What we learned from 2 years with XelaTeco

I wanted to start this post with one of my favorite Nike commercials. It featured Michael Jordan, preeminent star of basketball, talking about failure and success.


Duration: 30sec

A big goal for AIDG this year is optimizing our business incubation, training and financing model so that it can be replicated and scaled. A major part of that is going to be looking at what we’ve done so far, tearing it to shreds to find the underlying magic of what we’re trying do and figuring out where we need improvement. Basically sifting through successes and failures.

Why do it publicly? Well I was inspired by this advice from Van Jones:

Don’t Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.

And it’s not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don’t really want to tell them everything that’s going on, and they don’t really want to know. So there’s this dance of deceit, shall we say.
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Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they’re being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you’d have to conclude that we’re now living in a socialist paradise. Everything’s going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it’s very clear that we might be fudging a bit.

So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don’t punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.

Here’s to learning a bit faster.

Rookie Mistakes

Problems due to initial lack of capital

Problems related to being a new kid of the block

Problems due to bull-headedness

  • Do one thing and do it well. Fewer technologies
  • Go for smaller, faster, more focused business. Fewer people, faster move to profitability. Start with simpler profit model, simpler products
  • Standardization is important
  • How long do you test before you’re product/tech is ready to roll out
  • Never underestimate the importance of HR
  • Get marketing people on board sooner. All of our initial hirers were engineering types
  • Local partnerships are key
  • Bootstrapping … Understanding where to skimp and where you are … false economy … when knowing where you should splurge is also essential
  • start with the best corporate structure possible.
  • As many if you know by now, our first major project was the hydro-electric system we did for Comunidad Nueva Alianza. We’re very very proud of the work that we and XelaTeco did there. In the aftermath, we can say that a project of that complexity may not be the optimal one to cut your teeth on.