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#FoundersFridays: Meet Robin van Dalen

Meet Robin van Dalen, founder of Inuka Coaching, an effective online coaching platform that makes top-quality coaching with measurable outcomes accessible for all your employees.

online coaching platform for companies
Image from Robin van Dalen/Inuka Coaching

#FoundersFridays is a StartupAmsterdam interview series: for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. Each hero answers questions on their entrepreneurial journey, their learnings, milestones and bottlenecks, as well as on Amsterdam and the Dutch startup scene. It’s a platform for entrepreneurs to speak their minds freely and pass on their learnings to anyone who’s thinking about founding a startup as well.

This week we spoke to Robin van Dalen, founder of Inuka Coaching, a company that aims to improve the wellbeing of your employees. By providing a self scan and direct coaching to your employees, they can provide them with an action plan to prevent burnout.

How did your career journey lead you to found Inuka Coaching?

That is a very personal one. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and impact driven, having small companies on the side to pay for my study, leaving to Ecuador when I was 18 to do volunteer work and during my studies trying (and failing to) setting up a shoe making social enterprise in one of the slums of Kenya, Nairobi. 

My first move towards Inuka was when I did my masters at Cambridge University. I landed in the health & wellbeing space because I was asked to do research into mistakes in healthcare, of which the majority is rooted into psychological and cultural issues. From there I went on to do a management traineeship at a company I admired a lot: Philips. I did mostly business development and bringing innovations to the market assignments across the world. 

And here is where the turning point happened. When in my private life a lot of things went wrong at the same time, my spirit of ‘don’t complain and just work harder’ that had taken me far in life actually got into the way. I broke down, and I landed in a deep depression and had to stay home for 4 months. After I came back, I thought my career had come to an end as my contract was ending, but I was extremely lucky – and to this day grateful – that my manager at the time, Maarten van Herpen, asked me to explore ways to reach people with life and mental troubles earlier to prevent it spiralling it out of hand. 

And this is where Inuka started. I met my current co-founder of Inuka, Prof. Dixon Chibanda, a cutting-edge psychiatrist who had developed a coaching method with his foundation, ‘The Friendship Bench’. 

This method is highly successful for the majority of people, and especially effective for anxiety and depression complaints. He uses it to reach vulnerable communities mostly in Zimbabwe, but has also successfully rolled out the method in a number of countries, for example in New York. 

This coaching method works across the world because it is rooted in problem solving therapy, one of the most researched and effective therapies out there. It works so well for a large range of different life challenges because it puts people in the driver’s seat of their own lives, and focuses on the here and now rather than digging in the past. So whether you deal with a difficult husband, manager, a chronic disease or want to live healthier, talking with someone who is trained on this proven method will help you clarify why this is important, and take the real, concrete steps to change your life for the better.  

Dr. Dixon explained this, and I immediately connected on a personal level and identified the opportunities on a professional level. We realised that we could use technology to scale up this brilliant innovation to make mental health support more accessible and effective. So, here is the story, we built the platform, tested it, and eventually spun out of Philips to become an independent social enterprise, partly owned by the foundation: Inuka Coaching.

What makes Amsterdam a great city and a great ecosystem for a startup founder?

In Amsterdam you can get on a bike everywhere, so it keeps you healthy, but also it’s bold thinking, and a very international city. A lot of leading large companies have their headquarters in Amsterdam, so as a startup if you can get those companies on board, it’s a very good springboard towards the rest of Europe. 

What are the goals and needs of Inuka Coaching for the upcoming months?

Our upcoming goals are to scale up, and continue to learn what the evolving needs are of our customers in this rapidly changing market. 

We increasingly see a shift towards prevention and resilience in large organisations, so we want to learn together and build a community of thought-leaders to together advance and navigate this emerging space. Also, our customers have always seen us as their prevention- and wellbeing partner, so we want to further build this reputation beyond our customers.

In the meantime we are onboarding coaches with more language requirements. We are onboarding customers that operate across Europe and the world, so having coaches that are from different backgrounds and speak different languages is increasingly important.  

What has been a recent win for your business?

Hard to choose, can I pick 2? Rolling out Inuka for all employees of Tommy Hilfiger (pvh) across Europe and Turkey and becoming B Corp certified! 

The Tommy Hilfiger collaboration to roll out Inuka’s services for all employees across Europe was an important milestone for us, because it is a very well known brand, and shows we have a coaching platform that works well and is used across different countries. We get the feedback that Inuka is really the ‘new cool’ amongst employees, and regardless the cultural background people are from they love our self-scan, coaching and workshops. It’s also important because from there our conversations with other multinationals are much easier as we can show we can handle both the logistics, culture and volumes involved.  

Inuka’s B Corp certification means to us that we walk the talk. It’s the most well-known and hard-to-get impact certification, and we joined organisations i’ve admired my entire life like Patagonia and Ben & Jerries. A lot of organisations claim to be impact driven these days, but with a B Corp certification it shows you’re the real deal and take impact and measuring how well you do for the world, your employees and all stakeholders. 

What has been a recent “challenge” for your business, and what have you learned from it?

I gave birth to my first child earlier this year, which is incredibly magical and gives me a lot of energy, but he still woke up 2x a night in month 8, and I just want to spend more quality time with my new family. This is such a special time and it passes so quickly. But it’s been challenging for our business as in this scaling phase where I ideally would be working many hours a week, and the team very much relies on me as the business founder. And of course this phase is passing, but since you don’t know when it will pass, and I would love more children, I wanted to have a longer term solution. 

So, as we announced on the 1st of December, I decided to onboard a new heavyweight Co-CEO who not just helps me out in this situation, but as a seasoned strategic HR business leader, consultant and mental health researcher, brings in key knowledge we can use very well. We could get on board an incredible woman who has a career spanning consulting at PwC, Accenture, Philips and Heineken, and is also purpose driven. We published an interview together recently explaining why this is important business-wise and personally. 

The big take-away from me is that I don’t need to give up my entrepreneurial or family dreams if you’re open to think creatively.