The past two months have been very crucial and probably the most important months of Wings - A social enterprise owned by Gray Matters Capital India. For any start up social enterprise, the pilot phase is very insightful in learning and understanding the dynamics of the market you intend to penetrate.
Before any product is brought to market whether it's in a corporate or a for profit business, it has to be tried and tested to have a feel of how it will survive in the market place.
For Social enterprises the same trend is followed, products and services have to be tried with a small group or setting to help provide feedback and iterate to create the perfect, in demand product for your target audience.
So how exactly should social enterprises prepare their journey from pilot to scale? Here are some of the lessons I learned implementing Blended Learning with Wings.
1. Research your market segment: It seems obvious but it really is important to think about the market you are targeting. What need are you trying to address and how innovative and unique are you from the rest of the businesses trying to do what you do? Research here goes more deeper than knowing the "two competitors" in the same segment as you. A lot of questions have to be answered in relation to how you set your product apart from the usual. The biggest aspect of this research should focus on knowing what your competitive advantage is. What new ways and solutions are you looking to employ to solve a social problem? Why do you think the problem has never been addressed? The research should also intensively look at what would possibly go wrong. Once you are aware of the opportunities but also the challenges that need to be addressed, you go in better prepared.
2. Engage with end users: I can't stress this enough. Some of the innovations that have failed miserably are those that have not put their end users at the centre of their product development. No matter how great your product is, if you do not spend time with the people you intend to serve, you will find out later on that you missed out some of the very important steps in your product development. End users give you the insights from a usability and practical aspect, they bring in a rare set of points that you would never have thought about. I spent a lot of time with the teachers from our pilot learning centre at Malavalli where Gray Matters Capital is implementing blended learning. I did this early on and wanted to understand from their perspective what they thought was the relevance of disrupting the way traditional schools have been educating children for decades. Their perspective matters a lot, because how they perceive our message means that's how they convey it to our potential customers. If you can not directly reach your end users, have a team that is aware of how to collect feedback from end users and use that feedback to iterate your next product development cycle.
3. Prototype early, fail fast and learn: This is my favourite phase. There's no doubt that even the best thought out business models find their breaking points. The good news is that's why you need pilots. Plan to go out with your first phase of prototype early on and see what you learn from the market. You will quickly realize things you under-looked in your design process. It could be a price point that was set high for your target audience, or the location that was not well thought through, whatever it is you will always find something that will help you become better in the next phase. Bottom line your solution should be able to serve the purpose you set out to solve.
4. Branding and marketing: I always say branding and marketing are very crucial in helping any social enterprise achieve it's goals. How you communicate who you are and what you stand for as a social enterprise is key to bringing you the right results. A lot of this rides on having a better understanding of your market segment and engaging with your end users to know what language and tone to use when dealing with customers. For social enterprises it is important to focus on the social benefits that end users will get as part of using your solution as opposed to focusing on the technology used. If your solution aims at ensuring all children get access to a better education so they can have a fighting chance at a brighter future, your marketing needs to be consistent with the results you want to see. Whatever means you use to achieve this should not overshadow the real social benefits. If using technology is your competitive advantage to helping children get a better education, you have to communicate it in a way that portrays that technology is not the means to an end, but an enabling factor to helping you achieve your goals. There are a lot of dynamics that need to be employed to help you communicate the right, consistent brand to your target audience.
5. Building the dream team: Pilots not only help you fine-tune your product offering, they also help you understand the kind of people you need on your team. Most start ups employ people based on how passionate and plugged in they are to their mission and vision. When you are running a small team, it is important that you choose people who completely align with your mission. Within the course of the pilot, you begin to see traits of people you need on your team but also gaps that you need to fill. For start up social enterprises, find people who are adaptable to change and who are open to making mistakes and learning from them. Start-ups require a lot of time and energy to run, but they also require people who think differently, people who are able to know that plans will go wrong, failures will happen along the way but they should be willing to work through each obstacle to achieve a solution.
The journey from pilot to scalability is one that is faced with a lot of obstacles but it is also a journey that helps any business understand their core strengths in order to move forward. Once a business takes time to invest in pilots and learn as much as they can, scaling up becomes much more easier in future.