Leadership can be defined in many ways. I like to think that leadership is largely based on the principle of trust. Trust in your team along with their trust in you to help guide them and to make key decisions…while also empowering your team to make decisions. It’s important to allow people to fail and to learn from our mistakes, so we can improve and make the right choices in the future.
As a part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin “Hoost” Wilkenfeld, Co-founder and CEO — Kindhumans.
With a degree in history and minor in social anthropology from UC San Diego, Justin Wilkenfeld has always been interested in people and where they come from. He has always gravitated towards supporting people wherever he can. This shows in his dedicated work ethic during his seven years at TD Ameritrade and 10 years at GoPro, as well as in volunteer work with organizations like SurfAid and the Redford Center.
Justin joined his friends at GoPro in 2007 as just the fourth employee and served as the VP of Brand Integrity in his final position before moving to a consulting role in 2017. Since then, he has leveraged a diverse personal and professional background to provide strategic marketing consulting and advisory services to philanthropic enterprises with a mutual goal of furthering positive social and environmental impacts. This inspired the formation of a new business venture called Kindhumans — started by Justin and his wife Suzi. The Kindhumans mission is to promote and elevate kindness, conscious consumption, and giving back by building a media company and marketplace focused on sustainable, eco-friendly, and purpose-driven products.
On the personal side, Justin loves to be outdoors enjoying time with his family and friends. An avid surfer, snowboarder, and someone that simply enjoys spending time in nature, Justin ultimately wants to participate in creating a positive future for generations to come.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I joined the small team at GoPro back in 2007, I had no idea what an incredible ride was in store for me. Helping bring GoPro’s incredible vision to fruition was truly a life-changing experience. We always appreciated and took pride in having such an awesome community of passionate, energetic, and adventurous people that loved to share their fun, authentic, and awe-inspiring content with the world.
One day I thought to myself, “What if we can take some of those same successful principles and passion, and apply them to efforts to support non-profit causes?” This was ultimately the motivation behind the formation of the GoPro for a Cause program in 2015.
GoPro for a Cause’s goal was to pay it forward and share a different genre of meaningful stories with the community by utilizing GoPro’s platform and global audience to inspire people and focus on giving back. Going beyond sports and lifestyle content, and featuring the stories of amazing humans and the causes they were supporting, would allow us to raise awareness with new audiences and increase much-needed donations, furthering those efforts and making an even greater impact.
When I left GoPro in 2017, I took some time off to focus on mental and physical health. I also wanted to reflect on and explore various aspects of my life, including what was important and what was possible in terms of giving back. During this exploratory phase, my wife Suzi and I also learned that we could make a positive impact through the purchases we make. However, resources to easily navigate a growing world of sustainable, eco-friendly options were virtually non-existent. This is why we created our company Kindhumans: to address this need for more information and better options, both as consumers and humans that value life and our planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
We attended an event that involved young kids and was struggling to come up with a meaningful giveaway item that the kids would appreciate, and would also impress the theme of kindness on them in a memorable way. We ended up creating a Kindhumans coloring book, with a pledge of kindness on the opening page.
During the event, at least two moms were brought to tears by this simple pledge and message that we are trying to spread. The world needs more kindness and the best way to do that is to raise kind humans from a young age. It was so cool to be able to present something last-minute that actually was pivotal in the creation of our first official “Let’s Make the World a Kinder Place” coloring and activity book.
We also built a “Wall of Kindness” where participants pledge to perform an act of kindness on a card they randomly pull from a large selection of envelopes affixed to the decorative wall. We have received so much positivity from everyone that tries it! There is enthusiasm about the engagement and people really want to pass on the kindness. This sentiment and the overwhelming response is a great sign for the future!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We made some hasty logos on the fly for our first presentations. It was rushed, and we were really putting the cart before the horse, using these logos in order to attempt to make a better impression with this one meeting (with a friend), to discuss our business concepts. Ironically, a big part of what we are building is about the brand and the feeling it invokes upon the first impression. So to rush the brand logo was definitely a mistake when you consider that it is such a big part of the brand identity.
One of the hardest things to do is to have patience and to do things the right way. It is a balancing act. You often find that you have to move fast…but it’s also critical to take the time to do things the right way, and really feel good about it. Striking that balance is difficult. Needless to say, we love our logo now even though it took a little while to get to it!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
At Kindhumans we believe that by uniting the positive forces in society and celebrating kindness, we can achieve a meaningful impact on a wider scale. Kindhumans not only celebrates the best of humanity and the cool things that people are doing every day, but facilitates and encourages people to live their best lives and to make choices that promote, protect, and provide for the future of the planet and the success of generations yet to come.
Since we started Kindhumans we have dedicated our efforts to amplifying and supporting humanitarian, planetary, and kids’ causes. We started off with donations to the National Forest Foundation to preserve and reforest our national lands; to Leave No Trace, a non-profit that focuses on educating the youth to foster a connection with nature and to create stewards of the outdoors; and 501cTHREE, a non-profit that focuses on providing clean drinking water solutions to the community of Flint, Michigan.
In addition to these three causes, we have partnered with many other organizations and plan to expand our network in 2020. As a member of 1% for the Planet, we have pledged 1% of our sales to go back to non-profit and charitable partners; but above that, we have many products that have much more substantial giveback associated with them, and the customer gets to choose which type of cause to support. We like to say that our “minimum” giveback is 1% of sales because that is really the absolute minimum that we give back, as mentioned. Further, most of the brands with which we partner have giveback programs themselves, so the effect is broadened, with giveback being amplified at every step of the way!
