This stage is about turning ideas into reality. Fundamentally, you are acquiring the resources that you need and you are working out how to put them together to create the product. The end point for this stage is that you have demonstrated that you can reliably deliver your intended value proposition, that the value proposition is attractive to customers, and that your financial model is robust. For conservation enterprises, there’s the added need to demonstrate that your business delivers the intended impact.
Acquiring resources and creating your product are not sequential activities – you need resources to pilot your product and you need to demonstrate that your product is going to be successful to acquire resources. It’s an iterative, dynamic and often chaotic process that needs rigour and discipline to succeed.
Start-up Planning and Management
Within this stage, it’s easy to burn through time and resources without getting to the end-point of a demonstrably viable enterprise. Maintaining cohesion and direction while taking a disciplined approach to when and how you modify your business model is key. I want to introduce some tools and resources to ensure this stage is successful.
A solid project plan takes you from your current state to your desired end state (your business model from the previous state). It identifies all the resources you need to acquire by when, which is a progressive task, and how the iterative cycle of piloting fits in with that progression. By allocating responsibilities and setting deadlines, you shift the focus from ideas to output. The classic way to plan is with a GANTT chart agreed by the team, kept at the front of everyone’s mind through group reviews of progress.
There’s a number of online tools that you can use to manage the process, the most popular being Asana, Basecamp and Trello. I prefer Asana because the tasks articulate to a GANTT chart-type view. If you’ve got a dispersed team, with a whole lot of documents flying around, consider using Slack to manage the communications flow and keep track of what is the latest version of whatever it is you are working on.
You’ve already listed the resources you need in your business model from the last stage. They include finance, people, equipment, land, skills, relationships and so on. How you acquire them varies, but there’s three common requirements: These are your ability to pay, the power of your idea, and the credibility of your team. You will always need at least two out of three.
- Finance – As a conservation enterprise, there’s a range of finance options, from grants to impact investing. You may be an initiative of an established organisation which is investing in your idea, or you may be a group of people looking to make things happen. As a conservation enterprise, you have to have some attachment to a particular place, and you can leverage that to acquire resources. There’s many sources of funds, depending on where you are in your start-up journey. Here’s a few to get you started: Funds for NGOs, (good for finding out about international development grants generally) Terra Viva, Ashoka, &Green, Partnerships for Forests, Schwab Foundation, Skoll Foundation and Althelia. Participate in social enterprise incubators and competitions. Don’t forget to practice and hone your pitch – here is a good template.
- People – collectively, the team you put has to bring all of the skills needed to deliver the value proposition. Everything from the relationships you need to production know-how. Reach out to great people inside and outside your networks. This commitment doesn’t need to be full-time. Lots of people take on side-projects and want to make great ideas happen.
- Licences – one thing I did want to specifically mention was licences and permits. Research the requirements for your industry and work out how to get them early. It can be a time-consuming and costly process, and you don’t want a lengthy official approval be the thing that holds up the enterprise’s development.
Remember, this is a scaling process. Early on you may only need a small grant to get things going, or 20 hours’ work from graphic designer to do some mock-ups. As you iteratively pilot and acquire resources, you build your credibility and attractiveness to bring on investors, experts, and relationships with potential customers.
It’s never too early to make your product. Even if it’s just a tiny batch, a taste of what the experience is going to be like. Having something that you can test with your target market and show people makes resource acquisition easier as it builds credibility and delivers valuable insight – and the earlier you make change the easier it is to change.
Early production, quick, testing and modification of the production process or value proposition is the lean start-up model. There’s a lot of info online, and within this approach, methods have proliferated. Here’s a great article giving an overview of some of them.
The start-up phase is an exciting time, with ideas flowing thick and fast, especially as the team grows and new people come in. Without controls in place, it’s easy to draft away from the mission, and get stuck in product development purgatory as the design changes on the fly. He’s a few tips to keep the discipline within an iterative, lean start–up approach.
- Freely experiment with the process. The process is the dynamic element in iterative product development. It is the one thing you shouldn’t hesitate to change to improve the experience and deliver the value proposition. Just make sure you document it so that you can repeat it.
- Product development is about creating the value proposition. Test your product to see if it does offer what you put at the centre of your business model. If the product doesn’t deliver, change the process until it does. For example, one of the organisations I’m supporting is working on authentic, meaningful tribal culture experiences. Until we can say that we deliver on this value proposition, we can’t say that we have a product to market.
- Don’t change your value proposition without a great reason. Testing the value proposition is different from testing the product. Once you have a product that delivers it you can test to see if it is attractive to your target market. If not – change the value proposition then, and not before. Remember your value proposition came from extensive market research, so don’t junk it unless you have evidence better than your existing market research.
- Test your marketing as much as your value proposition – being able to get enough customers to generate income for the business is just as important at having a great product. You need to both create and deliver your value proposition. So test your marketing early as well.
- Finally, control consistency. Can your reliably produce the product? Consistency is about quality management, so include checks and controls in your processes.
Your business isn’t developing in a vacuum. It is having an impact on the people it is intended to influence, and ultimately change the incentives to revitalise culture or protect the environment. While the incentives may not yet be at the right scale to change decisions, your target actors should be engaged and interested. Understanding their responses to the pilot production process will allow you to demonstrate that your enterprise is going to have its intended impact, particularly if you are looking for funding from impact investors or donors.
Showing you have a product that consistently delivers the value proposition, that the value proposition is attractive to customers that the numbers add up, and that target actors are engaging is all you need to demonstrate that your conservation enterprise is viable. At this point, you should be able to attract the remaining finance and people you need to go to the next level – and there’s a few options at this point. The final blog post in this sequence will go through them.