Omapost: growth & ideals

A postcard to a family member or a loved one with a few taps in the app. What started 6 years ago as the audience favorite at Startup Weekend Groningen, Omapost is now rapidly growing up as a company, in part because of a pandemic. But how do you avoid losing sight of what’s important, while at the same time making sure your company remains healthy enough to keep on making a change in the future? Omapost founder and CEO Wilbert van de Kamp discusses the balance between ideals and business, COVID-19 and future plans.

Omapost has frequently made national headlines over the years, for spontaneous initiatives such as sending postcards to the former mayor of Amsterdam, when he became terminally ill. But with the national lockdown earlier this year, things took a sudden and unexpected flight. The collaboration with supermarket chain Albert Heijn was a major step and with the holiday season around the corner, some 300,000 new cards are expected to lift up the spirits of people feeling a bit lonely or isolated. 

So how’s things?

“Man, it’s been quite the journey. It feels weird to say you’re doing well when so many friends and people I know are sitting at home and struggling to find work. But yeah, I’m good. And we’ve taken some really big steps with Omapost and we’re growing up as a company. Our revenue this year is already up by 417%, which is just insane. But growing up also required a big change in mentality, because it had always been a more casual volunteer culture. But I think we need to go back to the beginning to properly explain the steps we’ve taken.”

Which would be Startup Weekend in 2014.

“Exactly. Which originally was a totally different idea, where we’d send a random Instagram photo as a postcard to your grandparents, and you’d call them and have something to talk about. But as part of validating our idea, we went to a retirement home and that’s where we really got to see just how important it was and what a huge difference our idea could make for the people there. And it started with a simple Google form you could fill out and we’d take care of the rest once we received payment. Super easy.”

And when did the Google form turn into an app?

“That was a lengthy and challenging process actually. We had a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise money for development and won some awards with prize money, but that wasn’t enough and you always need more of course. So at one point, I also talked to an outside investor, but quickly realized that wouldn’t work either, because it would put too much focus on growth goals for the company and it’s easy to lose sight of why we started all of this in the first place. 

“But you still need to pay your developers. We were working with Studio Andere Koek and at one point I asked them if they wanted to become shareholders. That was also around the time when Ward, one of Studio Andere Koek’s founders, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but it did bring us all closer together. And in moving forward, it really became about what kind of company we wanted to be.”

So how do you balance ideals and business?

“A healthy business is important. You don’t want to rely on subsidies just to fill in the gaps on the balance sheet and to keep things afloat, you want to put those subsidies to good use in making a difference. But it’s also a social enterprise, so we also have the Omapost foundation, which is run independently and has a priority share in the company, along with veto powers. So whatever we do as a company, it is and will always be a mission first thing. And 10% of our profits go towards the foundation, to help organize events for the elderly for example.”

Fast forward again to the pandemic and things taking off. What changed?

“After years of building a solid foundation, the monthly revenue suddenly explodes, because of the lockdown. There’s money suddenly, and that also forces you to rethink things. For me personally, it was asking myself if I was really the right person to manage all the daily affairs. An Innofest colleague of mine, Rianne de Groot, already had tons of experience working with corporates. We had the money to hire her and we did. She now runs the day to day affairs and I’m still involved in Omapost for a day and a half per week.”

How does it feel to take a step back as a founder?

“It feels good actually. Not having the feeling that everything’s resting on my shoulders, to feel dispensable and that things can in fact go on without you. It feels like a relief. And when I check my emails and see what Rianne has been up to, all she’s done, makes me feel proud really.”

Let’s talk about another big step: the collaboration with Albert Heijn.

“That wasn’t something that just suddenly happened. We’ve been working on this for about 4 years, ever since we won the Albert Heijn Product Pitch. As a startup, it’s not easy to work with a really big corporate and things can move slow. There’s different departments that all need to be on board, different interests, different stakeholders and changing priorities. But I think our growth during the lockdown really helped in that it gave us leverage. We were like, ‘look, we all want this to happen, so let’s finally make it happen.’ And we ended up having  Omapost stands in 119 Albert Heijn supermarkets throughout the country, which was really awesome. And it also gave us a lot of exposure, which resulted in getting a lot of new customers.”

And some more cool things on the horizon?

“We’re working on getting our own office building, which will also act as a meeting place, where we can host events for the elderly for example. And for the holiday season, things are looking really good. We’re teaming up with RTV Noord for a campaign and some other big parties I can’t mention yet. We’re also working on licensing out our technology under a separate label within our company.”

Anything you’d like to add?

“A lot of the great things we were able to do, we couldn’t have done without the help of fellow entrepreneurs here in Groningen. Working together with Tomorrowmen and Kollektiv for some of our campaigns, getting advice from people like Mark Vletter, you won’t be able to do that anywhere else and I think that’s one of the cool things about Groningen.”