Having a chance to support these organizations and their good works is a great honor. Beyond financial support, we have focused on telling the stories of these organizations and the kind humans behind them. By showcasing these humans that are dedicated to the kindness we hope to garner more support for these organizations, strengthen their work and their mission, and inspire others to lead a kinder existence.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
We partnered with GoPro for a Cause to create a short film to tell the story of High Fives Foundation team member Trevor Kennison. After a severe snowboarding accident in the backcountry, Trevor’s path in life took a life-altering turn.
With the support of the High Fives Foundation and Trevor’s eternal positivity and optimism, he has been able to achieve the almost unthinkable. Through this project, Trevor has been able to continue snowboarding, grow his community, increase his following, and gain even more sponsorships. This film has successfully raised awareness about the High-Fives Foundation, highlighting the important and impactful work they do to support injured athletes. Partnering with like-minded organizations, such as GoPro for a Cause, is a win-win situation where joint storytelling helps amplify the message for individuals and organizations.
We are humbled that we were able to help Trevor by telling his inspiring story, and we look forward to continuing to work with him.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We like to say that kindness focuses on three things: being kind to ourselves, kind to each other, and kind to the planet. As far as being kind to ourselves, I think that if as a society and as a community we were able to be more focused on improving ourselves and living our best lives, that would make a world of difference in terms of how we feel and express ourselves. This would, in turn, allow us to have the self-confidence and heart to be kind to each other; as our focus is on the community, we are trying to make kindness the new norm. We share so much in common, and we can’t forget that.
Being kind in turn to the planet would then hopefully follow naturally, and that’s where our politicians and representatives would come in — following the will of the people and working in an environment that values kindness and compassion would hopefully lead to concrete efforts to improve the planet’s health and preserve our wonderful playgrounds.
It seems that society is very fragmented right now, and a focus on cohesion and what brings us together, our shared experiences and kindnesses and understanding towards each other, would make a big difference in helping to address the problems that Kindhumans is focused on.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership can be defined in many ways. I like to think that leadership is largely based on the principle of trust. Trust in your team along with their trust in you to help guide them and to make key decisions…while also empowering your team to make decisions. It’s important to allow people to fail and to learn from our mistakes, so we can improve and make the right choices in the future. A true leader cares deeply about his or her team and builds cohesion within that group of people to give them common vision and goals as well as the support to find success.
There is a saying: “lead from the front.” To me, that means that rather than solely strategizing in the background we must lead by example. Now, as a leader, you simply can’t be in front of all the processes within the company and still maintain the necessary strategic perspective. You’ve got to trust and empower your team and keep enough perspective to see all of the processes and how they align towards strategic objectives. But that saying reminds me that our goals of spreading kindness, consciousness, and giving back are ones that we try to live individually as well as share with others, and amplify through Kindhumans. We also recognize there is a global community of kind humans that are living and leading from the front. Our goal is to create a hub for this community.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Find a balance to stay healthy, which can be especially difficult in a startup. As an example, we work very hard but we also try to take time to have fun along the way, and of course to take care of ourselves — so that we are better prepared to support others.
- Choose your team wisely and don’t be afraid to restructure if it doesn’t feel like a good fit. As difficult as that can be, it happens but ultimately can benefit all.
- Be patient…but haul ass. Remember that results can take time especially in the early stages.
- Manage growth and don’t be afraid to slow down. Growing too fast can create a lot of headaches, and can be counterproductive if not managed correctly.
- Listen to your team that is in the trenches! There are too many examples of this to list, but they know a lot and help guide a good leader through the ups and downs of business.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
“Enormous influence”? Ha! I hope to achieve that one day; not for my ego but because I hope that my heart and mind are in the right place as we try to build and turn a beautiful vision into reality. Our goal is to build Kindhumans into a global cultural movement that brings in as many people around the world as possible to make the most impactful positive, kind changes possible — changes that the world and society need. There are so many issues but there are also so many people doing great things to help various causes, and we just need to find ways to scale those efforts and share best practices in order to make the biggest impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is subjective.” This perspective fuels my compassion and empathy for others and helps me to remember that everyone has their strengths, weaknesses, fears, confidence, and dreams. This reminds me to do my best to put myself in the shoes of others as I navigate life and my interactions with others. I am not saying I am perfect, very far from it, but I do take pride in being understanding and compassionate. This can make certain aspects of management more challenging, but I also think it adds a layer of humanity that all businesses should incorporate on some level.
I also love Bruce Lee’s quote, “Be like water” because the fluid nature of water to adapt its form to the shape of its environment, and its power to also shape the environment is instructive.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
The Rock! He is a megastar, yet seems super cool and down-to-earth, and I think we need voices and star power like his to make an impact on our culture. We need positive role models, and celebrities to join the movement as they reach so many millions of people. I really think the Rock could help amplify what we are doing here at Kindhumans and increase the speed and reach of the impact we can make.
Obama would be my other choice. I have always been so impressed with his demeanor, calmness, clarity, sense of purpose and what seems to be a genuine desire to help others in our country and beyond. Definitely my favorite president. A friend and I even invented the “Obama Shot” in celebration of his election!