A Story About Sharing Value

Henrik Stamm Kristensen

Startups are always a great source of inspiration. Here’s an interesting case within the food industry. A social enterprise from which some lessons about transparency, sustainability, and collaboration can be drawn.

In the following TEDx Talk and 99U conference, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, founders of Back to the roots, explain how they founded a business inspired by the idea of turning waste into fresh local food by growing mushrooms in coffee grounds. They also share their experience about running a social and sustainable business.

Sustainability as a way to grow and create value. A sustainable business, as they found out, is far beyond contributing to the reduction of food waste or the cultivation of local foods: It is in discovering that there is much more value in the interchange that can be added in traditional linear business models that just start with the supplier and end with the customer. And also that “to grow a business you have to constantly innovate to find ways to maximize your partners’ value”. Back to the roots example: they found out that they can collect the coffee wastes that coffee shops didn’t want to deal with and using them as raw material, gaining profit from that action since coffee shops prefer that they reuse their coffee wastes rather than paying a company for its removal. On the other side, coffee sellers realized that both were sharing customers and that they can use the mushroom kit of Back to the roots to include a discount coupon for their establishments, increasing their sales and establishing a profitable partnership.



Collaboration as a way to benefit and engage your community. After collecting others’ wastes, they also started to produce their own, so, while finding an answer to the problem, they got in touch with a community of urban gardeners, non-profit gardeners, school foundations, etc… which help them with the waste but also in a much deeper way by supporting them with labeling, testing, certification, etc.

Transparency as a new opportunity to create value. Since they communicate in a transparent way with their customers and partners, they got the support they needed to grow and it so happened in a successful marketing campaign in which they show that mushrooms, even being equally safe, do not always grow in harmonious shapes but in crazy ones. They were honest with consumers and they received lots of comments for their campaign. As Nikhil Arora concludes, “Marketing transparently is the new clever”.


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