FIP 41: World Toilet Day with Jack Sim

Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO) has been a successful businessman for all of his adult life. After achieving financial success in his 40s, he felt a strong desire to give back to humanity.

Jack found that toilets were often neglected and grew concerned that the topic was draped in embarrassment and taboo. In 1998, he established the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) whose mission was to raise the standards of public toilets in Singapore and around the world.

Jack soon realized that there were other organizations worldwide like RAS, however, they lacked the channels to collaborate and share ideas. As a result, in 2001, Jack founded the World Toilet Organization (WTO), eventually earning himself the nickname Mr. Toilet.

On this podcast, we will cover:

  • Jack’s interest in tackling a problem that most people felt uncomfortable talking about and how he began to shift this taboo.
  • The origins of World Toilet Day (November 19) and how to be opportunistic when seeking partnerships.
  • The importance of relinquishing credit as a leader and remaining humble. Jack talks about creating a negative space that champions can sign up to eradicate, rather than focusing on being recognized for individual efforts.
  • How to get almost anything for free! While you don’t have resources, you do have a reputation and a story that businesses may want to align with.
  • How to leverage your story to bring attention to your cause. “If you don’t publish, you perish” Academics need to write, ask them how you can help! Helps bring credibility to your cause too.
  • The importance of being mission driven and removing individuals from the equation. “You are not the important thing, the mission is the important thing.”

Links to resources:

Connect with Jack:

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FIP 40: Cash Flow Fundamentals with Alex Eaton

Growing up on a small farm in the US, Alex Eaton was raised with a sensitivity to the reality of smallholder farming. It’s no surprise that after 8 years of leading the International Renewable Resources Institute, Alex, a serial entrepreneur, built Sistema Biobolsa in Mexico in 2010 to enable farmers to use biogas solutions to improve agricultural outputs and provide cleaner cooking. At that time, social enterprise was a contradictory term: people looked down upon entrepreneurs trying to make money off the poor. Since that time, Sistema Biobolsa’s product has extended its reach as far as Asia and Africa.

On this podcast, Alex gives entrepreneurs a reality check about maintaining a laser-focus on achieving market returns by leading their companies to do one thing, do that thing well, and sticking to cash flow fundamentals. We’ll specifically cover:

  • Sistema Biobolsa’s origin story and early-stage roadblocks, from designing the product and business, to the journey from non-profit to social enterprise, including what stopped Alex from giving his patented design away.
  • Understanding how, because of funding mechanisms in the sector, social enterprises are not responding to normal market conditions or industry competition, nor are they learning from the well-known mistakes of the INGOs that preceded them.
  • What it means for social enterprises to “stay hungry,” why that’s a necessity for financial and social success, and how Alex practices this with his team.
  • The advice Alex has for his younger self, from appreciating the mundane to not recreating the wheel.

Resources:

Connect with Alexander:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

Charlie Nichols Finding Impact

FIP 39: Product Design and Market Fit with Charlie Nichols

Charlie is co-founder of SunCulture and today we’re talking about product design and market fit. Charlie’s background is in mechanical engineering and economics, it’s the fourth company he’s founded and co-founded, though his first in Africa. He was initially drawn to Kenya by the number of technology success stories and the great market opportunity for clean energy solutions like solar power due to the high costs of grid electricity. SunCulture designs, manufacturers, finances and distributes solar powered irrigation solutions.

On this episode, we learn about:

  • How through his time in Senegal, Charlies learned that the challenge facing small commercial farmers was a lack of access to the right equipment and finance to help them scale production.
  • How the challenges you envisage when designing the product in the lab, to the those faced when setting up on the first farm, are so completely different and beyond your imagination.
  • We learn one small detail on where you locate your first prototype in relation to your office.
  • We talk about how to put together your first prototype with off the shelf products, so you can gather feedback from customers and iterate your design with your manufacturing partners in China every 6 months.
  • Capturing the different feedback from different stakeholder groups, like the farm manager and the business owner, are equally important. One was interested in the technical side and the other the commercial side.
  • How capturing feedback and new ideas in the early stages differs to how they manage them now, which is a well-structured process for deciding what to carry forward.
  • How Charlie and his team evaluate ideas based on whether they think they can drop prices of existing products in the market by 90%, and how they think it’s important to know what your value add is in the market, and stick to it as your true north.
  • Charlie tells us about a big challenge he and his team went through on the product development side, how they got through it, and what they learned.
  • How it’s important not just to be cheap, but to actually meet the specifications defined to solve the challenge in the market that you’re addressing.
  • What advice Charlie would give his younger self as he headed out to the field with his prototype under his arm. Or in fact, before he did that.

