No matter what industry you are in, all startups experience adversity. Our startup is unique to many in the Venture Lab program because we are the only internationally based business. Before taking this project on, we considered the struggles and obstacles that would face us in the future. We had not met our partners in Rwanda, we had little knowledge of the industry, but we knew there was a problem and that it had to be solved. Through Venture Lab, we were fortunate enough to take a trip to the site in Kigali and meet our partners and conduct research. This gave us an advantage when facing our obstacles because it gave us the opportunity to experience how business was conducted in Africa, build relationships with partners, as well as conduct important research that could not have been done otherwise. Some of the obstacles we faced were, a language barrier, a completely foreign business atmosphere, and uncertainty about the market and industry. Not all entrepreneurs experience these same obstacles and struggles but they can be put into broad categories that will cover many industries.
Uncertainty is a huge obstacle, especially if you are not an expert in the field you are pursuing. I am by no means, an expert in animal husbandry and the meat industry. To overcome this obstacle, it is important to do your homework. I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn about your industry and market. This can be done through reading, research, and surveys/interviews. I do not think I can tell you how many articles and chapters I have read when learning about our specific industry. Also, we took the advantage of time on our trip by talking to as many industry leaders and experts as we could. Surveys are also a good vehicle when you are in your discovery phase. They are simple to create and easy to mass market. The success of your interviews and surveys are dependent on the type of questions you ask. I have found it best to force the participant to have an opinion, do not let them give you a short answer. Also, it is best to ask questions that are easily followed up. The first questions can be simple but make sure that you can use those questions to open up discussion and to dig deeper.
Networking has a huge impact on the success of your business, especially in the startup stages. We used almost every opportunity we had with industry leaders to build a rapport. Knowing people in your industry attributes to the success of your company because they can offer advice as well as set you up with other industry leaders who can help or are interested in your venture. For instance, while we were in Africa, we met with several experts in the agriculture industry. We had several meetings arranged with other experts by the people we had met with. They did not only provide unique insight, they opened doors in places we never thought we could go. One specific example was with after the meeting with one of the members on the Rwanda Development Board. At the conclusion of the meeting we asked if there were any other people in the area that they would recommend to meet with. Two days later we were in a meeting in the US Embassy with one of the members of US Aid in Rwanda. The story does not end there. After returning home from the trip I reached out to our new contact at the embassy and he assisted me in gathering research from our target market. So if there is one thing you can take from this, it should be that you can never shake too many hands.