We're certainly not experts in the business world, but our experience in rural Ghana and a two-year love affair with the world's most incredible tree has set us on the path to learn all we can to make extreme poverty and malnutrition a thing of the past. In 2012, my co-founder Kwami Williams and I traveled to the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana.
The majority of the people we met were smallholder farmers living well below the poverty line. Their homes were surrounded by acres upon acres of barren land. We learned that the cost of plowing and planting the marginal acre was a prohibitive $25. We also learned about the Moringa tree. Its leaves, rich in iron, calcium, protein, and vitamins had the potential to prevent malnutrition. The oil seeds- the unused part of the tree - when processed correctly create one of the worlds most amazing cosmetic oils, rich in antioxidants and moisturizing agents. We set out to create a business that would harness the potential of this tree- providing farmers with the inputs, training, value-added processing they would need to reach a global market while ending malnutrition in their own homes. Today we work with 300 farmers and counting, and we know that Moringa is just the start. Amid the constant day-to-day struggle of realizing our dream, weve learned a few lessons that we would love to share:
1. Tackle a problem that matters
There are 1.5 billion acres of fertile, uncultivated land in Africa. There are 120 million smallholder farmers living on that land earning less than $2 per day. These are big numbers- they keep us up at night and get us out of bed in the morning. We aren't looking to fix just any market failure- MoringaConnect is unlocking the potential of agriculture in Africa to end poverty and malnutrition. The start-up life certainly isn't glamorous, so choosing a problem to solve that you earnestly care about is a must.
2. Sell your story
Simon Sinek tells us in his famed TED Talk "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Regardless of your industry, there are always products and services like yours on the market. We aren't selling cosmetic oil- we're changing the story for the smallholder farmer and connecting our customers to nature's ingredients in their purest form.
3. Wear lots of hats
My co-founder and I went from studying aerospace engineering and economics to navigating the worlds of farming and beauty blogging. Starting a business required us to wear many hats and take on tasks that nothing in our education or life experience could have prepared us for. We know that this means that we don't have all of the answers, and we constantly consult and surround ourselves with experts in a variety of fields. We're never afraid to say "we don't know," but we're always ready to try on a new hat.
4. Make everyone a part of your story
We learned early to reach out to professors, friends, hairdressers, and anyone that would listen for advice and networking opportunities. We make an effort to keep our following up to date with our progress in Ghana and in the global market through monthly newsletter updates, offering thanks and appreciation where it is due.
5. Learn to laugh
Whether its bureaucracy on the ground, a particularly difficult customer, or a blunder we brought upon ourselves, we have discovered that the only way to cope is to laugh- and we laugh a lot.
We're thrilled to continue the learning experience at MassChallenge alongside our new mentors and peers.