Links to resources:

Connect with Charlie:

Twitter.com/CharlesDNichols
Twitter.com/SunCultureKenya

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

Kevin Starr Finding Impact

FIP 38: Designing for Impact at Scale with Kevin Starr

Kevin Starr, Managing Director at Mulago Foundation and Founder of the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program, has been scaling social ventures that provide the best solutions to the biggest problems in the poorest places, since 1994. Kevin also serves as the chairman of Big Bang Philanthropy and he is a regular contributor to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, PopTech, TEDx and Skoll.org.

On this episode, Kevin walks us through Mulago’s designing for impact at scale (DIF) model and gives us great advice for how social entrepreneurs can sharpen their focus on impact. We end by illuminating the poverty-conservation trade-off and how Mulago Foundation intends to tackle it. Specifically, we learn about:

  • Why the social impact sector doesn’t function as a market for impact and why social entrepreneurs rarely make legitimate links between their intervention idea and its impact, including the responsibility of funders, budget allocations, and monitoring and evaluation.
  • Each component of Mulago’s DIF model to understand what the foundation deems necessary for a successful intervention.
  • Kevin explains the eight-word mission statement, the single impact indicator, and the behavior map in detail.
  • The four “doers at scale” and why social impact models need to be built based on these doers’ behavior change and ability to change others’ behaviors for successful replication.
  • The four “payers at scale” and why it’s imperative to know which payer a social venture serves in order to build sustainable pricing into the strategy as early as possible.
  • The significance of systems-thinking and treating your social venture like a “lab” by staying lean, failing fast, recognizing success, and proving your model.
  • In relation to for-profit social ventures, the three types of money available -which Kevin calls free money, real money and maybe money – and how entrepreneurs can overcome the typical funding obstacle of obtaining real money after accessing free money.
  • Current trade-offs between poverty and conservation efforts and how Mulago aims to encourage social entrepreneurs to link social, environmental and business indicators through their Conservation Fellowship.

Resources:

Links to Guest

 

Ken Njoroge Finding Impact

FIP 37: The Key to Success is Knowing Your Why with Ken Njoroge

This is the second part of my interview with Ken – co-founder of one of Africa’s’s exciting homegrown multinationals – Cellulant. In this episode, he shares some of his hard learned lessons, including how he got through one of the darkest times in his career. Listening to this interview will make you ready for what’s to come in your social enterprise, and forearmed is forewarned.

On this episode you’ll learn (bullets while editing)

  • How Ken realised he wasn’t connecting with his management team, and how he knew that if they were going to grow, he had to solve the problem. He brought in management consultants who told him how he had to change to be a successful CEO. This meant he had to be more patient, more consultative, taking time to explain strategy and why the company was going in a certain way.
  • When as a founder, you may be used to sprinting across the ‘valley of death’, trying to get to profitability, when you and those around you are putting in everything. But this is unsustainable, and you’re going to have to change as a founder once the urgency has passed and you’re switching to longer term goals of 3-5 years.
  • Choose your goal – pluck it out of thin air if you need to – before working out your process. How will you know the process and those on the team are right without a goal?
  • WHY? is the most important thing, above all else. What is your mission? Why do you wake up every morning to do what you do? If you don’t get this clear in your mind, then you’ll fail when you’re finally tested in the darkest times. For Ken, this was when he didn’t know if he was going to be able to pay his employees’ salaries. He was tempted to take his eye off the prize, and seek temporary reprieve. He was given the chance to earn some money by consulting on the side, to bring in some money for his new family. But Ken turned it down, as he knew he’d be tempted to do it again. Then, before he knew it, half the time he’ll be doing other things instead of making the company work.
  • Doubt will come, such as whether it is the right mission for you, and is it the right path for the mission?
  • To help you through a dark period, you need to find someone to bounce your ideas off. Not your board or your investors – you’ll just worry them. And you can’t turn to your management team. A peer will be important. You need to develop them early. People who understand the context, the stage you’re at, and what you’re doing. Someone who believes in your well being.
  • You need to invest in the why – where you want to go in life. Understand why is that goal important, why it fits into your world view. The why is personal. It’s important for your emotion balance. How well you understand yourself – deeply – is a determinant of whether you’ll succeed.

