The TRANSFORM Support Hub is a single platform where social entrepreneurs can access time- and money-saving guides/templates, a supportive community of peers to learn with and from, as well as direct connections to industry leaders and potential corporate partners who can help you grow your impact and revenues.
In February, we introduced “thematic learning groups” to bring these elements together in a time bound way. These groups are a monthly opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage in a specific aspect of the TRANSFORM Support Hub curriculum, work through associated guides with their peers and the MovingWorlds team, and then get feedback on the progress they’ve made from an Industry Leader.
Below, we’ll share an overview of our first thematic learning group, along with key takeaways shared during the closing Industry Leader webinar with Unilever’s Global Sustainability Director, Clive Allison.
Working Together to Find Product-Market Fit
Our March thematic learning group was centered around the topic of finding product market fit, a key enabler of growing revenues and impact. As entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said, “The life of any startup can be divided into two parts — before product/market fit and after product/market fit.”
To do this successfully, you need to clearly understand who your customer is, what problem they are trying to solve, and how you can solve that problem better than your competitors.
Over the past month, our group worked together to find product-market fit through 4 steps:
- Mapping the value chain to identify different buyers and strategic partners
- Brainstorming and adding details for each segment, then prioritizing them
- Translating those insights to a business model canvas in order to document assumptions and align on where to focus (Editor’s note: learn more about how to use the business model canvas as a social enterprise here)
- Creating customized value propositions and positioning statements for each segment
Our learning journey culminated in the closing Industry Leader webinar with Clive Allison, where participants had an opportunity to put these skills into practice and get direct feedback from Clive from the perspective of a corporate sustainability leader.
Product-Market Fit From a Corporate Perspective
In his role as Global Sustainability Director for Unilever, Clive is responsible for global partnerships and new business model development. Reflecting on his 20+ years of experience in research, development, and innovation, Clive shared, “What I’ve learned is that there is a huge opportunity when you partner. When you are looking to do something disruptive, partnerships are a prerequisite to success.” Below are key themes Clive shared about developing successful partnerships:
It’s a two-way street
Social enterprises have a lot to learn from corporations, but as Clive pointed out, corporations have a lot to learn from social enterprises too — particularly when it comes to business model innovation. Understanding that it’s a two-way street is key to pitching and building a successful cross-sector partnership. The most successful collaborations are truly a ‘win-win’ for both parties.
Frame your pitch through the corporate lens
As Clive explained, there are two lenses you can look at your value chain and business model through — your own, and the corporations. The first is how you, as the social entrepreneur sees it: this includes addressing immediate challenges like cashflow, sales, or market access. This is really helpful when working through the guides and templates to arrive at your value proposition, but when pitching that value proposition to a corporation, you need to step out of your perspective and into theirs.
When evaluating a pitch, corporations are looking for opportunities that are strategically aligned, have scale potential, and are a manageable risk. If you can prove those 3 things, that will lead to other questions, discussions and even opportunities.
Instead of leading with a general description of what your enterprise does, START with the problem you’re solving for the potential corporate partner. Think along the lines of, “I’ve got a way to solve your problem more quickly and easily than you thought was possible.” Once you’ve got their interest, THEN explain how your business does that.
Bring the evidence – or a plan to get evidence together
Potential corporate partners want to know that you’ve not only thought through your value proposition, but also validated it. Has your solution worked in similar contexts before? Be prepared with examples of something you’ve done in the market that is close to what you are proposing you can do for the potential corporate partner. Large companies in particular tend to be risk-averse, and evidence that it has worked before builds confidence it will work for them.
If you don’t have relevant examples or evidence to back up your claims, be ready to answer the question “What would a pilot look like, and how might we fund it together?” No one wants to take a chance without evidence, so think about how you and the corporation could work together to create some evidence, through a pilot, in a low cost and low risk way.
We’re so grateful to the inspiring social entrepreneurs who participated in this inaugural thematic learning group, and to Clive for sharing his time and insights with us. We look forward to launching the next thematic learning group in March on the topic of “Branding & Positioning” – if your social enterprise could benefit from this kind of targeted support, capacity-building, and networking, we invite you to join us by applying to the TRANSFORM Support Hub!