For months now, Andrew, John, and I have worked hard on standardizing
a 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,
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
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
Aside from these two steps, we have a series of rules under which we
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
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
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.