, we wanted to help people.
One. So that’s, I think that’s one of the most important things, right? We’re we’re, we’re just at the beginning of a crisis. People don’t know what to do, what to spend their money on. So let’s just get, let’s just start helping people and we’ll see how we get stuff back, maybe in the long run, which is also guided by the book that both of us read, which is Give and Take by Adam Grant.
And it just, I mean, It’s funny. Cause I read the first, let’s say the bookmark is on page 44 out of 350, but the gist is you just give. You give and there’s there’s, there’s like entrepreneurs that say you give 51%, you take 49%, whatever, when you give people, when you give stuff one, for me, it makes me feel good.
Right? Cause I’m adding value to someone else’s life. And if they asked for that, then that’s like a, that’s like a really cool thing. And then secondly, right, you gave them something. So they will remember you for the value you offer to their life. And if not then fine, those people won’t come back to you and they’re out of your life.
So it’s like a. I think it’s a filter for good.
Brian: Hey, you’re telling me that you’re offering workshops and your services for basically a voluntary contribution. And so my question becomes then, is it, have you started gaining momentum? I mean have you, have you been able to survive with this? Are you paying
Joost: your bills?
Yeah, I have been able to pay my bills, but I think that’s also due to Maarten and I working together where both of our networks have delivered value to us in means of monetary form. Right. Or in monetary form.
Brian: But it’s still the amount is, is their choice, right?
Joost: Sometimes. Yeah, it has been, yeah, we’ve actually offered, like we’ve actually paid, we’ve offered a paid workshop to a municipality where we said, okay, let’s discuss what you want, what you think the value for you is afterwards.
And that was actually like quite a. For us, it was like, okay, that’s a nice sum of money that they
That’s pretty amazing. I really like that. This is why I’m asking so many questions about this. Cause I, I think it’s, it’s, it’s a really great model and it feels like, you know, an optimistic sort of way to view the world. So the… the cynical side of me feels like, “Oh that’ll never work.”
Joost: The cynical side of me always goes like, “well, but you’re also kind of putting people on the spot where you have to decide what you pay me and then you’re kind of inferring that it can be too little. Right. So the always overpay.” But I think that’s the cynical part where… right?
In companies, people are bound to budgets. They’re bound to… I think it’s the same. Okay. Let’s, let’s take here the Netherlands, for example, for a psychiatrist or psychologist or a dentist, right? There’s a, if you have a insurance, there’s like a certain amount of money that the insurance will give you for a consultation with a psychologist or a dentist.
So the dentist would be dumb not to full, not to ask that full price. Right? Not the, not to ask for the full amount that the insurance will cover.
Brian: Ah, okay. Gotcha.
Joost: So the same thing I go, I think sometimes can go for, and I don’t think this is this isn’t the maniacal plan that we have behind it.
I really love the idea where. You ask people what the value is to them. And this is, this is the ongoing, the ongoing experimentation that we are doing is we’re looking into value based pricing. So what is the value for the people that you’re trying to help? And it’s, it’s scary as hell too, to not say, okay, we, we don’t offer you this package for this price because we think that’s what the value is.
We want to heared…. We want to hear afterwards from you what the value is to you. But sometimes we do it beforehand, right? We think about what the value is to them. We’re talking about budgets. So what’s your budget for this project? What do you hope to gain out of it? Like what’s the, of that actual gain?
So then would it be… would it be good for us if we could, if we take this sum, and then we, we get you there or we get you some parts of the way there. And this is, I mean, this isn’t, this, isn’t our thinking. This is based off of a lot of a, or, or like inspirational people like Chris Do, that you can find on YouTube, with his YouTube channel, The Futur without an E at the end.
So value based pricing, yeah.
Brian: Do you mind if I jumped in just really quickly? Cause I’m, I’m, I’m almost confused. Like, are these two separate things now, or is this how this process of pay-what-this-is-worth-to-you works?
Joost: Is it the same thing?
No, it’s, I think it’s, it’s within the same ballpark in, in a way where I think the, the, the first thing where you pay, what you think is valuable afterwards is an experimentation.
That really requires, I don’t know you need for it to do that. Right? Because you were talking about your first question, basically, when we were talking about this, was, are you able to pay your bills? Right? And that’s the unfortunate circumstances that most modern people live in, right? You have to pay the bills or, right, you’ll be homeless. And it’s, it’s a very simple calculation where you have to abide the rules of society or else. So money is important. And I think for us, so we were just starting up and these were two hour workshops. Right. And we did a, it was a lot of fun to me. And I re I really remember like two months in thinking like, Whoa, I’ve been, I’ve been actually helping people.
And it didn’t feel like work. Like it was amazing. So kind of freeing myself from the talking about money, right? It gets you into helping people immediately because I don’t like you, you, you do a lot of project work and maybe some of your listeners will. So remember this, what happens before you start a project?
Yeah. There’s that call.
Yeah. You have to talk about the money. And this takes that away, which is which I find incredible. But yeah, at some point you’re going to have to pay the bills. So, so there’s like a different scheme. And also, I think you also need to educate people what some of the work value is, like what the value of that work is, because creativity’s very hard to put a price on like, so value based work.
It doesn’t make sense to ask a set of like a, like one set price for the same work. If it’s going to be used very differently.
