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12.05.2018 #news

Scaling a Zambian Soap Business : Pulling the Right Levers

Scaling a Zambian Soap Business : Pulling the Right Levers

Have you ever worked hard to launch a new venture, experienced encouraging early success, only to become frustrated by a lack of sustained breakthrough growth? It’s a scenario with which many corporate entrepreneurs and start-up founders will be familiar, but it’s not confined to well-developed highly competitive markets.

Mukuni Soap, a soap manufacturing business set up by a young Zambian man, proves the point and provides an example not only of how the same difficulties that beset Western entrepreneurs beset everyone but also of how the same techniques that can help innovators here even apply to socially conscious projects in the developing world.

Mukuni Soap company received funding from a British social enterprise incubator and quickly realised revenues through sales to early adopters within the local community. But then Mukuni Soap found it difficult to convince the broader local community of the need for soap, which stymied their growth. Scaling the business was looking to be harder than anyone first imagined.

Our clients often come to us with the same problem. In our experience, there are a number of key steps which help projects achieve scale.

First, Mukuni Soap could have targeted influencers within the customer community. Prominent and respected figures such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists could have been brought on board and encouraged to endorse the product in the name of improved public health.

Second, Mukuni Soap could have moved away from selling the product in favour of selling the company’s vision. Mukuni Soap’s vision of improved local sanitation is at least as much the product as the soap. Furthermore, this would have allowed Mukuni Soap to Pivot the Proposition to attract a new and high value customer group. Wealthy Western travellers, of whom there are many in the region, would be responsive to Mukuni’s socially responsible vision not only of improved sanitation, but also job creation in an extremely poor community.

A fourth tack would have been to explore unconventional partnerships to gain access to new customer groups and channels to market. Partnerships with up-market lodges and hotels would have provided access to Western travellers, while partnerships with local schools would have provided a new channel through which to sell the vision – to teachers and parents who are already heavily invested in improved sanitation among young children.

These are just four of many levers we pull for clients when faced with the challenge of scaling a business because, as this story suggests, they have wide applicability; indeed, Mukuni Soap’s fortunes have improved since benefitting from this advice.