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Let’s not forget Nepal so soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Have most of us forgotten Nepal already?  Was it a blip on the screen of our TV’s and on the prayer lists of our churches?  My TV news these days is full of news of forest fires in the West, shark attacks in the East and tornados in Mid-America.  These are certainly important – and Nepal seems so far away.

Let’s not forget to pray and to contribute to business efforts in that country.  Jo Plummer on the Business As Mission website reminds us:

"We know of at least 15 BAM companies in Katmandu and beyond, including those in:
  • Aquaponics
  • Garment manufacturing
  • Information technology – cloud services
  • Information technology – software development
  • Guest house
  • Coffee roasting
  • Coffee shop/café 
  • Food production and retail
  • Outdoor equipment retail
  • Jewelry making
  • Trekking

She continues, “Please pray for these companies – the business owners, their teams and local employees. Pray for wisdom, peace and provision as they aid others, rebuild and try and get back to ‘business as usual’.” You can read Jo's full blog, "Pray, Give or Go to Nepal? Pray for BAM Companies!"

I wrote in an IBEC blog shortly after the first earthquake in Nepal, “Every human in crisis needs relief from the stress and hopelessness of the crisis, but then they need empowerment, dignity and resources to grow and develop. Job creation does just that. We think that in today’s world Jesus would bring both immediate help (like how he healed the blind man) and long term focus on life and faith. What is most needed to complement the relief services that have poured into Nepal?  If we take the long view from now until eternity, we should focus on job creation to alleviate poverty, social injustice and sickness.”  

Job creation is a critical felt-need in Nepal, with 40% of the workforce unemployed, even before the earthquake. Poverty only exasperates the effects of a natural disaster, with low quality building and lack of resources meaning that many people have lost what little they had and will struggle to rebuild. 

One of the businesses in Katmandu that survived the earthquake is Top of the World Coffee (TOWC).  They are having record sales and they are serving the market at a critical time, according to IBEC’s Ken Leahy who has worked in Nepal with TOWC as well as other Great Commission companies.  

Higher sales means more jobs and more jobs means better lives and it means more people seeing Kingdom values being lived out in the marketplace.  These relationships lead on toward people coming to know who Jesus is.  For example one of the employees of TOWC came to faith in Christ a year ago, and just recently he led the local church worship service.  In the words of owner, Dale, “…seeing him up there this morning made all the challenges of running a ‘fair and ethical’ business in Nepal’s frontier economy seem worthwhile.”

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Quilts and a question

Monday, July 20, 2015

I just looked out my office window on this sunny day in mid-July.  Our little town of 2,000 residents is swarming with about 10,000 tourists who have come to the largest outdoor quilt show in North America.  It is amazing! Thousands of people; overweight dogs on leashes; women with gigantic handbags; a restored 1931 Model A displaying artistic wares; old men being towed around by their wives looking at the intricacies of massive quilts; people licking $5 ice cream cones; men drinking $8 coffee drinks; and streets blocked for the swarm of people while the bluegrass band played Night Train to Memphis.  Most of the people are at least nominal “Jesus followers”.

But as I walked around, my mind went to a trip several of us made to western India not long ago, with similarly impressive fabrics created by their masters like they have been doing for centuries.  But with no dogs and only scrawny cows; women with no handbags and few possessions; no old restored cars – in fact no cars at all; no ice cream and no expensive coffees; and for sure no country, western and blues bands.  Just poverty!  Most of the people were followers of the prophet Mohammed!  

We were part of a tour put on by a Business as Mission company operating as a for-profit business and a kingdom opportunity.  Their company was created with a Triple Bottom Line in mind – a profitable business helping a community; the creation of jobs; and helping people see who Jesus is.

The contrast between the two scenes could not be starker.  In fact it is tear jerking!  I hurt inside.  Before me today I see overfed and overpaid Americans driving into town in myriads of Class A motor homes paying $10 or more for a small helping of pulled pork while they look at world class art fabrics.  While the artisans of a half a world away ply their craft with few viewers and with one meal a day – if they are that fortunate.  They walk for miles for the basics of life such as water; live and die and few people know about them or even care. 

How can these things be?

