The Go Grow program has recently enrolled its 7th batch of startups for the accelerator programs. And while these companies are immersing themselves in intense training, networking and development, Go Grow has recently contacted an alumni who was a member during batch 5 to find out how things are going after Go Grow.
Riad Areflin, the founder of YES CPH, agreed to an interview with Go Grow about the startup’s success, struggles and achievements as an entrepreneur, and insights on how the business is doing.
YES CPH is a impact driven service company that aims to change the paradigm of how immigrants and refugees are integrated into the Danish labor market while offering a unique opportunity for companies to take on their social responsibility.
Riad came from Bangladesh to Denmark, where he studied his Masters Degree in Global Refugee studies at Aalborg university. During his time as a student, Riad worked in the service industry, cleaning dishes. From his studies and personal experience as a cleaning worker, he identified a large issue regarding asylum seekers and refugees finding a job in Denmark. YES CPH came about as an attempt to solve such problem. Riad said: “I put that together and thought ok, if I take these people and then give them a job that is well paid and they get to interact with the places they’re working at, they will have a better indication of the opportunities they have as well as a better introduction to the society they will live in”. For him, the service industry was also a good idea because the skills are simple and allow for an easy entrance and training of the professionals in this area. He adds that with the networks these individuals will create by being integrated into a company, they can take themselves further in the Danish labour market.
Although YES CPH started out as a solo project, Riad puts a lot emphasis on the help he’s received along the way from different people who either joined the team at a certain stage or helped in the way they could. Riad’s classmate, Martin, for example joined YES CPH, at the time aiming to grow as a non profit organization, before they enrolled at Go Grow.
Martin, just like Riad, had no previous business knowledge since he was a social science graduate; and while he helped build a guideline for hiring, Riad expressed that much of the business knowledge was gained while at Go Grow. At the time, they were advised by Dorthea, the current head of Go Grow, to change the model of the organization and opt for a For Profit type instead. Riad mentioned how Go Grow gave him tools to realise the benefits of for profit. He added:“There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. If you can make a profit then you will grow and that means you can make actually more impact. So the priority has nothing to do with your profit or structure, it has to do with the vision”.
Riad also gave us some insights on how the business is doing at the moment. “Since we moved out and finished Go Grow, we have tripled our sales, we also doubled the operation teams and the number of refugees in the past six months. We have a board now, with one of our previous Go Grow mentors who has continued with us, and then we have our chairman who is the former CEO of Unilever and the head of innovation of FDM as a member of the board as well”. They are also aiming to develop a SaaS platform which focuses on migrants and refugees who wish to work with businesses in Denmark. And while this is all very good news for the startup, Riad had other ways to complement the measuring of the company’s success. According to him, it’s all about “keeping your eyes to the prize (…).We wanted to change lives with employment. And the outcomes when you give someone employment, when you trust someone who hasn’t been given any opportunities and that person understands that and gives back to you by their work, that’s when it is really amazing.”
Riad finds this to motivate him and the team at YES CPH immensely. “We’re motivated by the fact that we change lives. That these people can provide for their families if they are not in Denmark. The joy that they share with us is our motivation to move forward (…) That’s how we actually measure our success. It’s the fulfilment of the aftermath of getting the job done, rather than just getting the job done. Even though it’s a service company and it’s not so “sexy” because we’re not building the next thing, this is something that touches people’s heart, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have the Unilever CEO to come and sit on our board”.
Though YES cph has shown to be an inspirational success story, it’s never a totally smooth ride for startups, and the struggle the company has faced and still faces are not left behind. Riad stated that dealing with external communication and which party to focus on have been a major issue for YES copenhagen. “ What do we put forward at first? Because not a lot of people know about refugees, there is a lot of prejudice, and considering the current political scene, refugees are seen as a problem and that makes our jobs a little difficult.”. Restrictions with the danish authority and strict regulation on training these individuals for the labor market have also been troubles for the startup. Besides, Riad mentions how finding a good team when you are starting out is never easy, since you need people with the appropriate skills who can start things from scratch with you and be able to work independently in the meantime.
Finally, we finished the interview by asking Riad what he would give as advice to those who want to start or grow their own business. To that, he replied that entrepreneurs should not confuse movement with progress. “When I say movement I mean you go to meetings and you talk to a lot people, but you are not so careful (…). You have to think about What does it bring to the business? (…)This is a mistake that I made for some time. I confused movement with progress, I thought that if I was in a meeting, I was busy and something was happening. But progress is about having a clear understanding of where you want to go in six months, or one year, or five years, and then break them down take those small progresses everyday (…) And then making sure that you’re being honest to yourself. If you’re not, don’t do it! (…) cause if you don’t have the right mindset and the right motivation, you might not be able to get people on board”.
Go Grow is very proud to hear that YES cph has been able to land on the right tracks for a prosperous development. And we wish all the best for the company in its future journey to grow as a business and expand its honourable impact.
Our new batch of startups is active and hopefully on its way to follow similar footsteps. Interested in finding out who they are? Check our updated list and read some details about the new companies here.