Former CEO hires himself out for free

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Former CEO hires himself out for free

Joe Binder stepped down from his personal branding company WOAW to to develop his skills. Now he’s out to inspire others to do the same, he tells Candice Krieger

WOAW founder Joe Binder
WOAW founder Joe Binder

It sounds like the makings of a Hollywood movie. CEO steps aside from the well-known company he founded to go back to being an “intern”. Well, no need for Robert DeNiro (who played the intern in the Warner Bros. hit film, The Intern), Joe Binder, the founder and owner of personal branding company WOAW, has spent the past few weeks working for free for a variety of business founders across the UK.

Earlier this year, Binder, 27, stepped down as CEO from the company he founded five years ago, handing over the reins to Freddie Paxton. He explains: “A few years ago a successful business person I knew told me he was doing work experience.  I loved the idea of this as when you do work experience, people tell you stuff. You can be a sponge and learn.

“When I was away recently, I thought about shadowing a couple of people when I got back.” Binder called up his friend, Joe Woolf (Tasty Mates) to see if he was interested in hiring him for free for a bit. “He said yes. So then I thought; ‘Why don’t I post about it on LinkedIn, offering myself up to other companies for free, before committing to a new role in September?”

The post exploded. Over 60,000 people viewed it, with hundreds of comments and over 200 of people taking him up on the offer, including his mum. “She asked me if I could speak to her friend Margaret because she had seen me on the LinkedIn (sic).”

Joe Binder with Francis Opoku, founder of MrPlantainCrispLtd

Binder, who has a Geography degree from Cambridge University, spent weeks sifting through the offers before starting his series of varied internships where he has been doing free full days of work. But this isn’t interning as you might expect. Binder has been devising three-year business plans with founders of multi-million pound companies, leading company-wide sessions on creating a feedback culture and planning ways to make work more meaningful for staff – the kind of work some consultants could charge thousands for.

The nine different placements so far have included working with the founder of MrPlantainCrispLtd, Francis Opoku, to help make plantain (a type of banana) crisps mainstream. He also spent time with David Weaver, the co-founder of Vintage Cash Cow – an internet marketplace platform that’s set to turn over in excess of £30,000,000 this year and employs nearly 200 staff. On a smaller scale, Binder also spent one day working in a duo’s home – laptops and mindmaps sprawled across the kitchen table, identifying the best ways to grow the business. “My promise was that for those who wanted to take me up on the ‘free day offer’, there were no revenue requirements, no team size requirements.” (as outlined in his initial LinkedIn post).

Binder reflects: “Whether it’s a new-found appreciation and respect for working parents, relishing certain problems to work through for my next business or thinking; ‘That business model is crazy!’ It really has been such a varied and enriching experience.”

Binder spent time working with the founders of financial education company, Thrive Money

A former YouTuber and influencer, Binder launched WOAW in 2018 after identifying “a growing trend towards the ‘social CEO’ with more and more expected from a company’s leadership team. PR for business leaders has always existed, but social media was always an afterthought. I wanted to create a company to cater for this niche.”

WOAW builds personal brands for founders and CEOs. Clients have included Dragons’ Den stars James Caan CBE and Tej Lalvani, CEO of Vitabiotics, as well as award-winning entrepreneur, Erika Brodnock.

A growing number of firms, including LinkedIn, are encouraging a skills-based approach to hiring to tap into more diverse talent pools. Companies are more willing to consider applicants who don’t necessarily have a college degree or minimum years of experience.

Binder believes experience is more important than qualifications in today’s changing world of world.

“For example, when it comes to hiring copywriters, I don’t care if you have an English Literature degree or not. What I care about is if you can write a story in an engaging and accessible way.

“We are absolutely seeing a shift towards a skills-based approach to hiring. The qualifications definitely show an employer that someone has had to jump through various hoops to get to where they are, but it doesn’t show the full picture.”

A former JFS student, Binder was mocked at school for being the “dumb kid”. He recalls: “I even earned the nickname ‘3B’ because I was in bottom sets for all subjects. People set low expectations of me, and I began to agree with them.”

But then something changed. “I knew I could do better, work harder and achieve more.”

Determined to prove people wrong, Binder swapped lunch breaks for extra homework and convinced his teachers to move him up a set. His hard work paid off and he became deputy head boy before gaining a place at Cambridge University. It was there that Binder started his own YouTube channel, documenting the life of a Cambridge student.

So what’s next? Binder is working on his latest venture but “keeping it under wraps for as long as possible.”

In the meantime, he urges employers to give people a chance. “Speak to any successful person and they’ll tell you about that one person who believed in them. That one person who said “Yes” to the coffee. That one person who invited them for work experience. If you can be that person to others, do it!”


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