CASE STUDY: SalaamGarage
Founder, Executive Director, Product Manager, UX
Business challenge: In 2004 my social documentary projects with nonprofits became well known. Between 2004 and 2006 I was approached by over 170 content producers who wanted to work with me on projects about nonprofits. I had also worked with and built relationships with nonprofits worldwide who shared one common problem, they did not have the capacity to tell their own story.
Approach: I researched over 30 NGOs and nonprofits to understand their messaging pains and content needs. I gained a deeper understanding of their stories and persuaded a few organizations that their stakeholders personal stories were the true message of their organization and that ultimately, though they had donors and board members, their actual stakeholders were the people they served.
From there, I researched several voluntourism companies to understand their business model and how I to leverage that expertise for the concept of SalaamGarage. I also built noncompete business collaborations in order to outsource parts of SalaamGarage operations that didn't need reinventing such as the booking process, building tourist itineraries, and in-country resources.
To market SalaamGarage, I leveraged my public speaking and book tours. I also followed up on over 100 email requests from content producers to ‘pick my brain’ and ‘be my photo assistant.’ I defined this audience as my target customer and offered them a chance to test SalaamGarage’s discounted, pilot trip to India.
Process: Building trips and storytelling itineraries was a lot of fun because I am passionate about this space, UX, research, and product design. However, it took a lot of effort to convert interested participants because the margin was low and my target customer had a hard time reaching the cost of a trip. In an effort to scale, I contracted skilled content producers to lead SalaamGarage trips. However, because I was the face of the company, the target customer wanted specifically to travel with me and that made scaling more challenging.
A few investors reached out to me and though their ideas to grow the business were measurable and valid, SalaamGarage was near and dear to my heart and I didn’t want to commercialize the company the way they suggested. I suffered from Founder's Dilemma.
Results: I hired, trained, and managed trip leaders to lead international trips: sourced, screened, interviewed prospective candidates and matched leaders with complementary groups. I managed all media relations as spokesperson for the organization both in the U.S. and abroad, personally led and produced global projects in Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, and Vietnam, and effectively managed across cultures to build media teams in USA, Kenya and South Africa.
I formed a partnership with Blurb Books and published an India, Ethiopia, and Guatemala books which were featured on the Blurb “Blurb for Good“ website ‘editors pick.' We launched 5 exhibitions resulted in matching NGOs with Microsoft’s Employee Giving Program and raising thousands for the nonprofits.
SalaamGarage trips were featured in The Huffington Post, Social Documentary, First Post, aCurator, Cluster Munition Coalition, Seattle Post Intelligencer, and many other media outlets and blogs. I gave an Ignite talk that instantly raised $2100 for 7 fistula surgeries, and SalaamGarage participants raised thousands more dollars for participating non-profits which funded school fees, livestock, and various other local needs.
Measured success and failure: I defined three KPIs. First, repeat participants, travellers and non-profits. Second, the non-profit benefited from our projects. Meaning, we set goals and met them such as funding a child's school fees, purchasing a goat, building an exhibition, etc. Third, SalaamGarage was to profit in such a way that it would scale. The first two KPIs were met. Where we failed was the ability to scale.