The Entrepreneurial Process
For months now, Andrew, John, and I have worked hard on standardizinga process for helping the entrepreneurs with whom we work. In this blog, I’d like to present what we have come up with. Although a work in progress, we hope for this to become the bedrock for all our future work. Tweaks will happen here and there to adjust for unforeseen realities, cultural nuances, and best practices, but the basic bones of this process will be taught to all our future field workers, staff, and volunteers.
It is based on a combination between Eva Aspegren’s work in rural universities to bolster local entrepreneurship, and Ernesto Sirolli’s Enterprise Facilitation, both of whom have been a great help in shaping our operational processes.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s say a local entrepreneur, Maria, hears about what we do and invites us to assist her local honey production business. After discussing briefly what she would like to do and explaining how we would help, we arrange a time for a whiteboard session.
Step 1: The Whiteboard Session
The whiteboard session serves two main purposes. The first is to help Maria map out in a clear, visual manner, what she knows about her business and even more importantly what she does not know. The second is to give FTF specific, helpful tasks that will immediately assist in the success of her business.
The session has only one rule. We are only allowed to ask questions and never give our own opinion unless explicitly asked for by the entrepreneur. This ensures that all ideas come from Maria, the woman who knows her business and her culture best.
We start the session by asking Maria to describe her product, service, or community project. What is it made out of? What will it do? How will it function? What need will it meet? This is usually where the impresario will shine. As the person starting their business, they love nothing more to talk about their baby. Her passion becomes visible; almost tangible. Our job is to write continuously and consistently, either on a whiteboard or big sheets of paper, what Maria says. We write until our hands cramp up, then we keep writing. An entrepreneur will often fill 2-4 large sheets of paper by the time they are finished describing their idea.
When the entrepreneur is done, we ask clarifying questions on certain aspects. Where will Maria set up her bee farm? Does she have to rent the land or does she own it? Why did she choose that location? Then we will ask about equipment suppliers, transportation, employees, marketing, her future vision, and a great many other areas that pertain to the starting of a business.
The goal here is to find areas where Maria needs help. For example, we might ask her to describe her target market. Where and to whom will she sell her honey? How will she access this market of people? In this instance, Maria may say that she wants to sell her honey to resellers who will then sell her honey to the final consumer. However, she is having trouble finding these resellers. Then we will ask “do you need help with that?” If she says “yes”, FTF now has a specific task we can work on to help with the success of her business. We mark down the action item of getting Maria in touch with honey resellers. By the end of the whiteboard session, we may have as few as 2 tasks or as many as 30.
Step 2: Filling the Whiteboard Gaps
Now its time to execute the tasks Maria has given us. We take a look at the list of things we have to do and see if we have the ability to accomplish them ourselves. Do we know any local shops or resellers that would like to sample and subsequently stock Maria’s honey? If we can identify a few resellers, we get them in touch with Maria. But what if we personally do not know resellers or anyone interested?
This is where our FTF Network Database comes in. The FTF Network Database is comprised of hundreds of local, national, and international friends who have expressed interest in assisting local entrepreneurial projects. The FTF Network Database records our friends’ name, location, expertise, and contact information. In this way, we can easily search for corresponding expertise or knowledge to assist an impresario in any given area.
In Maria’s case, we would search for FTF Network Members in her local township, the surrounding towns, and even the nearest large city. We would contact them, tell them about Maria, and ask them to tap into their own contact networks. Say we contact 20 Network Members and each Network Member knows 50 people. One can see that our access expands very quickly, reaching 1000 potential helpers in no time. Out of the 1000 contacts, we may get 10 relevant people who are interested in Maria’s honey. We then vet this person and subsequently connect them back to Maria as a potential honey reseller.
The process is simple, but extremely effective. We amplify our network using the sub-networks of our friends, and thus provide a multitude of previously inaccessible human resources and contacts for our entrepreneurs. Maria is connected with 10 people she would never have had access to previously, and now has a new market in which to sell her honey.We repeat this process for every task the entrepreneur needs.
Aside from these two steps, we have a series of rules under which we always operate:
1. We never deal with money. Rather we seek out local funding options, and creative customer-funded strategies. We have found that money changes the nature of our relationship with the entrepreneur. We would rather act as supporters and advocates for them to seek their own money so that they can do it themselves if we are not around.
2. We only work with an entrepreneur if invited. We do not force anyone to do what we think is “helpful” or “good.”
3. We leave our impresarios alone. We only contact entrepreneurs if we have filled a whiteboard gap or if they contact us first. We never motivate or manipulate any of our clients for ‘good metrics’. If they want something, they let us know.
4. We facilitate rather than dictate. As much as possible, we ask questions rather than give our own ideas. An idea is always more powerful if it is formed with the full force of the entrepreneur’s beliefs, rather than if they are forced to do something we think might work.
In this way, we hope to help a few local people with great ideas. We have no grand plan, no metrics to live up to, and no ultimate save-this-country scheme.
We are just supporters of local people who are trying to change the status quo.
If you are interested in supporting our work, please visit here. If you are interested in helping us roll out our new FTF Network App, we'd love to talk. In other words, if you are interested in joining our growing network let's be in touch.