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Lesson Earned #2: Get Rid of the Door

Why community based solutions are more than just a nice thought.

When I was working in a startup incubator space last summer, I had the chance to hear all sorts of advice on starting a business. What I remember so clearly was the old “get out the door” expression. Need to figure out if your idea is plausible? Go out and ask people on the street if they would use it. Need to adjust pricing? Go out and ask people how much they would pay. You can do nothing from the comfort of your own chair.

While this is of course very true, I couldn’t help but wonder about the problematic nature of such a suggestion. If you have to force yourself out your door to connect with your customers, should you really be offering your service in the first place?

I began my fellowship with MAF already skeptical of this “getting out the door” idea, and after just two months here I feel I finally gained some clarity.

This month I was offered the chance to interview Blanca, a Lending Circles member. In order to do so, I literally had to leave the office to meet her at her beauty salon. Now, based on common startup wisdom, I should have felt nervous or concerned about taking such an action. But in fact, I was really excited. I couldn’t wait to hear her personal story – to hear how she had raised her family while achieving her dream of starting a business. I left the interview even more energized than I had entered. I told everyone who would listen about Blanca’s strength and resilience and spoke of how amazing it felt that MAF had played even a small role in her journey.

And just like that, the get out the door illusion had officially been shattered.

When I came back into the office, I walked past our programs team in deep discussion with a potential member-a normal day in the office. That’s when it struck me, that doors don’t exist here. If an organization is built correctly, it devises its solution from the minds of those its trying to serve. The walls are never there because the source is the community itself and so a solid foundation is created.

The community-driven environment enables MAF to grow stronger as time passes.

Seeing the inspiring aspects of Blanca’s character enabled me to leave her beauty salon reenergized with a stronger sense of our mission. Stepping beyond the mission-building cliche, the interview actually help me do my job better. The real reason I was interviewing Blanca wasn’t for a morale boost; it was to hear her story so we could share it with our members and partners and use it to better our programs.

This hits at the core of MAF’s values; the interactions with our members tell us not what they are lacking, but instead all they can offer. Identifying our members’ strengths will allow us to devise and implement programs that capitalize on them; this makes for a better MAF and a stronger community.

Everytime I think of all the MAF members who have reached the next stage of their life, I think of all the organizations missing out by hesitating at the door, complaining about how difficult it is to walk through it.