The question is rhetorical – there is no answer or there is a myriad of answers.  But I get up each morning determined to be more a part of the solution than part of the problem – a solution that brings development to a few of the billions of the world who barely survive - and a gospel that gives them hope.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

6 things I learned in 6 days in Haiti

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I had been in Haiti before and had even seen extreme poverty before, but I was reminded that we can always learn something new and sometimes we even need to re-learn things over and over again.

1.  I learned that it is important to listen and observe before speaking.  Even though our four-man team determined ahead of time to listen first, I was reminded that it is easier said than done!  We did listen and we did observe but sometimes I was too quick to suggest an idea or to ask the ‘no-no’ “why?” question.  I learned again that the question is much better received if I would say, “How do you go about irrigating this row of bananas?” rather than, “Why do you send the water that way?”  It was important that we send a signal that we were listening and learning before making suggestions.

2.  I learned that change does not come easy – it takes time.  When people who have done things a certain way for generations, a consultant has to first demonstrate the benefit of doing something different and then do it with humility.  For example, we went to Haiti ready to give advice and training for starting a profitable and sustainable business.  However three days of observation showed us that certain things must come first and they take time – such as infrastructure, education and community development.  A well-designed business may be useless if there is no road to it or the electric grid is unpredictable.  Transformation does not usually happen in one fell swoop, nor in a wrenching revolution, or with a solitary lucky break.  Jim Collins calls it an “organic, cumulative process” in his chapter on the flywheel momentum. 1

3.  I learned that just because it is different, it is not wrong.  In our world of financial models and spread sheets – sometimes we learn most from generations of experience.  Some call it bottoms up technology!  In a simple economy change begins with the details of life as it is, and works upward to a higher conceptual level. It is possible that metrics can be in the head of a plantain farmer and that is not wrong just because we automatically default to a spreadsheet.

4.  I learned that faith and work are integrated.  Haiti, like most of the world outside the West, does not dichotomize the sacred and the secular.  God is the God of everything and everything we do is to be for the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).  God controls the weather – even when there is a drought!  When we spend time bringing water to the arid north of Haiti, as the Robinsons are doing, we are working for the glory of God.  We are exercising our faith.  We are living out our faith.  We are integrating our faith with our work. God uses all our skills as we live our lives by faith.

5.  I learned that relationships can be more important than what we realize.  From time to time we got a glimpse of the fact that we did not know what we did not know.  We only learned it when we built relationships with people. Perhaps the most beneficial half-day of the whole trip was walking around the plantation talking to farmers who lived and worked on the land.  They told us about their families; about their lives; about growing plantains.  As we listened to the stories of their lives, we had a richer conversation about the things we came to talk about – providing more consistent water to the plantain farms.

6.  I learned that we need each other, and as Ben Barr says in his blog, “Faith is a team sport.”  Robert Fulghum in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten says a kindergarten learning is:  “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”  As four of us teamed up together to bring some help to the irrigation project we realized our skills, experiences, and knowledge were complementary.  We were a team and as we honored and respected that, we coalesced to provide a good end result.

1 Collins, Jim. Good to Great.  Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.  2001
Fulghum, Robert.  All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Villard Books, New York, NY, 1990.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

WATER — or lack of it!

Monday, July 06, 2015

WATER!  I never thought much about it.  I was born and raised on Canada’s west coast with rainwater and lakes all around.  I lived for 21 years in the Amazon rain forest!  I suffered the rainy winters of Seattle for five years.  I can see the snow pack on the Cascade mountains from where I am writing this; and a 500 ml bottle of water at my local Costco cost me a mere five cents.  Until I went to Haiti that is!

I was one of four IBEC consultants who arrived on the arid north coast of Haiti on June 15, where thousands of people lack water – for drinking, for washing, for irrigation.  North Haiti is in crisis.  We had the audacity to believe we could make a difference in one week.

Well, Bruce and Deb Robinson have been there more than three decades – and they are making a difference!  Bruce and his team have built 23 dams on a small river; they have tapped into scores of wells and springs in the hills and piped the water to within reach of the people; they are working to bring river water via irrigation to parched soils for the growing of plantains.

That is where we came in – we came to listen and learn; and we wanted to assist the Robinsons in bringing the water of life in a land of desperate poverty and thirst.  We were engineers and managers – we knew things.  We could help.  Maybe – maybe not!

