“Half the magic is hiring people who align with your mission” - Daniel Flynn
One of Australia’s most innovative social entrepreneurs, talks to us about purpose, workplace culture, mentorship and the time he was interviewed by Barack Obama.
Daniel Flynn is a multi-award-winning social entrepreneur. In 2008, aged 19, he co-founded one of Australia’s most ambitious and philanthropic brands, Thankyou. Through advocacy and sales of personal care and baby care products, Thankyou’s mission is to fight extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.90 a day) by redistributing the profits of rampant consumer spending. To date, Thankyou has raised over $17 million.
In that time, Daniel’s many achievements include being named VIC Young Australian of the Year, EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Southern Region), an honouree in JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young People of the World and listed in Forbes Asia 30 under 30 for Social Entrepreneurship.
He was also chosen by Barack Obama to be interviewed at the 2017 Obama Foundation Summit.
Ahead of his Tech Fest keynote - Purpose: It’s The Fuel on the Inside, Not the Paint on the Outside - Dan shares some of the secrets behind his success (and how at times he got there the hard way).
What is Thankyou’s purpose and how did you discover it?
Daniel Flynn: We were purpose led from the beginning in the sense we existed to solve an injustice that we saw in the world. There are 736 million people globally living in extreme poverty during an age of extreme consumerism – we, as consumers, collectively spend $63 trillion a year on “stuff”. Thankyou came about as an idea to bridge the gap between the two extremes – our purpose is to empower consumers through choice to help change extreme poverty.
Was there a specific catalyst for the issue of extreme poverty to have such a profound effect on you?
DF: It was watching videos of kids who didn't have access to clean water. They talked about their shocking reality of losing brothers and sisters to water born disease. As I watched, I considered, what would that be like that was me, if I lost my sisters to water born disease. Gosh, how do you even comprehend that? How is this even allowed?
And it just moved me. I really began to consider the idea of empathy - of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and the stat that got me was 900 million people didn't have access to clean water yet were spending $50 billion globally on bottled water at the time. It was insane and I thought, ‘why can't one serve the other?’
Growing up, is this what you thought you'd be doing? What did you want to be when you grew up?
DF: From the age of 12, I would have told you that I'm going to be a property developer and I'm going to build big skyscrapers. Like we're talking the big buildings and high-end designer homes. From 12 to 19, I was convinced that was what I was going to do. But it was being around this extreme wealth at scale I began to feel very uncomfortable, realising how bad it was when compared with extreme poverty. It just became a prioritisation issue.
How do you walk the talk and ensure that as an organisation, the employee experience aligns with your brand?
DF: As we have discovered, okay, it's really important to have a strong vision mission and values that align to a really compelling strategy and plan on how you're going to achieve that strategy. And everyone needs to know the part they play in that, but the culture and the environment that all sits in has to be really healthy otherwise the team won't like it.
The truth is from our perspective, at Thankyou, is when you've got the vision, mission, strategy, and great culture, people want to do the work. You are busy. But then you also need to make sure people don't overwork and, and don't burn out.
"This is the question and everyone's wrestling with it. The pandemic has changed the way we work changed the way we think about work - and the great resignations are all tied up in this too. I think it's reminded every organisation, every leader, everyone leading HR that the fundamentals of business and of leadership are so mission critical."
You have to hire people who align with that as well - half the magic, if not more, is in who's hired. Did we hire to someone who really aligns with us, or did we hire to someone who was just looking for a job or thought this would be a great step up for them.
You have spoken in the past about the importance of mentorship. Who are some of your mentors?
DF: When I was in year 10, I had this amazing, amazing experience with a CEO of Medibank private. His name was George Saviddes. My dad walked up to him at a business breakfast and said, ‘I think my son might do something like you one day. Could he do work experience with you for year 10?’ And so, I found myself in year 10 following him around. I was 15 and that was a very formative moment because in that one week, I learned a lot just by like just watching and listening. Since then, he has been kind enough to pick up the phone if I ever called out.
I've been able to pick up lots of different mentors who are specific to the industry or a problem we're facing or more general. There have been a couple that have walked a very, very long journey and, and really been more interested in me than just Thankyou and what Thankyou does, which I've found is a helpful difference.
In terms of mentoring in general, there are seasons. Some people are with you for a bit, some for longer and it’s all part of your development journey, their development journey, and life mixed in the middle.