Where do you get more accomplished: in an office or in the field? That is a common debate that our team has had while getting our social enterprise, Origin. off the ground. As our summer stay at the IXL Center’s business incubator draws to a close, we will take away insights and guidance that we could never have received elsewhere. However, we keep running into information gaps whose resolutions can only come from Mumbai, the city where we will launch our business. So the question remains, where should our team be right now?
The IXL Center in Boston has given us time to reflect on our business model. We have access to everyone from partners at Bain to some of the most successful social entrepreneurs in the world. Our business pitch has been sharpened, our roles in the team have been better defined, and we are stepping back from the MBA to work full time on our dream of winning the $1m Hult Prize. The new insights and ideas we have built upon here are the result of coming together to visualise our business, along with early mornings and late nights contacting our collaborators in India. However, the mantra of the managing director Hitendra Patel has been ‘get out, experiment, and iterate’. From the comfort of our air-conditioned offices in the decidedly academic surroundings of Cambridge, there is only so much that can be done. We are figuratively and geographically as far as one could imagine from the slums of Mumbai.
Back in Dharavi, we were bringing new meaning to ‘getting our hands dirty’. Our days spent adjusting to the monsoon rains and stifling humidity that defines summertime in Mumbai put us face to face with the problem of food security we are looking to solve. We also enjoyed the advantage of being a phone call and a short drive away from nearly every stakeholder we needed to be in touch with to help Origin launch. If we weren’t interviewing shop owners, we were talking strategy with non-profits and business incubators with a wealth of advice and practical pointers for making our business a reality. We gained empathy and good contacts, but the one thing that was missing was perspective. Taking a step back to reflect and iterate our business was near impossible.
Separation helps overall strategy and planning, but testing and execution doesn’t happen in a conference room. The solution, when possible, is dividing and conquering. Three of us head back to Mumbai to launch a pilot and finalise partnerships, two others go back to Barcelona to scope costs and revenues while getting as much practice on pitching our idea as possible before we come back together and finalise our pitch for late September. Where do you launch a startup? While I tend to lean towards being on the ground, it is difficult to discount what we have accomplished in Boston in an incubator. As for how and with whom, after nine weeks living together, we all have confidence that we have found a way to do it, and that Muhammad Yunus and the other judges will believe us when we tell them just that in a few short weeks.