Saying goodbye to Marieke at Yoast

Marieke under a balloon arch at her goodbye party

Last Friday (June 23rd 2023) we had Marieke‘s goodbye party from Yoast. With that, we’ve both completely stepped out at both Yoast and Newfold Digital, and can start to focus on new stuff. I wrote a speech for the occasion and thought it’d be a shame to not share it with the wider world:

When Marieke says goodbye to Yoast, I of course can not stay silent and so I have prepared this speech. To you all, but especially, to you, Marieke. As you and I, Marieke, started investing in other businesses and helping them along their road, I often reflect back on what we did at Yoast, and how we did things. And every time I’m amazed by the incredible impact so many of your achievements, or maybe we can even call them inventions, have had.

Of course, Marieke came up with the readability feature, and she created Yoast Academy. What was typical is how she did it: she had a clear vision of what she wanted to reach, and then started doing it: she did research, hiring some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in the process to help bring her ideas to life. It’s insane to realize now that when we started talking about readability, no one in the SEO space was talking about it. Now every SEO tool worth their salt measures readability to some extent. There were more features of course, for instance Marieke’s continuous focus on internal linking and site structure was also super important for those features.

She also created much of the branding, not the logo and colors, but the ideas around YoastCon, the magazines, everything around how she wanted people to perceive Yoast. She masterminded so much of that, that I don’t think I can ever do it all justice in a short speech here.

Equally as important as those features and the branding of Yoast was, was what she did in creating our company culture. From the very beginning, Marieke was involved in the hiring process. While she usually stays away from the paperwork, something she happily leaves to me or someone else, she had very specific ideas about how she wanted our company to work. Some of those ideas she brought from her own previous work experience, but others were entirely new and I think true innovations. 

The premise of her HR policy was extremely simple and effective: be good to your employees and they’ll be good to you. She made it a point to know not just everyone’s name (which became hard enough already), but also know their partner’s names and their kids’ names.

She empowered women at Yoast, with her Empowerwoment project, which I think we can at least partly credit for Yoast having such a good & diverse leadership team for so long. The core values project we did, which had the entire company align on “why do we do what we do?”, something that seems obvious when you’re a startup but becomes increasingly hard when a company grows. She was also so clearly the more subtle one: instead of, like me, just asking “is it done already?” all the time, she got everyone to “hup hup”, or: move faster.

And then during COVID, Marieke started doing daily vlogs for the entire company. Pouring energy into the company in a way that I can still not really understand, with so much energy being required at home too. That time was tough and really brought to light the enormous amount of pressure that comes with being responsible for so many people, both users of our software and families relying on their income from us. That’s when we decided: this is no longer “it” for us, we need to sell.

So: we did. We sold Yoast, that process was a journey in itself, and since then, we’ve had our struggles, as leaving a company you’ve founded is probably always going to be hard. But I am really proud of what we did together, and I think, Marieke, you are too.

In many ways, you, Marieke were the only one of us who really innately understood & felt the needs of a growing company. I’m often referred to as the sole founder of Yoast, and whilst that’s probably technically true, I do prefer, and want to hereby state unequivocally: without Marieke there as my co-founder, and yes, I think you should call yourself co-founder of Yoast, this company would not have been what it is today. And for that, I want to thank you, Marieke. You’re the best colleague I’ve ever had, and I look forward to working with you on much, much more, including, next to all our exciting investments, our next own new project, a new WordPress plugin, which has the best working title ever: Mareekee. We hope to get to the point where you need Yoast and Mareekee for every WordPress site.

I love you.

A headshot of Joost de Valk, author.

Joost de Valk

Joost is an internet entrepreneur from Wijchen, the Netherlands. He is the founder of Yoast. Joost is married to Marieke, who is also Yoast's former CEO. Marieke and Joost have 4 kids together and run Emilia Capital together, an investment firm.


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