We interviewed poor would-be farmers like Jeanne who said, “There is a future for my family growing plantains here…but the biggest problem is lack of water.”   Others continued, “…we love Bruce because he loves us and is trying to bring us water.”    

It is our desire that the irrigation project we saw and evaluated will be sustainable; will create jobs; and will bring lasting water to the plantain growers of the area called Vital.  As in English, vital means ‘essential’ in the French language.  Water is essential to the survival of Vital, North Haiti.  Sure we shared a few ideas; produced some spread sheets and diagrams and projected what the future could look like.  But when it all boils down to the bottom line – it is all about WATER!

IBEC was founded on a couple of key tenets:  first that every human deserves the basics of this temporal life: the dignity of a job and the basics of food, water and shelter.  Secondly every human deserves to learn how faith in Jesus provides the way to eternal life. Water provides a real picture of what humans need – physically and spiritually! 

Prize-winning photographer, David Uttley, a good friend of mine, has published a book entitled Thirst.  He states that without water, the poor are trapped in a downward spiral which makes it impossible to break out of their terrible plight.  But Uttley affirms, “…we each can do our part to meet this overwhelming need.”  We did our small part for North Haiti, and we pray that it saves people from the debilitating effects of thirst and brings people into contact with the ‘water of life’ (Revelation 21:6).

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Five keys to the success of an IBEC consulting team

Monday, June 29, 2015

On June 15, four IBEC consultants landed in Haiti’s capital and transferred to a small plane for the north coast of the country.  From the landing in Port au Paix, we were transported into the north interior – a vast area of Haiti devastated by drought, famine, poverty and alienation.  Our team was led be engineer and international business development professional, Ed Spence and included Kevin Spence (MBA), Jeremy Kaufmann (civil engineer) and Larry Sharp (IBEC Leadership Team).  We quickly observed why Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

We were warmly (no pun intended, considering the 100+ degrees of heat) received by our hosts, engineer Bruce and wife Deb Robinson who had served these people tirelessly for over three decades.  That very week Bruce was heading up 7 different projects focusing on infrastructure and Deb was feeding up to 18 people per day.  They thanked us profusely and we ourselves felt the team experience was one of our best ever.  Why so?

1. Clarity of Focus

We went with a clear purpose which kept us focused before, during and after the project.  We kept coming back to why we were there, which kept us “out of the weeds” as one member loved to articulate.  We were there to help develop a private irrigation pumping installation in order to sell river water to plantain farmers so they could have a consistent water supply.  Droughts there in the north of Haiti often last for a year or longer.  We anticipated that end results would include a business plan, financial planning, capital proposals and marketing strategies.

2. Commitment to the Task

The entire team was committed as evidenced by the fact that three of the team members were taking vacation time, or work with no pay, to come on the trip.  They were coming to a desperately poor country, bringing their own food for two meals a day (boy did we enjoy Deb’s dinners), and sleeping under mosquito nets in desperately hot conditions.  This was not a trip with a day at the beach as a reward; nor did we ever anticipate a cool rainy night.  All were committed. And the commitment began before the trip as we made plans, developed work strategies along with Bob Johnstone, who remained in the USA. We traveled by 4x4 vehicle over donkey trails for hours at a time.  The team was committed to the adventure and rallied behind every difficulty and task at hand.

3. Complementary Skills

Because the project was heavy on engineer skills and perspective, a total of three engineers (Bruce, Ed and Jeremy) were in their glory putting together formulas, measurements and spread sheets.  Those with more of a management perspective (Larry, Kevin and Ed) focused on how this project could be profitable and sustainable.  All of us cared about job creation and how it all could improve the conditions of this poor region of hundreds of thousands of people.  The Triple Bottom Line of BAM (Business As Mission) was functionally central to all that we aimed for:
a. A profitable and sustainable pumping facility
b. Creation of jobs in the community – primarily farming
c. Developing of disciples of Jesus

4. Cooperative Effort

There was full cooperation in all that we did.  We came with a desire to be learners by listening to the Robinsons and others we encountered.  We visited former and current projects, asked lots of questions and interviewed several farmers, asking questions like: What are your needs?  What are your current obstacles?  How can we be of help?  We met amazing guys like Shadrach, Pastor Evance, and farmers Edner, Moises and Eugene.