Brian: Can you give me an example from, from your
I think so. Yeah. Yeah. So some of the things that I’m thinking about and also talk about with, with Maarten, is that we, we, we do, we kind of, we’d love to innovate within the educational world where like schools and universities, high schools, elementary schools, there’s this, I think it’s, it’s, it’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy in a way where education doesn’t have money.
But we’ve come across some projects where there is a lot of money and even so, because they get money from the, from the government they have to, which is this stupid thing to have to empty their budget for that year. Or they won’t get new stuff for the next year.
So at the end of the year, they just have to like start buying shit and.. Right?
And this is it. Yeah. Whatever. It’s just, it’s silly. But for like, I’m, I’m very much willing to. Change, right. The value to education as a way different than when you’re working for a commercial company, right? The value, or at least there’s, there’s a lot more value for me than just money when we’re talking about educating kids or educating young adults.
So for me, that’s an example where the money could be way different than when we’re talking about a commercial company helping your commercial company. Right. Because my main thing is helping companies that want to make a better world. So then even then, right. Do I… like which companies pay the premium, which companies really need the kind of the financial discount to, to be able to make it or something.
Right. So this is, this is just an ongoing thing and it’s, it’s, it’s just learning as we go.
That’s super cool.
Brian: Are you working towards a larger framework thing or is it more finding your own way?
Joost: I don’t know. I don’t think one excludes the other, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s a lot of great TED talks or TED talks from like great people or great inspiring people.
And they, most of those people have something in common and it’s their age. It’s like they’re in their forties or fifties. Like they’re, they’ve, they have a lot of experience. Most of them, right? There’s a lot of young inspirational people, especially now that we’re more connected. But if you really look at these kind of life changing talks, So I’m like a lot of those people, or at least the people that I watch are into their fifties.
So when you ask me the question, like, are you just kind of figuring stuff out stuff out for yourself for your own business? Or are you working towards a bigger framework? I don’t know if I can say. That it’s one or the other. But I do know that in 10 years I’ll have a way different perspective on this, right?
In 10 years, I’ll be 39 years old. So I’m, I, I’m very hopeful that at my forties and my fifties, I’ll be able to inspire and help a lot more people than I do now. And I’m also very much considering into like, or thinking about like making the money necessary to live a comfortable life. And then like you get a, I think what money does do in today’s world is it enables you to do more of what you love. Right?
So whether that’s drilling pipes into the earth and extracting oil, that’s one thing. But if you doing good and then if you have more money, you’ll be able to do more good. And then of course, there’s dangerous sides so that when you talk about philanthropy, but whatever money allows you to do more, what you love.
So, and that’s where I think value based pricing is also awesome. And once again, right, this is the… ongoing learning process. But I think when you ask the right amount of money or when you get the right amount of money for you or for your customer in one place, and you’re able to help other people for less money, and that doesn’t mean that you have to take on jobs look.
Okay. So one of the things that, like one of the conundrums that I’ve been wondering about is: let’s say Shell come… calls me.
Brian: Yeah, there you go.
Joost: Good one.
And then it’s like, then what. They’ve been right there. There’s a lot of reason to not like Shell, but if the current management or teams within Shell are working very hard towards a more sustainable future, then what do you do?
Right. Yeah. These types of questions is just, I don’t know, man. It’s, we’ll see, I guess we’ll see at the time.
Brian: Yeah. I think my views are starting to shift on that a little bit because I, you know, I, I used to think like, yeah, it’s Shell, I would never work for a Shell, you know, profiting off of oil and exploitation..
But then large companies can enact change
Joost: at scale… like using existing power structures
Brian: to change things, but then the other one’s bottom up, like from a grassroots perspective, creating a small tech stay-ups and that kind of thing. So this is, I dunno, this is how I feel about it now. What’s, what’s your, what are your thoughts on that?
Joost: One of the things that comes to my mind is when you’re talking about these big power structures, right? These are all temperament or these are temperamental they’re temporary, even though. Even though these companies have been around for decades, right on the… Under the scale of human history as a homosapiens, right.
It’s, it’s nothing. And another quote that I love that has been said a lot of times is “The only constant is change.” So what I’ve been gaining a lot of perspective on recently is this thing that you’re describing, I guess, is where you have the top down people that are just kind of running the world in a way, right.
Through politics, lobbying, making money, change the world in a way. There’s these bottom up people, the startups that have like optimistic views on how to change the world. Those are the ones I think that are like the extremities that inspire at some point. And like initially there they seem extreme the seem idiotic.
They seem out there. Right. I I’ve, I don’t know like the truth of this, but I’ve heard Shell and oil companies purchasing these startups basically to kind of slow down their progress. But the ideas are out there. They’re they’re out there now and they cannot, they cannot be unheard or people can’t be uninspired, I guess like people can be uninspired in a way that they’re bored, but they, if they’re inspired once, you cannot take that inspiration.
De-inspired. Exactly. Right.
So when you talk about the only constant is change, you see it, you don’t see it, but it is everywhere. I think there’s like the extremities that inspire the, the status quo that change the status quo. That kinda, there are the, the, I wouldn’t say the waves, but it’s like an erosion. It’s an erosion of, of status quo that, that makes change happen, I guess, like just chipping away at what we find normal.
Brian: a lot
Thank you to see you, dude.
Brian: Joost, thank you for sharing your optimism. I’m always inspired and grateful to learn from you.
And listeners, thanks for being here with me. I hope this conversation was helpful for you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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