Links to resources:

Connect with Ken:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

Ken Njoroge Finding Impact

FIP 36: A Billion Dollar Homegrown African Business with Ken Njoroge

Ken’s first business was a web development firm called 3mice – which became pretty well known as one of the first web development firms in the region. After selling the business, he would sit for four hours a day over coffee with his buddy wondering why there was so much great talent working for large multinationals but no one building a great African business. Thus the vision of a billion dollar, worldclass, large, pan-African mobile-based company founded in Africa by africans was born.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Ken was quick to notice the huge subscriber rates in telecoms compared to dial-up services, and quickly theorised that mobile in Africa could be big. He simply used the information he was seeing around him to start looking for a business opportunity in the mobile sector.
  • How Ken’s curiosity and inquisitiveness led him to wonder, with his co-founder, why there weren’t more homegrown African businesses, when there were so many multi-national corporations employing great talent. Thus the vision of a billion dollar, worldclass, large, pan-African mobile-based company founded in Africa by africans was born.
  • Growing up in money-poor backgrounds, they were driven by the idea they could create wealth in Africa by running a values-based business – absent of corruption or bribery – driven by young people driven to be their best. This idea seems to have been driven almost as much by anger at the current paradigm, as opposed to pure ideology.
  • Cellulant started out selling ringtones, but Ken admits it was challenging for the first 2-3 years bootstrapping the company, as it required investments in IT infrastructure. They ended up borrowing money from credit cards, friends, and overdrafts – spending 70% of their time finding the money to keep the operation going. Some of their staff went 3-4 months without a salary.
  • Cost wasn’t only in the infrastructure. They didn’t compromise on the people – at the very beginning they hired the best people they could find and could barely afford them.
  • Things started to come together in the third and forth year, becoming cashflow positive, so that 70% of time running around to find the money to keep afloat, they could start to focus on growing the business.
  • They soon realised if they could serve 8 million people buying a dollar each, they could extrapolate up to 100 million customers, and that became their focus.
  • They realised the big impediment to scale was that the only payment option for their customers was to use their airtime, but the telecom company took 80 cents on the dollar, so they realised building an alternative payment platform was their problem to solve. This was a year before M-PESA launched.
  • Banks turned them away, thinking no one would trust making a payment from their bank using their phone. This is what M-PESA did and within a year, Safaricom had hit one million customers using M-PESA.
  • Solving this problem turned out to be phase two of their business. So beginning with selling mobile ringtones, four years later they built a mobile payment platform to bi-pass the telcos, and created something that could be sold to other businesses wanting a similar solution.
  • Ken speaks about having to change his management style as the business grew, having to create two layers of management. He also sets timelines based on what seems right, and really stretches the goals of his direct reports – but accepts he can’t do that for everyone.
  • Ken realised he had a problem with his management style when he wasn’t connecting with his staff. He hired management consultants to understand why. Faced with the decision to report their findings to him directly or to the group as a whole, he opted for the latter, simply because he knew then he’d have to act on the recommendations.

Resources:

Connect with Ken:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

jon shepard finding impact

FIP 35: Optimising business models for impact entrepreneurs, with Jon Shepard

After leaving the army in his late twenties, Jon’s work with the Prince’s Trust set him on a path of finding purpose in his life. Later, Jon worked with Gib Bulloch at Accenture Development Partners in 2003 on a model that became the influence for setting up Enterprise Growth Services at EY. After that experience, Jon realised he needed to do something with purpose rather than going back to the mainstream consulting model, which was high costs, high fees and high margins for large multinationals. He was attracted to social enterprise that were addressing the sustainable development goals through business, as potentially the most scalable and most sustainable way to do that.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Jon’s team does two things: optimise business models and ‘helping businesses get off the back of an envelope’
  • By ‘optimising business models’ he means identifying how businesses can be profitable i.e. taking significant costs out of the business without affecting the quality of service or product.
  • With getting businesses into scale mode, they help with things like IT systems, HR strategies, better financial controls and reporting.
  • The first step in optimising your company and making a push for profitability is to get a clear understanding of the numbers. They do this by collecting all the operational parameters of the business and the ratios between them that characterise performance.
  • A great example of taking costs out of the business is when moving to a mobile payment platform, so reducing costs of revenue collection.
  • Once a clear handle on the costs is known, and the main cost drivers are identified, they brainstorm with the management team to come up with solutions that would massively reduce the costs of the business.
  • This approach is an excellent decision making tool for any senior management to decide where to focus their limited resources on moving to profitability quicker.
  • EY’s Enterprise Growth Services is a not-for-profit, not-for-loss programme which means nearly 90% reduction in price compared to their maintsream work.
  • EY focuses on what they call ‘Impact Entrepreneurs’ which are social entrepreneurs plus great creators of jobs in low and middle income countries.