As a team we shared devotions and prayed together, we planned each day together and debriefed at the end of the day.  Even though there were times we did not agree, there was total respect for one another and a spirit of teamwork.  Together we wanted to contribute to an enormous task; we wanted to make a difference.

5. Consequential Results

Well motivated people like to see results and we were no exception.  We all would admit that the three days of making observations, doing interviews and sharing perspectives left us confused and conflicted.  Could we make sense of all we were experiencing?  But things started to come together by the end of the third day.  This left the next two days for putting it all together.

A plan emerged.  We first agreed on a series of descriptive charts which put infrastructure, utilities, community development and small business development in perspective to each other.  What do you do in an area where there is no infrastructure (roads, power, phone service, market structure, etc.)?  What comes first?  Where does business (our purpose in coming) fit in?  We wanted to be successful. We wanted Bruce and Deb to be glad we came. We wanted the lives of these people to improve. I think we accomplished in one week something that contributed to those ends.  

Our report and subsequent efforts focus on spin-off businesses from the pumping installation.  We saw the water pumping unit as a utility with the support of businesses like maintenance and supply; marketing of farming products; fuel delivery sales, and similar ancillary businesses.  We drafted plans, metrics, qualitative measurements, marketing strategies and training ideas.  We drew upon the helpful models of Jim Collins and others.  Could it be that we will see the flywheel momentum in this project?

As we boarded the 12-passenger Caravan plane, we all felt an overwhelming satisfaction from knowing that more than 200 families will have a sustainable livelihood, largely due to the work of Bruce and his team, but we had a small role in that. As all goes well with the anticipated pumping stations up and down Les Trois Rivieres, many businesses can be anticipated and more families thanking God for progress in a dry and thirsty land.  The first installation is nearly completed and we will soon see water flowing to the farms.  This tangible result is a sweet taste of victory – for sustainability, for job creation and for the name of Jesus.

Kevin reminded us of Isaiah 43: 19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Nothing could be more relevant as we anticipate physical, social and spiritual results.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

How Jacob built his wealth

Monday, June 22, 2015

This week's blog is written by a friend, Patrice Tsague founder and CEO of Nehemiah Project.  He takes a story from the Bible and finds practical truths for starting a business which will build wealth.  Whether the reader is starting something for the first time, or is a long time owner, this reminder from the life of Jacob will encourage and stimulate us to even greater success.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

How Jacob built his wealth

By Patrice Tsague

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Tsague. Reposted from the original blog with permission.  

Can the Lord provide guidelines to His children on how to build wealth during difficult economic times? Of course the answer is, “Yes.” Bad times are nothing new to God. He specializes in helping us make good out of bad situations. What the devil means for evil, God always utilizes for our good. 

Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. -- Genesis 30:32

In the book of Genesis, we find Jacob, the grandson of a wealthy businessman. He has experience working with sheep -- his grandfather, Abraham, made his money through the sheep and cattle business, and so did his father. Jacob is sent to his uncle, Laban, to get a wife. Laban is also an entrepreneur in the sheep and cattle business. Jacob makes an agreement with his uncle to work for him for seven years in exchange for his youngest daughter. However, Laban tricks him into working for fourteen years for two of his daughters, the youngest and the oldest, even though Jacob was interested only in the youngest. Through the duration of Jacob’s time working for Laban, the Lord prospered Laban’s business.
Now with a growing family, Jacob requests permission from his uncle to leave and go back to his country and to make provision for his own household. His uncle refuses to let Jacob go, recognizing that his business has increased tremendously in revenue since Jacob has been working for him. He therefore requests that Jacob name his wages. “How much will it take for you to stay?” he asks. Jacob does not name a salary, but rather asks for equity partnership in the business.
Equity partnership is an exchange of money or work for a percentage of shares in the business. This approach increased Jacob’s risk, but also increased his chances of becoming wealthy. He understood his value and recognized that no amount of money offered by Laban could have been enough to pay him what he was worth, since he was the one with the expertise.
He therefore exchanged his expertise not for salaries and benefits, but for an equity stake in the business. As a result of this shrewd business transaction by Jacob, the Lord gave him clever ideas and further prospered the works of his hands. Jacob became exceedingly prosperous and had male and female servants, large flocks, camels and donkeys (Gen 30:43).

