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  • Casey Shaw

Lessons in Entrepreneurship: What Entrepreneurs Need From Partners



I often liken building a startup to managing the economy of a developing nation. Just like the people of Vietnam must carefully manage their production of quality SP-25 rice for a growing population, entrepreneurs must drive growth-stage companies. Both require great partners to power this growth.


Because Vietnam, Thailand, and India fight constantly for the top spot as the world’s rice exporter, Vietnam’s SP-25 must stay relevant in this crucial food-essential market. In any business, if you hold or are chasing the top spots in your sector, your partners must constantly balance, fine-tune, and manage their business models, to be reliable in financing, sales development, marketing, and ultimately shipping products or delivering services. And sometimes from such faraway places as the fertile Mekong Delta region.


When I first set out to build the first Passive House in North Carolina, meeting the strict German Standard that far surpassed the existing green standards in the U. S. for code-built homes, I had no idea where plans would lead. I only knew I had a quality product. To hold a top spot in the southeastern region, for saving carbon emissions in buildings, I had to have reliable partners at each crucial stage, which was far from my mind and mostly because my proof of concept still hadn’t been developed.


As first out of the gate, we had the latitude to build a network of partners in showcasing and leveraging our vital product to architects and builders. Yet finding partners with similar values and goals with a low-cost, high-margin mantra, was only a first stage. We still had to ask, along the way, if a branded product fit within our circle of competence or a project we further supported was to be an outcome of a joint project, seen by both, as an end in itself or as a means to another end? Or was the project a one-off?


Many partners end up being too independent-minded to be partner material. Our approach to innovation must look to converge the technical with the capitalized product, and so to find and secure momentum in the marketplace. It’s akin to quizzing partners as to whether the appetite for SP-25 is still there, or is it waning, or possibly gaining in momentum? We were early adopters, so our threshold entry to our market paid a premium that required us to overcome many customers' objections, and unlike SP-25, which has a thousand-year proof of concept.


Brown, red, and yellow rice hold on to the rice plant’s nutrient-rich husk longer than white polished rice. But the market for white is robust. It seems folks will forever want a shiny widget!


In capitalizing our joint venture’s widgets of sorts, such as super-insulated buildings, with our partners’ expertise, we now look to establish scale, and reach as many end users as our market will bear. In the case of building high-performance homes, multi-family projects are now the goal.


In the developing world, as in Vietnam, there’s a hunger to be bold in the journey of participating in the world’s economy. In the shadow of China, Vietnam must nimbly partner to brand its hard work, ingenuity, and quality of multi-varied products.


May you always find a market for your products and partners to carefully package your life’s work.




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