I have over 10 years of work experience with a global retail and investment bank, where I have been responsible for the execution of global strategic projects and defining operational strategies. I also love helping businesses grow and succeed. I have launched startups, raised seed capital, advised government agencies and created growth strategies for established companies. I enjoy the work that goes into building a company – and loved the projects I did for my clients. I have been fortunate to work in the Netherlands, Korea, Singapore, Dominican Republic, Belgium and the UK and really hope to see more of the world throughout my career.
My areas of expertise are in formulating business strategy, operations management, startups, new venture development and managing for innovation. And on the personal side, I love mountaineering – I have climbed Kilimanjaro and Mont Blanc and hope to climb a few more mountains in the future.
I came across Grow Movement when I heard Chris Coghlan speak at the TEDx London Business School event in 2012. I realised that I could make a real difference, by giving advice over mobile phone, to economically empower the poorest people on earth.
A few years ago I travelled in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and witnessed that there is a lot of poverty in these places, but also that the people are working hard to provide a living. Afterwards, I always thought of myself as fortunate, and when I learned of Grow Movement I thought this was an excellent way of helping entrepreneurs and making a difference. I really liked the fact that you build up a relationship with somebody over a period of time.
Mirriam wanted to start up a nursery school in Malawi. Currently less than one in three children go to a pre-school nursery and as a result they miss out on much of the early child development. The schools that are there offer either i) high standard, high cost and unaffordable to most, or ii) low standard, low cost with limited focus on early child development. She wanted to offer what the parents want a good nursery which focus on child development but at an affordable price.
I remember the first phone call. Although I was prepared, there was a level of nervousness or anxiety from my side, and I think the same for Mirriam. Of course I had to get used to her accent, and she probably mine. However once we started to share some things about ourselves we quickly found something that we had in common. She is in the catering business just as my wife is and that really helped to break the ice. We talked a bit more about myself, my family and why we joined Grow Movement. The same for Mirriam – she told me about herself, herself and her business ideas.
Our challenge in this project was how to provide the foundation for Mirriam to start up a new business. As with any business there are a lot of assumptions that are made. Our focus was to really understand these assumptions and then work together to test whether our thinking was right by interviewing potential customers and assessing the strength and weaknesses of the business models.
I have had approximately 10 sessions with Mirriam so far and we are close to the end. Every week we have our call, which most of the time takes around 45 minutes or so. We found that is often enough to discuss the latest developments, review our actions from the last week and decide on our next steps. We agreed in our first session that I take notes and share this by email afterwards. This is really to ensure that we understood everything correctly.
We decided early on that our overall objective was to really learn what it takes to start a nursery in Malawi, and document our findings in a business plan. This gave us our framework and the specific goals we worked on such as marketing approach, our business model, our operational and financial plan.
It’s always more challenging to consult when you are not an expert – but honestly speaking how many times do we give advice where we can really say that we are an expert in a particular field? Common sense, asking questions, really listening to the answers and sharing thoughts is probably a better way to consult rather than the ‘I know it all' approach.
There were not too many cultural challenges, however I believe that you need to be understanding and have a level of flexibility. I realised that in our partnership we work towards the same goals, and there will be always challenges to overcome in a positive way.
Probably the hardest thing is not to be overambitious and listen to the needs of your entrepreneur. You are not the executive director of their business, you are there to help them. It’s easy to think there are certain things you may be able to complete whilst in reality it’s a much harder challenge to achieve.
In terms of professional benefits, I believe it further developed my interpersonal skills to build up rapport and establish a relationship based on mutual respect. Equally it was good to share my experience on strategy formulation as this way it makes you think how to apply it in an emerging market contexts.
I have always enjoyed the calls with Mirriam. She is as happy to speak to me as I am to her. It provides me with a sense of joy to see things coming together.
We have completed a full business plan, and Mirriam is now finalising the research before looking at different buildings to start up the school. I hope that in the next few months, the school that we have talked about will be a reality.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s a wonderful experience and there is so much value in sharing experiences. But make sure you can commit the time required to work with your entrepreneur.
Personal, Motivating, Heart warming, Sharing, Memorable.