What were the keys to Jacob building his wealth?
  • He obeyed his father (Gen 28:1-5).
  • He believed the promises of God (Gen 28:12-19)
  • He trusted God for his provision (Gen 28:20).
  • He committed to tithing (Gen 28:22).
  • He was faithful over another man’s business (Gen 30:27).
  • He recognized his value (Gen 30:30).
  • He was committed to providing for his family (30:30c).
  • He was as “wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove” (Gen 30:31-32, Matt 10:16)
  • He was not afraid to take risks (Gen 30:31-33)
  • He was diligent in business (Gen 30:35-43).
Whether you work for someone else or operate your own business, allow Jacob’s story to encourage you and give you insight into the ways of God. God rewards faithfulness and permits you to also look out for your own interests and the interests of your family. Though Jacob accumulated great wealth working with Laban, the time came for them to part ways and for Jacob to put his immediate family’s interests first. Eventually God told Jacob to move on and return to his home country (Gen 31).
What is God directing you to do? Are you ready to do something shrewd, risky, or new when God directs you to? May the God of Jacob give you insight and prosper the works of your hands in order that you and those who depend on you may experience the fullness of what God has in store. His plans are always for our good, and His kindness is everlasting.

A job can save a life: it’s what Jesus would do!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last night I listened to an agronomist friend tell a story of an acquaintance of his who provides consultancy help to the filbert (hazelnut) industry in Turkey.  My friend Dave graduated from Oregon State University and is also an expert in modern techniques of hazelnut production.

Turkey produces about 75% of the world’s filbert crop.  The industry is historic and still very much tied to the 400,000 family farms which grow filberts the same way they have for centuries.  These farmers have not learned modern techniques of pruning, composting, irrigation, fertilizing, hedging and nursery use.  However many of these families are open to foreign experts sharing their knowledge.

In one region where the farms are small, the people very poor and there is much suffering this hazelnut expert began to share techniques in culturally appropriate ways and things began to change.  The farmers devoted their efforts toward the better methodologies they were learning and their crops began to produce a higher yield and a higher quality.  Life began to improve.

One day Dave was visiting this hazelnut consultant friend.  They were talking about how they could make an even greater difference in the hazelnut industry of the area.  At a certain moment the consultant said to Dave, “See that little girl over there?” as he pointed to a young girl working in the field.  The father of the girl had said to him a few days earlier, “I now don’t have to sell my girl to the human trafficking people of this area, because I have a job which now sustains my family.”

This consultant did not see himself as a social entrepreneur.  He did not come to Turkey to grow a social enterprise industry.  He simply wanted to use his expertise to help people.  It is pretty simple really.  He was blessed with a skill, an experience, and an ability; and he realized it could be used to help people in a world of poverty.  The net result was profitability, changed lives, and the ability to avoid losing one’s daughter to the human trafficking industry.  The next step is to start a consulting business and provide even more expertise and more help to this hurting area.

Jim Clifton in his book The Coming Jobs War affirms a simple business principle, “Innovation has no value until it creates something a customer wants…what customers at any level really want is somebody who deeply understands their needs and becomes a trusted partner or advisor.” (pages 84, 121).  The thesis of Clifton’s book is that leaders of countries and cities should focus on creating good jobs because as jobs go, so does the fate of nations.  Jobs bring prosperity, peace, and human development – but long-term unemployment ruins lives, cities, and countries.

In Christian terms, we call it “what Jesus would do”.  Jesus determined what the customer needed – blind men, hungry people, hurting people, sick men – and he understood their need and addressed those needs.  He is our model for 21st century decisions which bring jobs, prosperity and development; and thus we can address even further social needs such as human trafficking of children.

IBEC promotes social entrepreneurship, but sometimes we simply say “we are about job creation” whether as a social entrepreneur or not.  Job creation has so many by-product results for the good of the poor, and it is “what Jesus would do”.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Freedom business

Monday, June 08, 2015

Last week Forbes Magazine published an interesting article by someone who partners with IBEC, Michelle Pride.  IBEC’s Marcia Leahy is a member of the Freedom Business Alliance (FBA) and works with Michelle.  Having met Michelle some years ago and highly valuing the work being done by Marcia and the FBA, I champion the progress Michelle is making in providing sales opportunities for freedom businesses and other social entrepreneurs. 