Links to resources

Connect with Jon:

  • Jon’s phone number and contact form on EY.com/EGS

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

 

David Goldberg Finding Impact

FIP 34: Avoiding Burnout, Maximum Employee Output and Hiring with a Dog, with David Goldberg

Founders Pledge asks tech entrepreneurs to make a commitment early on in their journey, that when they come into some liquidity, be that an exit or payout, they will give a portion of that to their favourite charity. This is an honest conversation and David opens up to some of his own confrontation with burnout and how he is creating a culture to protect from that happening to his staff. Listen on, and please use Twitter to add your voice to let David and others hear your views. Use the hashtag #findingimpact.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How David aims to build a start-up charity that looks and behaves like a hot, new tech startup, so continuously optimising for efficiency, fun place to work, build the right culture, work really hard, but build in the right incentives to make this happen.
  • He believes charity stops short of this vision for one significant reason: startup workers can work at an unsustainable rate because they may get rewarded at the end of the sprint via a big payout. And it’s a finite period. At charities this doesn’t happen. In fact, the light at the end of tunnel keeps getting further away. The problems in the world are so big. And the light at the end of the tunnel is so intangible, the equation of big effort for big reward doesn’t add up. In fact it normally equals burnout.
  • Against this backdrop, how do you compete for talented individuals who might otherwise go to a tech startup, and then motivate, incentivise and retain them in a structure that doesn’t reward with outsized financial incentives and the intangibility of lives improved are distant and un-relatable.
  • David believes the solution could be in technology, and pairing with the tech startup founders themselves – who have that disruptive, “I’m-not-going-take-no-for-an-answer” mentality – with the effective altruist thinking – of rigour and rationality.
  • David believes that a culture rooted in care and support for your fellow workers is a promising way to counteract this dichotomy.
  • To act on a commitment of care and support for employees, can mean company away-days, flexible working hours, working from home, generous vacation, and above average pay bands.
  • If social sector organisations who don’t have a tangible light at the end of the tunnel but push their employees hard, they need to create a really supportive culture that builds and maintains strong mental health in their workforce.
  • David’s thesis for hiring covers (1) brute intellect; (2) value alignment; and (3) experience.
  • Brute intellect before experience because what they do is different and they don’t want people to bring baggage of charity inefficiency. And if you’re smart you can learn anything.
  • To test for intellect in an interview David brings his dog along. This gives insight into how people react to an unpredictable member of the interview panel, and allows the interviewer to somehow see them for who they are.
  • To date, they’ve rarely advertised for new employees. They’ll speak to people within their community, which get posted to the communities, and groups online, and informal job boards.
  • For their hiring process, firstly there’s a phonecall with their Chief of Staff, then a phonecall with a person within the department they’ll be working in, then a face-to-face with their COO, then finally, with the CEO (and the dog). Then finally (again) they hangout with the entire team for the afternoon, then they decide.

Resources

Connect with David:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

David Goldberg Finding Impact

FIP 33: Charity Revenue via Consulting with David Goldberg of Founders Pledge

Founders Pledge asks tech entrepreneurs to make a commitment early on in their journey, that when they come into some liquidity, be that an exit or payout, they will give a portion to their favourite charity. David shares stories of what happens when the charity and tech startup world collide. He’s a charity founder on a mission – striving for the same efficiency and outsized returns of a tech startup, but instead of cash, he’s going for impact. Listen on and be inspired!

