Portal Project: Brazilian Business Owners Plan a Collective Web StrategyPublished: April 28, 2010
When 100 women entrepreneurs, representing a wide range of industries, gathered at a Brazilian educational institution last fall to learn new business skills and exchange ideas through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, they decided to pool their talents and launch a website aimed at showcasing their companies and attracting customers.
The significance of that November 2009 meeting at Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC) goes beyond the mechanics of simply establishing an Internet presence. Instead, it underscores issues like the interdependence of entrepreneurs -- a somewhat new concept to women business owners in Brazil -- and the advantages of bringing together different perspectives and philosophies.
Working Together to Leverage Skills
The website idea that was hatched during a meeting at FDC -- a partner with the France-based business school INSEAD in the 10,000 Women program -- is simple yet revolutionary, according to Rosangela Pedrosa, an FDC human resources and business management professor. "For Brazilian startups, this is something new," says Pedrosa, who works closely with the student business owners in the certificate program at FDC. "Entrepreneurs here would like to expand their customer base, but for the most part, small business owners in Brazil work alone. Many do not have the funds to go out and hire an expert to help them" do this. At the 10,000 women meeting, the entrepreneurs "decided among themselves that they could increase their outreach and perhaps save money by working together to leverage their individual skills," she adds.
Juliana Pedrosa (no relation to Rosangela), who runs a design firm in Belo Horizonte, says the new website she is launching with her fellow scholars will be an opportunity to improve her own skills while also collaborating with other savvy women in business. "Right now, I don't even have a business card, so when people ask for information about my company, I have to write it down on a piece of scrap paper," says Pedrosa, 33, through a translator. Her eight-person company designs and prints logos on clothing, paper and other surfaces. "A website will let me offer my products to many more potential customers," she notes. "There are different levels of businesses working together on this program, from startups to mature companies, and we're all excited because even though we have different skills and are in different industries, we all face the same basic challenges."
Under different circumstances, the entrepreneurs might be competitors, each going after a limited pool of customers. But in this instance at least, they may benefit from the spirit of collaboration. "There are so many different small businesses represented, and each has some kind of skill to offer," Rosangela Pedrosa says. "A newspaper owner can offer advertising space, while a design specialist may offer tips on creating signs and business cards. A print shop owner can execute the work; a journalist may be able to advise them how to write about their business in a way that generates positive attention, while a computer specialist can actually create the web portal that will announce their businesses."
Using a website will centralize the offerings of women participating in the FDC certificate program and will eventually allow the entrepreneurs to easily communicate with each other and, equally important, communicate with customers -- answering their questions and taking orders online. Because most of the companies have limited funds, the participants agreed to forego profit and donate their services, while billing only for direct costs they incur carrying out the project. For instance, if a designer like Juliana Pedrosa offers advice to a fellow entrepreneur in the program, she will not bill for it, or the time involved. But if she actually makes, say, shirts with logos for that person, she will charge for the materials she uses. That way everyone can benefit from the combined talents of the group.
Computers Are the Missing Link
While the women entrepreneurs are committed to the web portal project, they are currently at a very early stage in the process, notes Marcele Gama, an FDC faculty member who, along with Rosangela Pedrosa, works as a project manager in the program. "At this point they're still discussing the content, its look and its function," Gama says. "The important thing is that they are working with each other to organize, using their time efficiently and sharing their skills. This is a big move for them."
As the 100 women initially met and planned their project, they recognized that the efforts of the diverse group could easily get sidetracked unless they could prioritize the thought process. To that end, the entrepreneurs split themselves into three groups, and then elected two members from each group to act as representatives and coordinate the web strategies in a manageable way.
Despite their strides, the groups are facing a significant challenge in implementing the web project -- acquiring the basic hardware components. Hamstrung by tight budgets, none of the entrepreneurs currently has a computer to either build or access the website. The women are tackling that obstacle as a group, and hope to defray the costs by making a bulk purchase of about 100 computers, which may qualify them for a volume discount. Additionally, they are trying to find sponsors who will pick up a portion or all of the cost.
It's all part of the learning process taking place in the classroom, Rosangela Pedrosa notes. "These entrepreneurs are being exposed to ideas that can help them understand how to solve a variety of problems and how to present their companies in new ways that will attract and retain more customers," she says. "This is a valuable experience that will help set them up for long-term sustainable growth."