Trading Hope is all about Small-Medium Enterprise; it is all about values in the marketplace, it is all about social enterprise; it is all about rescue.   Read more from this Forbes article by Anne Field: An Etsy For Social Entrepreneurs.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

BAM business failures - part 2

Monday, June 01, 2015

Last week’s blog presented four reasons that I have observed for Kingdom business failures.  These businesses were all in the high risk corridor in Africa and Asia (10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator).  We talked about the business having the right person, being in the right place, with the right product and the right plan.

Sometimes a business in these high risk areas may have everything right: they may have a good entrepreneurial person, be in a place where research shows a strong growth sector, have a product that clearly creates value, and have a plan that is working.  What can then bring a company down?

Local political opposition or corruption  
I just reviewed a debrief we did of a manufacturing firm on an island in Indonesia.  We had helped the owner buy the firm, develop his business model, develop clients, and set up an accounting process.  However after about three years of successful operation the leased land for the factory was recalled by the owner for the building of a hotel, and despite many efforts, other locations were denied.  The company was forced to cease operations because of political cronies who kept other properties tied up.  The owner is now back in the USA, with all bills paid, all workers have other jobs and he retained a couple of million dollars in profits for his next endeavor.  There are several indications that the community was impacted for good in social and spiritual areas.

 Another business which IBEC Ventures helped start in Central Asia was a consulting company.  The owner partnered with a national attorney in good faith.  After about two years, with some good success in the business and several big international company clients, the national partner absconded with all the money and forced Peter to close down the company.  He was not discouraged but started another firm in the same city.

National factors  
One of IBEC’s most storied success businesses was in a tour company in a large country in Asia. It was well on its way to clear achievement of the Triple Bottom Line (profitability and sustainability, job creation, and social/spiritual value).  However legal decisions at the national level made it impossible for the owner to return. A visa for a newborn was refused and increased taxes seemed formidable. While the business still technically exists and an infusion of top leadership can bring it on line shortly, it does demonstrate the tenuous situation that expats have living and owning businesses abroad.

Running out of capital  
A Kingdom placement company was set up in Latin America for the purpose of recruiting executives and other high level employees to take jobs in the Middle East.  IBEC helped develop the business plan and other startup components.  However, although the company started operations and discovered a market for their services, they soon ran out of cash.  It is a wise idea for startups to raise enough capital before starting for all the startup costs plus one year of running costs.

Identity issues
There has to be a clear business purpose and identity from the start.  Some would-be entrepreneurs have plans that include more of a ministry, humanitarian or NGO focus and they forget the importance of the Triple Bottom Line or they find it impossible to make the business model work. If a person is unsure of his or her identity it can bring confusion to the business, the community and to all involved.  

Such was true for a project which started out as an NGO effort to purify drinking water.  Because the large Asian country decided they were going to stop visas to NGO practitioners, IBEC tried to help this worthy effort to become a for-profit business.  It was very difficult because the owners were trained and prepared for NGO and Not-for-Profit work and it was hard to identify with the business community, develop business skills, market the product and legitimately qualify for a business visa and achieve the Triple Bottom Line.  The business which had potential did not really get off the ground, even though the NGO water company had a viable product, an obvious demand, and the owners were skilled in the product.

The story of Soichiro Honda also includes many business failures and losses, but with his eventual success he wrote, “To me success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents 1 percent of your work which results only from the 99 percent that is called failure.” Today Honda has over 100,000 employees.

Known today as a business magnate, philanthropist and social entrepreneur, Henry Ford actually failed several times:
  • He burned through all the money from his first group of investors without producing a car.
  • He eventually produced a car and raised another $60,000 in share capital, but his Detroit Auto Company went bankrupt.
  • In the 1920s, Henry Ford refused to update the Model T car, leading sales to fall dramatically.
  • Ford tried to launch a political career, but never succeeded.
Yet Ford played a tremendous role in shaping car engineering, assembly line production, business, pacifism, social leadership in business, education and other areas.

