Tobias Freund is an entrepreneur, a founder and a father who is an innovator in the corporate social responsibility space. It’s a pleasure to bring you this exclusive interview with a man on a mission to make a difference in the world for the next generation.
What’s your story, what sparked your interest in this field?
I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. Solving problems by founding and building a business has always attracted me. Development of my interest in corporate social responsibility has become clearer with every career step I’ve taken. As time has moved on, my role as a father has become a powerful motivation to leave a better world for my kids to experience. So I was very lucky to come up with an idea that combines my current expertise of online reputation and branding with my new passion about CSR.
What sparked the idea for founding WeShape.world?
With my previous companies I always liked to contribute thoughtfully through donations to diverse projects but finding and vetting those projects was time consuming. Then I was never sure whether my team appreciated this engagement in the same way that I did. However, taking them into the decision-making process would have been even more time consuming. I particularly found that during the Christmas season I would curate the ‘story’ around our corporate giving but I always realised that it was really hard to spread the positive feeling of ownership and purpose to everyone else. All of the above is what WeShape now does for companies alongside some additional branding development.
Is there a career highlight you’d like to share?
Yes, exiting my former company in time to enjoy dadhood and support my wife to proceed with her own professional purpose. Sounds cheesy but that felt very rewarding because it felt like next level success.
What mistakes have you learnt from? How do you change your struggles into strengths?
I think it takes me quite a long time to trust and allow things to be out of my immediate control. This inevitably leads to an overload of duties and responsibilities that can blur one’s focus or even disable you. When I realised that I do not actually intend to be Atlas* I was able to concentrate much more on surrounding myself with the right people in all sectors of my life. This process has taken quite a bit but it really has paid out. I am now 100 % confident that I have a super strong network of individuals and that together we are building an even stronger team.
Do you have a mantra?
‘Only do what you love and stay curious’.
What are you working on right now? Can you share some details?
Yes sure. With WeShape we had a promising start into the German market just a few months ago. As mentioned, we really want to make it happen that any company can easily contribute to a better world and benefit from corporate giving. For those efforts we are now approaching our first funding round. This shall fuel our reach also to companies outside Germany. Apart from that I obviously have many ideas in mind that contribute to my bigger vision. But I think that now it would be too early to mention them.
In-light-of the Covid-19 pandemic …
What’s been your biggest entrepreneurial/business challenge?
Doubt – I think I felt less confident that the timing was right. It would have been so much easier to stay in a safe haven, you know, not raising the stakes after I had gained an agreeable buffer from my previous entrepreneurships. It was quite a rough struggle to follow my inner drive in the midst and in the beginning of such uncertain times. However, astonishingly after making and committing to the decision, I was actually very confident that it was the right thing to do and since then, haven’t looked back.
How has the current situation changed or impacted the way you work?
I did not think that things would work out the way they do in a remote setting. Since Covid-19 my team has met approximately 10 times in office. We’ve come to realise how efficient we are! We’ve also managed to leave enough space for social get togethers in front of the screen enabling us to still feel connected, which was very surprising to me. Now we are kind of “Covid-Natives”, we have successfully established a team spread over the world and that distance has barely made a difference. Nonetheless, I will be happy to bring all of them back together soon, at very least every 3 to 6 months.
What do you do for encouragement or to keep you motivated?
With working on topics such as impact and purpose this naturally has affected the way I choose to live and think. WeShape embodies everything that motivates me: A business that grows with its positive impact. Analytics and statistics that are doing good appeals to my nerdy side and yes of course a KPI-counter: A counter must NEVER be forgotten! It is so satisfying to me to see the numbers rising, even if they are random *laughing*
How do you balance work, family/friends and your wellbeing?
With healthy morning routines and a certain stoic serenity. My sports life suffered a bit recently and I really want to get back into regular fitness activities. All the others, well I think here we come back to my personal mantra: Do what you love and stay curious. This must also apply to family and friends. It never gets boring and if it gets boring I appreciate it. Sounds like a paradox but for me it works.
What 3 key things do you think your industry needs to do to become more, sustainability, environmentally aware, inclusive and diverse?
I think this very depends on the individual situation of each company. But firstly I consider the willingness to embrace change is essential. Then to inspect which elements of your core business and its supply chains can be improved. And lastly to execute and implement those changes. Many companies struggle with the last part that is why there is luckily a growing tendency to have either a fully committed CSR department or external cunsultancy / tools.
Please share 3 sustainable brands or businesses that you admire and explain why?
3 German companies immediately came to mind. Generally I find a niche and unglamorous provider for an urgent problem exciting. This can be anything from next gen hydrogen motors for airplanes to plastic degrading bacteria. So basically I endorse high tech impact start-ups, maybe that is why I founded one myself. But here are my three ad hoc favs:
Ecosia, even though I also often use Google as well: They offer a high user experience of internet search but spend a proper portion of their earnings on planting trees. The tree counter in their search feels rewarding and pays into my predilection for numbers.
Sirplus, as I sincerely hate food waste. They are one of the pioneers in supplying high quality food when minimum shelf life has expired. Ordering the food is by carbon neutral delivery and in their local shops you can even buy fresh food that does not fit into supermarket or EU specifications.
Rügenwalder Mühle used to be one of Germany’s biggest meat suppliers. They realized early that plant based substitutes are a big market and they invested big portions of their revenue in research and development. Taking this risk paid off as they are now producing more vegetarian than meat products, increased revenues and from my perspective have the tastiest products in that field. Without many additives or a lot of soy.
What sustainable systems or environmentally aware activities do you personally practice and what practices do you follow as an independent business?
Most of the things I do personally, I try to transfer to the business environment as well wherever applicable. So I try to make ‘the right’ decisions now so that I do not have to restructure later. Some examples are eg. green electricity providers, glass bottled drinks, supporting public transport, paper-free offices, local / fair trade products. Our advantage is that our intrinsic business model is already supporting the disadvantaged. Furthermore, I want to establish new work methodologies that for instance enable a more sustainable work-life culture to avoid burnouts etc. in our own team.
If you could travel in time, what advice would you give your 20year old self?
Love what you do, be curious and try to buy property in Berlin early! *laughs* I’d also add to be less strict with yourself!
What Podcasts or other sources do you listen to, to gather inspiration or learn from?
Sometimes I feel like a sponge that simply can’t resist soaking up information. These sources can originate basically from anywhere. So far, my best ideas came either during a sleepless night, a walk or run in nature or after one or two drinks with Steve, my co-founder.