#MeetTheMB100 – Zak Kaufman, Co-Founder & CEO, Vera Solutions

In this interview series, we are profiling the winners of the 2020 MB100; leaders combining profit and purpose to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.

 

Zak Kaufman (ZK:) I grew up in a middle-class family in Wisconsin – both my parents worked for public schools and instilled in me a desire to put my skills and energy to use for the greater good. While at Dartmouth College, I discovered passions for public health, data, and international travel. I got my first passport at age 19, joining a medical trip as a translator and data collector for doctors and medical students serving hundreds of patients in rural Nicaragua.

 

Experiencing such stark inequality first hand propelled my interest in international health and development, an interest which led me to spend nearly a year volunteering in the Dominican Republic, to intern and later work with an HIV prevention NGO called Grassroot Soccer, and ultimately to move to South Africa in 2008 to help scale their programmes with grants from USAID, the Gates Foundation, Nike, and others.

 

I took on a role overseeing research, monitoring, and evaluation across our programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa and quickly identified the weakness of our Excel-based data systems as a barrier to generating the evidence and insights our staff, leadership, and funders needed.

 

MB: What led you to start Vera Solutions? 

 

ZK: Seeing the impact of Grassroot Soccer’s digital transformation in 2008-2009 – moving off an unwieldy, centrally managed Excel labyrinth onto a democratised, Salesforce-based programme monitoring system – other organisations began reaching out to my colleagues and me saying “this is exactly what we need.”

 

We saw the power and potential of the Salesforce Platform to strengthen programme monitoring systems and found we had a unique niche of skills and experience at the intersection of cloud technology, impact measurement, and NGO programmes. This not only gave us a distinctive value proposition as a mission-driven company but also enabled us to connect, empathise, and problem solve effectively with our clients.

 

With the blessing of Grassroot Soccer’s senior leadership, we spun Vera Solutions out as a Benefit LLC, obtained our first B Corp Certification, and began serving more and more organisations around the globe.

 

Ten years later, we’ve provided over 250,000 hours of service to 330+ organisations in 60+ countries.

 

MB: What is the main problem you are trying to solve?

 

ZK: Across the social sector, we’ve seen too many organisations losing opportunities for learning, innovation, and impact because their data is trapped on paper forms, clunky systems, and Excel spreadsheets. Decision-making, programme effectiveness, data quality, and staff morale all suffer from weak data systems.

 

Blending deep technical and social sector expertise, we deliver solutions that unlock a culture of transparency, collaboration, and data-informed decision-making. Ultimately, Vera’s products and services save organisations time, money, and headaches while driving more informed decisions and enabling them to do more with their data.

 

 

Zak Kaufman, Co-Founder & CEO, Vera Solutions

 

MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?

 

ZK: We now have two flourishing businesses under one roof – a steadily growing consulting services business that serves 80+ clients a year, and a rapidly growing SaaS business with a product (Amp Impact) in high demand. Our greatest challenge is enabling these two businesses to reinforce each other without the services business bottlenecking our SaaS growth, or our SaaS business stifling new, innovative ideas that emerge from consulting.

 

Finding our place within the Salesforce partner ecosystem also proved a challenge for years, since most partners focus on either services or SaaS and operate in one geography (whereas we do both and operate on five continents). Nevertheless, we find ourselves at an exciting point in our trajectory, especially as consumers, companies, grantmakers, and investors become increasingly interested in measuring, understanding, and managing their social and environmental impact.

 

 

MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?

 

ZK: We envision a social sector that is driven by accountability, transparency, and data-informed decisions. We are growing a mission-driven company fully committed to realising that vision and amplifying the impact of social sector organisations. Over the coming years, we see ourselves serving hundreds more organisations, deepening our technical and sector expertise, and continuing to grow and improve Amp Impact – all to transform the way organisations operate and understand their impact. 

 

MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?

 

ZK: It’s never too late or too early to start thinking about how your company’s social and environmental impact can be improved. Those starting out may find the B Impact Assessment (and the B Corp movement more generally) helpful in guiding your early thinking along these lines.

 

Enterprises – especially larger ones – shouldn’t singly focus on the window dressing of ESG scores, but should rather think holistically and empathetically about employee wellbeing and opportunity, fair and employee-friendly policies, monitoring and minimising environmental footprint, and reinvesting profit in communities they serve and care about.

 

When it comes to attracting and retaining great talent and customers, your company’s compassion, culture, and compass are more important than your strategy and slogans.

 

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Quickfire Questions

MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

ZK – Be bold and humble – bold to believe that there’s nothing you can’t achieve and humble to know that you always have room for growth and improvement.

 

MB – Who inspires you?

ZK – My team, and the passion, skill, and critical thought they bring into their work day-in day-out.

 

MB – How do you define success?

ZK – Depends who and what I’m defining it for!

 

MB – What is something you wish you were better at?

ZK – Speaking French.

 

MB – What is the one book everyone should read?

ZK – “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling

 

MB – What do you do to relax?

ZK – Exercise (running, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing) and spend as much time outside as possible.

 

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Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.

 

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