Rather than viewing failure as doom, Ford saw it as an indication that improvement was needed. Perhaps that’s how he seized on the opportunity to refine Model T manufacturing, reducing assembly time from 14 hours to about 90 minutes.  Said Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again; this time more intelligently.”

BAM businesses do not always succeed, even with the 4 P’s in place. But we know that Kingdom purposes can still be achieved, whether through the failed business itself…or the experience gained and applied to future ventures.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

BAM business failures - part 1

Monday, May 25, 2015

I recently returned from a conference where I was speaking on themes related to BAM (Business as Mission).  I shared some factual data, some principles and best practices and, of course, some successful case studies.  I always welcome audience participation and one well-informed and experienced business man raised his hand and asked, “What about the failures?  Is everything a success?”  I assured him that there were plenty of failures, at which time he suggested I develop a seminar on Kingdom business failures.

I think that is a good idea; so I am starting with a simple list of failures in an effort to get us thinking about the subject.  It is important to remember, however, that sometimes a business that seems a failure really has been a success and it is not readily apparent.  Also when there are multiple bottom lines; there may be success in one area, but failure in another.  Other factors also mitigate coming to an adequate list of BAM business failures and the cause of them.  

While it may be ambitious to try a “first attempt” at understanding the failures I have noted over the years, remember that since we do not have all the information, the data is limited.  For now, let’s define a failure as a business which shut down after earlier anticipation of success.  Consider these items to be anecdotal but nevertheless - food for thought. I will use pseudonyms here for people, countries and business names, to protect well-intentioned people.

In this Blog #1, I will use the Person, Place, Product, Plan outline; a later Blog #2 on this subject will take a look at other issues.

Is it the right person for the job?   
Some people are simply not wired for entrepreneurship and business start ups, or they may have some capacity, but underestimate the immense time involvement. Such was the case of a solar lighting and heating company we coached in the rural mountains of Nepal.  There was a need for the product and the timing seemed right, but after several thousand dollars of investment in a national owner, it became evident that he saw this as a part-time endeavor and he was more naturally gifted and interested in pastoral ministries and NGO activities.  It failed.

An English school in central Asia lost a partner who brought a lot to the table in terms of the product, but he hated living in the country and wanted to only give a few hours to the business.  This left the other partner handicapped and so he closed down the business.  A business start up needs a person’s full time involvement.

Is the business in the right place?  
Location of a company may be a key factor in its survival.  An adventure company in Africa discovered that their product would better serve the market if it was elsewhere in the country.  Transportation time and costs in bringing the clients to the mountain adventure was prohibitive and rather than move, they decided that they would sell the company.  This failure was only partially due to location, but it does highlight the importance of comprehensive research.

Is it the right product?  
One only has a viable business if there is a paying customer.  The product must suit the market.  A company wanted to help citizens of a large Asian country to emigrate to North America by providing services which would help them to study abroad.  The services included English preparation, visa applications, housing etc.  As visa requirements and the political climate began to change, what could have been a viable product, turned out to be difficult to market because of a changing international climate.  Also, the owner did not find appropriate advocates in the local culture to insure the product would be welcomed.  Could this have been avoided?  Maybe, but it does highlight the importance of robust research.

Is it the right plan?  
There a many startups which do not heed warnings of others, or they do not subscribe to consulting help or coaching expertise.  Even with help from those who have succeeded before them, it is difficult to succeed in foreign markets.  An agricultural business in a former Soviet Republic failed for lack of planning; the markets were too far away, they experienced a blight on the plants, and contracts were broken.  All of that was predictable, but the plan was not adaptable to the changing conditions, and adequate risk analysis and mitigation was not in place in the plan.

But wait a minute!  These were business failures but in all cases but one, these business entrepreneurs are still in the field, learning from the first “failure” and re-building another endeavor.  Perhaps success is just around the corner. Being a Kentucky Fried Chicken lover, think about this:

Harland David Sanders: Perhaps better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.

And since I am typing this on Microsoft software, how about this?

Bill Gates: Gates didn't seem like a shoo-in for success after dropping out of Harvard and starting a failed first business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data.  While this early idea didn't work, Gates' later work did, creating the global empire that is Microsoft.

I share all of this in hopes that aspiring BAM business builders can learn from others’ successes…and failures…and will keep moving in the direction of success!

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission