James Baker-Duly, Youpal Group COO (Part 2)
April 5, 2021
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by Arabella Seebaluck

Q: Your business model is about working with an international pool of talent. How do you decide which region to hire from? Is the financial aspect a driving factor? What other aspects do you look into?

Our business model isn’t based on any particular region – we are purely global. We have learned a lot from the way of doing things in Sweden, which we are putting in our company. In Sweden, there are stringent no-discrimination policies and this is something we strictly adhere to. So, our focus isn’t on someone’s location or background… but more about whether they are sufficiently passionate and can contribute to what matters to us the most.

Of course, as a young company, the economic factor does play a role. We have to keep an eye on our costs and investments. If we can meet our objectives without burning ourselves out economically, this would give us a definite edge.

We are a gig-economy based company, that’s our model. The people who work for us can come and go. They have flexibility in terms of projects they want to work on and the time they can allocate to those.

We also have other programmes which we are trying to put in place to be part of this movement. We want to have some elements of social security, which doesn’t currently exist in the gig model. So, let’s say you face some form or other of employment severance, you simply don’t get paid in this type of model.

What we want is to put in a place a mechanism which will offer some sort of social assistance. It’s very difficult, but we are determined to see it through, eventually.

The people who have already been with us for some time will be covered under this kind of benefit. For example, someone who needs maternity leave will be able to receive a certain percentage of their regular earnings. We are structuring these social costs and this is our direction – that is to contribute at the community level.

When we first started the company in 2016, I researched the gig economy model at the time. I found out that gig workers in the U.S., for instance, made up half of the workforce there. These are Uber drivers, baby-sitters, IT specialists or any other type of freelancers. Then I checked the stats in Europe and the figures there are growing.

Now, especially with COVID-19, this has accelerated everything. For example in Stockholm, offices have been thinning out to near empty. I think companies are going to change their model. The office will stand, but it will never be as big as it was before. It may just be big enough for people to have some hot seats to come to work, for meetings etc.

But I think the majority of people will just work wherever they want to. Whether it’s from home or from Bali, it’s been proven now that they can do this. Except for people such as builders, mechanics or those working in the hospitality industry… but the rest, I am sure, are going to want to continue to work remotely in the future. That’s the future for many, but this is what we’ve been doing from Day one in our company.

Q: Do you pat yourself on the back for having had that vision when the company was started, especially in the light of a global pandemic which has caused most of the world’s workforce to work remotely?

Interestingly, this model has always been there… but it’s never been really looked at. Because there were some established methods of doing things… but now all that has changed. There are a lot of companies that were doing this before us. However, we decided to adopt this particular model, based on our experience of working in more conventional setups.

But we are very pleased, so far, with where we have come in such a short time. I don’t realise it until people tell me: “You’ve done all of that, only in five years?” While they are struggling with one type of product or vertical, within the same amount of time, we’ve built so many. That’s when I realise how far we’ve come, although we are not aware of it every day.

When you’re in your zone, doing your job, you’re just focused on trying to make it happen. I think that by pure luck, or fate… the three of us have different strengths. Karl is very visionary, while I can adapt and adhere to that vision… and Ruben is the technical, logical person supporting us, helping us mould something. We’re three different kinds of people, but who complement each other and work together extremely well.

Q: You’ve worn so many hats in your career path… you’ve also done so within Youpal itself. You’ve not only moved countries but also jobs. Basically, you’ve progressed from various jobs to owning part of a business… so do you have more empathy and understanding of people?

I’ve experienced tough times in my life, sometimes scraping on very little, just like anyone else. I am glad I went through those things as everything to me was a learning curve and all of these experiences help me today.

I am a lot more privileged today than I was then. I look at those times and I know I want to keep moving forward. So that’s the part of me that keeps the drive.

But even more so, for me the joy of having a business is having the freedom to create. I can be creative in this company and do what I want, so to speak. I have two partners who of course I have to check on, but 99% of the time, they are very supportive and just say “let’s go for it!”

When it comes to people, I think I do have empathy and understanding of different kinds of people. That’s because I have been around different kinds of backgrounds. I’ve also got a good culture background as I am very interested in cultures. I’ve travelled quite a lot around the world and heard so many stories of the people I met. So, I am always very open-minded, in that sense.

As for having worn all of these different hats, that’s the curiosity in me. I like the challenge.

What I am always interested in is change. I am always interested in challenging myself.  I will always try to get the things I want to do right and make it work. I think I do pretty ok… I think I get about 80% of it right. I have learned from Karl, our CEO, that nothing is ever perfect… so aim to get it to a good enough level that one can iterate upon. We have exciting times ahead of us at Youpal Group and I’m super lucky to be a part of this journey!

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

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