eMBA 2013 Field Report: Still questioning why the local David wins so often against the international Goliath? Here’s one reason why.
Each summer Endeavor sends a number of incoming and second-year MBA students, recruited from top schools, to work on-site with Endeavor Entrepreneurs on projects ranging from strategic planning to market expansion. The program is supported by a generous grant from Barclays. Following is a post from Jessica Chen, a member of the Harvard Business School Class of 2013, who spent the summer working with Endeavor Entrepreneurs at Brazil’s Acesso Digital:
Acesso Digital is a São Paulo-based startup focused on moving Brazil’s paper culture into the cloud. They count some of Brazil’s premiere institutions, such as Itaú, among their clients. This summer, fresh after graduating from HBS, I jumped on a plane to Brazil, excited to work with the company and see their product.
Upon landing though – I have to be honest – I wasn’t particularly impressed. Acesso Digital’s product combines a basic document management/workflow tool with Kodak scanners that they send to clients’ branch offices across Brazil. In my experience working in the US, I had seen document management products that were leagues ahead in technological sophistication, but I also knew that those companies had tried to enter Brazil and failed. What on earth was going on?
To answer that question, I need to rewind to the company’s founding. In addition to their document management solution, Acesso Digital has an even more ambitious second mission – to become the best place to work in the world, bar none. With this dream in mind, the company leaders encouraged each of their employees to pursue their own dreams, whether it is to travel, to get in shape, or to develop professionally. Today, Acesso Digital is less a company and more a team, comprised of every employee at the company, from CEO to housekeeper, who continuously support, push, and celebrate each other, both inside and outside the workplace. That’s pretty impressive for a company that’s now well over a hundred employees, not to mention pretty impossible for other companies to replicate.
This concept of fulfilling dreams translates further into a deep understanding of customer pain points, which results in a product that is designed to make clients’ lives fundamentally better. That is one of the key reasons for the company’s success in the Brazilian market.
Let me explain. My project involved recommending new product opportunities. In pursuit of this goal, I worked with another eMBA intern to think of solutions for unsolved customer pain points that optimized the company’s existing strengths. We met with clients across a slew of industries and were given the license to ask any question. They spoke with surprising candor and I began to understand Brazilians – how they live, work, play, and struggle on a daily basis. I began to speak Portuguese and understand the nuances of the language, how common Portuguese words that have no English translation define Brazilian culture. I began to understand the impact of the government in all industries and why Brazilians protest to make the government more accountable to the people.
I began to understand Acesso Digital’s clients as they do. Customers don’t need bells and whistles (and the associated price tag) to solve the fundamental pain of dealing with paper, of waiting forever for the postal system and losing critical information, of losing money to fraudulent identification documents. Unlike US multinationals exporting a product, Acesso Digital created a solution for their clients that simply made their lives better.
It was only after taking the time to observe and to listen that I could make an impact myself. I realized the areas where my US work experiences overlapped with the Brazilian business environment and started sharing best practices and making observations on how the company might improve. On their part, Acesso Digital was eager to learn and gave us incredible flexibility in doing our work; it was pretty amazing. For example, I came up with an idea in the shower one morning to host an ideation session utilizing the diverse talent across the company, and by the following morning, we had over a hundred new product ideas on yellow sticky notes.
Acesso Digital opened my eyes this summer and in so doing, enabled my dream as well. I originally thought it was by happenstance, but now I realize it’s the company’s secret – they are an insidious dream-fulfilling machine. My dream, both personally and professionally, has always been to experience amazing adventures. I’ve found no better way to accomplish this than to work around the world – adapting to new cultures, meeting new people, thinking innovatively about new challenges. And for me, the best measure of how worthwhile an adventure is how much is learned by the end of the experience. Never in my life had I experienced a learning curve so steep. I’m incredibly thankful to Acesso Digital in helping me grow as a professional and as a person, and so much saudade for the friends made and the lessons along the way.