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • David’s early market research with founders was a resounding ‘yes’ – saying that they’ve been too tied up in growing their business that they’d love to think more intentionally about what they will do with their success when it happens, rather than being reactive on not making the impact they would want.
  • In 9 of 10 cases in his first meetings with founders, they were happy to make a legal commitment to donating a portion of their wealth to charity on exit.
  • Founders Pledge is also trying to get people to give more effectively. They do this by injecting rigour into the analysis of causes and interventions, to ensure high cost effectiveness and verifiable outcomes that are rooted in evidence.
  • David and his team have developed a methodology that listens to the stories of the pledgers, links those stories to a cause area, unpacks the cause area and their problems, and some of the proven solutions. This primes the pledgers so they are ready to give effectively when the time comes.
  • They bring members of Founders Pledge together once a quarter to lead them on their journey towards being a more effective philanthropist.
  • For example, they put on an event focusing on economic empowerment and brought in speakers including the chief economist of DFID, Rachel Glennerster from J-PAL, and Michael Faye from Give Directly.
  • Their events follow a similar structure each time, that begins with speaker presentations, and are followed by a panel discussion and engagement with the members.
  • They also send out reading lists weeks before the events that encourage members to engage in a meaningful way at the event.
  • David sees Founders Pledge to be more than moving money to effective charities – the problems of poverty and other causes are so big, that money alone isn’t going to solve them.
    Founders Pledge is targeting entrepreneurs because it is likely that they can also contribute to solving the problems as well, possibly through social enterprise.
  • Founders Pledge is free for its members – they have a core set of donors who fund their core costs. But the service they provide is so valuable to their members, that others organisations have wanted their services too. So they’ve decided to open shop as a consultancy doing research for non-pledgers to bring in revenue to support their core costs and make their model more sustainable.
  • For anyone considering bringing in an extra stream of revenue to their charity or social enterprise, make something people want, which is important both for the supporters of your organisation and for the recipients of your intervention. And if you can’t prove the impact, it’s probably not worth doing – for fear of causing harm to the people you’re trying to serve or being ineffective and wasting valuable resources.

Resources:

Connect with David:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

Jim Taylor Finding Impact

FIP 32: Designing an Organisation that People Love to Work For with Jim Taylor

Proximity Designs started in 2004 in Myanmar as a social enterprise focusing on the rural sector. Starting out with smallholder farmers, they first introduced a simple pump that dramatically improve water use and boosted productivity and incomes. They’ve since moved on to launching many products and services that can touch thousands of villages and millions of lives. Currently, their products are available to about 80% of the rural population with customers in over 10,000 villages.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Proximity Designs have structured their distribution network to reach millions of farmers in their villages.
  • Jim believes that the management and operational workforce needs to be made up by local staff otherwise you miss out the nuances and parts of the culture that are critical to serving customers.
  • Where skills are unavailable locally, Proximity Designs judiciously uses international experts to embed in the organisation and train staff, who will then do the training company wide.
  • They run an in-house training facility, called Proximity School, whose core course is difficult conversations. These are inevitable to any organisation, more so when the culture is about avoidance of confronting problems. The course aims to separate the emotion from the facts.
  • Proximity Designs teach staff using 10% classroom time, with the rest on the job learning, of which formal and informal feedback via managers is critical.
  • For example, frontline sales staff are trained in sales methodology, and their managers are trained in coaching. Managers ensure a structured conversation, called a “clear conversation”, on a regular basis, with their staff.
  • To attract great staff, they offer people the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in their work, and a great work culture that supports individual learning and development.
  • To keep a finger on the pulse of a large organisation, Jim stays in close contact with manager, plus they use an intranet to encourage discussion across all levels of the organisation.
  • Culture is paramount. If someone is a high achiever, but does not fit with the values, they’ll prefer to let them go than disrupt the culture.
  • One of Jim’s roles as CEO is to ensure people are engaged. Jim measures employee engagement to keep a track of the health of the company. It’s an intentional process, not just an email that goes to staff.
  • Results of employee engagement are published internally, and broken down by different department and location.
  • Jim talks about having learnt so much about organisations and their shortcomings before starting proximity designs, so recommends learning those failures early on in your career, if you intend to lead an organisation.
  • A story of failure Jim recounts, was about how the private sector started serving the rural energy sector much more efficiently than they could, so they exited that part of the company to focus their scarce talent and resources on other more important areas, like farm finance and advisory services. It was a difficult decision that paid off.

Resources:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!