July 26, 2012: Stories from the Field. This guest post is written by Olena Breitman, Dustin Greer, and Michelle Sultan, co-Founders of Mayan Terra and students in the Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program at Colorado State University.
MayanTerra just returned from 6 weeks of field work with rural farmers in Guatemala tackling food security and poverty reduction through improved farming practices, and this is a brief account highlighting our key lessons from the trip. Besides learning the importance of flexibility and determination in building a successful social enterprise, we also were able to apply several classroom lessons to the real world, including the role of pivoting our business model, pitching our venture to partners, and collecting valuable data.
The Great Pivot: Many people have great ideas on how to solve the most persistent global challenges, but the majority of ideas never come to life because entrepreneurs are too passionate about the original idea to let go of it and pivot when needed. The Business Model Canvas tool we learned in class proved to be invaluable in giving structure to our idea and allowing us to experiment with business models and to see how a change in one area influenced all the other aspects of the business. The BMC outlines nine essential components of an enterprise: key activities, key resources, value proposition, customer segments, customer relationships, channels of distribution, cost structure, and revenue streams. Describing these components together on one page allowed us to see the big picture and not get lost in details.
Pitching to Partners: This attention to detail gave us the confidence to talk to partners, customers, and suppliers and provide clear, concise explanations of what we do. All the presentations in the classroom and friendly fire sessions prepared us for these conversations. Not only were we prepared to answer tough questions, (such as “How will you achieve financial sustainability and growth?” and “How will you measure impacts?”), but what’s equally important is we knew what to ask and look for in the individuals and business we partnered with.
Collecting Valuable Data: In addition to forming partnerships, we needed to gather data from these organizations. Using field work research techniques we learned from our teachers, workshops, and mentors, we were able to create simple and well-structured surveys that allowed us to collect important data. We will use this data to prove the feasibility of our venture and develop an in-depth customer profile. Classroom discussions, case studies and readings on doing business in a developing country prepared our team for successful customer interactions in Guatemala. Being able to explain the value of our products and services to consumers who are price sensitive, often illiterate, and very risk averse, is a very valuable skill.
The success of our field work would not have been possible without thorough classroom learning in entrepreneurship, marketing and customer profiling, and we are looking forward to future pivots, partners, and research, culminating in what we hope will be a successful social enterprise.