“This is the best relationship I’ve ever had.”

It started a few weeks ago with a voice message in the GoodHabitz WhatsApp group that includes co-workers of all seven countries: “Come on, Goodies! Let’s celebrate! I’ll buy you all cake and typical Dutch appleflaps!”, Yours truly, Mike van Tilburg, owner of GoodHabitz. Not much later, co-workers in Eindhoven, Antwerp, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Madrid and Milan indeed got to enjoy the delicious treats at the same time. The cause for celebration? Mike’s seven-year anniversary with GoodHabitz. It’s about time we gave him the third degree. Content creative Paul van den Hurk joined him for some table talk.

Mike van Tilburg about his seven-year anniversary.

“Sorry, I’m still a little hungover. After my weekly walk with my exercise partner last night, we were supposed to have just a few drinks at the bar. Let’s just say that escalated quickly...” Sleepy eyes and a content smile speak of a long night with little sleep. Despite that, Mike walks into the office on Friday morning at 9 a.m., chirpy as can be, after almost an hour’s drive down from Oosterhout. ‘Work hard, play hard.’ That’s not just one of GoodHabitz’s core values, it’s also one of Mike’s personal mottos. In seven years’ time, Mike has managed to make another core value - celebrating successes - into a genuine form of art. “The number seven isn’t particularly special to me, but this is the longest I’ve stayed with a company ever. That’s pretty special, right? It’s a bit like how it was with girlfriends, back in the day. You wanted every new relationship to be better and last longer than the one before. If you look at it like that, GoodHabitz is the best relationship I’ve had.”

Nose to the grindstone

While sipping his coffee - “I didn’t like coffee, but I’ve been offered it so many times without being asked, I just started drinking it” - Mike looks back on his first meeting with GoodHabitz. It was February of 2013, and the company was only just starting off. “Joost (Moerdijk, Ed.), Patrick (Stijfs) and Maarten (Franken) approached me and I knew I’d enjoyed working with them in the past. I had a few other options lined up, but Maarten quickly brushed those aside. ‘We’re clicking - why talk to anyone else?’, he said. Well, I had to admit he did have a point. I was given free rein to set up the commercial side of GoodHabitz. We had a few clients already, so the foundation was there. That was a big help. It was pure entrepreneurship and that really appealed to me. Just like the opportunity to set up an amazing company culture. My business card said I was Commercial Director, but in reality it was nose-to-the-grindstone sales work. Maarten and I, we were the whole sales team. It wasn’t long before I asked Milan Hofmans to join us.”

It’s quite the motley crew: a few old hands at e-learning, with some fresh blood poured into the mix.

Mike van Tilburg GoodHabitz
Mike van Tilburg Owner GoodHabitz

Within GoodHabitz, Mike quickly becomes known for his multi-faceted character. One minute, he’s giving a passionate speech, bringing even himself to tears, and the next, he’s the company joker spitting out self-made rap lyrics into the microphone. That makes him one of the instigators of what he calls ‘the GoodHabitz vibe’. “I think it’s incredibly important that co-workers can be themselves. That they’re happy at work. That everyone smiles every day. And that they’re one team, and one family. Because, you see, we’re quite the motley crew: a couple of old hands at e-learning, with some fresh blood poured into the mix. New people, young people. And I’m not talking about age here, but the young, revitalising energy that they bring into the company. Each and every one of them is a unique, incredibly good person. Maarten sometimes says: ‘People who are a little quirky’. He means people who are truly themselves, authentic and pure. And that’s what makes us, well, us, because it means we set a completely different tone in the online learning market.”

A special place

When he’s talking about the people and culture at GoodHabitz, you can tell that’s what brings out the passion in Mike. He leans forward a little, starts talking faster, sometimes stumbling over his own words. “I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record, but I want to leave a legacy with my co-workers. People don’t always realise how much of an impact you can have as an employer. I want to create a special work environment for all of our 160 GoodHabitz employees. I hope that when they’re 80 and happily retired, GoodHabitz has a special place in their memory. That they’ll remember it as a great phase in their lives. And as a passion for which they gave their all.”

“I want to do everything right. I want to be a great father, a great friend, a great entrepreneur, you name it.”

Mindset of a winner

Passion is never in short supply with Mike. In 2016 and 2017, his professional and private life went into high gear. Thanks to a financial boost from Parcom Capital, GoodHabitz started to grow faster. And with the birth of his daughter Amy and then his son Vince, Mike now suddenly had an important job at home too: being a dad. “I want to do everything right. I want to be a great father, a great friend, a great entrepreneur, you name it. That’s hard sometimes. My coach Albert Sonnevelt has been a tremendous help in that aspect. For example, it took me a while to get used to the fact that GoodHabitz was becoming a large organisation. Before, if you pushed a button, so to speak, you saw instant results. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Albert explained the metaphor of an ink drop to me: if a drop of ink falls into a glass of water, you can follow its path exactly and see where it’s going. Slowly but surely, that one drop changes the colour of the entire glass of water. But, in an aquarium, you need more than that one drop and you can’t keep an eye on every single drop to see where they’re going. That’s how it is with GoodHabitz now: you don’t always see the immediate result of what you’re working on.”

The GoodHabitz culture

GoodHabitz is no longer just an intimate club from Eindhoven. Instead, it’s now an international organisation with almost 200 employees spread out over seven countries. “The GoodHabitz culture is constantly changing. Now that we’re branching out to Italy, our mindset isn’t: ‘Well, let’s transfer our company culture to Milan.’ Together with our new Italian co-workers, we’re building a new culture. We hold on to our core values, of course: we keep a positive mindset, celebrate successes, give feedback, work hard, play hard. We really do take those values with us to Milan, but our co-workers over there determine how they interpret those core values and put them into practice. In the end, it should fit in with the culture of the country and their personal standards and values.”

“Next year, we’ll be active in ten countries. There are almost 200 countries in the world, so this is actually only the beginning.”

Symbolism of the boomerang

What’s remarkable is the low employee turnover rate at GoodHabitz. In the Netherlands, a grand total of four people left voluntarily… And every single one of them returned within a year. “That makes me proud, of course, because it just proves that GoodHabitz is a brilliant crew to work for. Understandably, some people want to explore other options, get a taste of a different branch or position. We always say that’s totally okay. These days, we even give them a boomerang as a parting gift. It’s a symbolic one, because we’re hoping they’ll find their way back to GoodHabitz, just like a boomerang. They don’t have to, of course, but our employee retention score is now at 100%. That’s fantastic, wouldn’t you say?”

Work to be done

In those seven years at GoodHabitz, a lot has changed for Mike - in his job as well as in his personal life. He’s held multiple positions in various countries and his personal situation has completely changed as well. “When I started here, I was single. Now, I have a partner and five kids. I moved a few times and I’ll probably end up getting married at some point, too. Honestly, I must have reinvented myself at least ten times these last few years. In the company, too. I did so many things, and learned so much. And still I feel like we’re only just getting started. Next year, we’ll be active in ten countries. ‘So many!’, people often remark. That’s true, but there are almost 200 countries in the world, so this is actually only the beginning!” What role does Mike envision for himself? That remains to be seen. He pulls out one of his business cards. “Look, I had these printed just last week. It has my name and phone number, but no title. Because you want to know what I’ll be working on at GoodHabitz for the unforeseeable future? Projects! I’ll mostly be doing research to find out what the company needs the most now. I do know that it’ll be something commercial, related to culture and people. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure: that’s where I’m at my best.”

Note: After reading the article, Mike commented: “It’s great, go ahead and publish it. But please add that Marieke is the most amazing girlfriend I’ve ever had in my entire life!”

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