We’ve had the pleasure of welcoming a lot of new people to our team this year. Including a new board member and co-owner in the company: Chaya Oosterbroek. We’re already big fans of Chaya as our Chief Operations Officer and we think you will be too. So let’s get to know her by asking her some questions about her new role at Yoast, what drives her, and what she thinks the future holds for Yoast.
Let’s start with explaining what a Chief Operations Officer, or Chief Operating Officer, is. A COO is a senior executive tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations of a company. This means that a COO often handles internal affairs and makes sure that the strategy and mission are acted on in the ongoing daily business. This might still feel a bit abstract to you, so let’s go to our questions and let Chaya explain it to you!
Chaya’s story before starting at Yoast
Tell us, what are you like?
You can describe me as an enthusiast, in every way possible. My glass is always half full and I love to laugh. Although I am able to switch to being serious in a heartbeat when the situation asks for it. I also have a wide range of interests and love to look at things from multiple perspectives. You can say I’m quite versatile and able to quickly put things into perspective, which helps me play into every situation that arises.
In my spare time, I play soccer, which I’ve been doing for almost 30 years now. I also love spending time with my family, friends, and especially my girlfriend Sanne. We enjoy traveling around the world and learning about other cultures. She also joined me a few times when I visited India, my country of birth. Which I’ll tell you more about later in the interview.
What did you do before starting at Yoast?
Early on in my life, I realized that going to college or university was not the best fit for me. So I just started working. And one of the managers at my work saw something in me that allowed me to become a team leader in no time. This is where my love for process optimization and team development was able to come out. Learning how people work, how interpersonal processes work, and how you can create and strengthen a great team. Basically, allowing everyone to become their best self, that’s what I thrive on.
In my career, I’ve worked at different companies as a manager or consultant. And I also got the opportunity to be the director of a foundation for young entrepreneurship. This allowed me to meet lots of different people, different cultures, and different processes. And I loved every minute of it. It also allowed me to dive into lots of different fields, such as finance, energy, insurance, and so on. One constant was my focus on customers and strategy with an operational approach.
And you’ve also had your own company, right?
Yes! After 15 years, I decided to quit my job and travel. One of the countries I wanted to visit was India, my country of birth. Which I hadn’t visited since being adopted as a baby. I was nervous about going back but found it to be very fascinating when I got there. During these months I visited India a few times and realized something. I wanted to connect my two worlds, these two countries with each other. India, the country where I was born, and the Netherlands, where I grew up.
Eventually, I met a man who sold bags that were being produced in ethical conditions. So I bought a batch of these bags and created a website. After a while I realized that I wanted to be part of the entire process, to create something from the ground up. So I rented my first space, bought sewing machines, got the materials and hired my first employees with the help of Nikhil and Manzoor. All of this with a focus on creating an ethical work environment and product.
My company was founded on a few core values: fair fashion for everyone, empowerment to the workers and happiness before profit. While my company grew, we were able to open up two shops in New Delhi and had customers from all over the world. What an adventure this was. It was wonderful, but it was also challenging and it thought me a lot about our world.
But there is an end to this adventure. My fair fashion company was doing well, but wasn’t prepared for the COVID situation that hit worldwide. Logically, production came to an immediate stop and it became hard for me to stay in touch with some of my employees. I kept on paying the salaries and other costs, but after a while it became clear that we didn’t have enough funds to wait out the situation. Which means that, unfortunately, I’m phasing-out this company and trying to find a buyer. If I can’t find anyone, I’ve decided to donate my remaining stock.
A new chapter: COO at Yoast
Sorry to hear that! So how did fair fashion bring you to Yoast?
Right! When this was happening, I was living in Nijmegen (a city near Wijchen) with my girlfriend Sanne. After a few weeks off, I started looking at vacancies again and came across a job vacancy at Yoast. What really spoke to me is Yoast’s philosophy of putting people first and the mission: SEO for everyone. During the interview, I realized that this was a team of people I would love to work with. And that if I wanted to make an impact, this was the company that would make this possible.
I started as the manager of the Support team and was delighted by the vibe in the company. Even during COVID times, it was clear how much Yoast values their employees and how much positive impact this company has and can have. When the position of COO became available, I realized that this was a perfect match for me. After talking about this with the rest of the board, and defining whether our core values aligned, we decided that I would become the new COO at Yoast.
What does your day as COO look like?
In a nutshell, my day consists of ‘putting out fires’. Of course, I think about process optimization and keep an eye on whether our daily business is still in line with our strategy. But on a day to day basis, this means that I solve problems wherever they arise. And making sure that the team is able to manage and has everything they need.
This means that I check in with the team managers to find out what they need. Additionally, I talk to the other board members regularly to stay up to date on everything that’s going on. In these check-ups with each other, I try to get to the core of what’s happening and whether we should change that. Also, I always leave room to talk with each other on a personal level as I believe this is so important. Especially now, when lots of us are working from home.
So to summarize, my job is to analyse, make connections and anticipate. All to make sure the company and team can happily work on our products and relationship with our customers. Which strengthens our work environments and helps us achieve our goals.
A look into the future of Yoast
What will be your focus as COO?
What became apparent to me right away, is that diversity is important at Yoast. It’s in our core values, it’s in the DNA of Yoasters, it’s something we’re passionate about. In my eyes, this is something we can and should propagate even more. Especially as we’re part of the WordPress community, in which diversity is also considered a priority.
From my own experience, I can tell you that I really missed having a role model when I was growing up. Someone that looks like me and that could show me that we all come from different backgrounds. And that this is something that you can use to your advantage. By bringing something new to the table. So that’s something I want to work on, continuing our focus on diversity and communicating this to the world around us. Because everyone is welcome and we have such a great platform to be advocates for this topic.
What does this mean for Yoast?
I want to lead Yoast to the next level in entrepreneurship. The board and team have created such an awesome product and philosophy that make an impact. I want to take this even further. By growing our company, and with it, our ability to make a positive impact on the people around us. What we’ve already created is great, and now I want to work on professionalizing it in a way that still puts people first.
We work with a lot of talented people. And Yoast allows everyone to grow in the direction they want to go. Which is great. But I want to make sure that we give our people this room in a way that aligns with our strategy, in a way that is innovative and focused on their needs. Now I don’t have all the answers yet, but I do know that these are the topics that I want to focus on right now. By being creative and keeping each other on our toes. Are we still making the right choices? Is this decision in line with our mission of making SEO accessible for everyone?
Will all of these changes impact the mission of Yoast?
To give you a short answer: no. We will continue to focus our work, resources and products on making SEO possible for everyone. From large businesses to the shop around the corner. Also, we’ll continue to work on strengthening our core values and making them a part of our Yoast DNA.
We’re always looking for ways to increase our impact in a positive way. By enhancing our products and service, but also by listening to our users and what their needs are. Because that’s where your focus should always be, on the end-user. Helping our users is my main drive and I believe that this fits very well with the drive I see at Yoast.
Read more: Meet the new board of Yoast! »