Random Reflections on One Year of Farmers for Forests
Mostly we’re happy that we still exist!
I have to confess to having a deep curiosity about the daily lives of others. By “others” I mean writers and sometimes scientists, and now more recently, start-up founders. There’s something delightfully personal about getting the deets on when your favorite writer (or start-up founder) wakes up, when she goes for a walk or how she generally gets through her day. I mean has one really lived, if one hasn’t obsessed over how many cups of coffee Balzac drank in a day or what Murakami eats for lunch?
Unfortunately (or fortunately) there’s no similar litany of the daily routines of start-up founders. That’s a good thing though. Because a) who cares? b) there’s definitely too many of us c) we all have infinitely less interesting lives than the writers (and probably the scientists too) and d) all our daily routines would probably look like this:
7:00 — Wake up
7:01 — Panic about self and then the start-up
7:02 — Panic about finances and then paychecks
Rest of the day — some full and half hearted attempts at work
23:00 — ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
So when scavenging for the literature on the daily routines of start-up founders, I mostly came up zilch. Unless, ofcourse, you’re interested in the daily routine of Elon Musk (then there’s a ton). But for the mere mortals that sleep 8+ hours at night and don’t wake up at or stay up till 4 am, there’s really not that much “real stuff” out there (random cascade of generic productivity and motivational advice not counted).
What I did find, however, in my practically pointless search for the uber personal side of the start-up world were some great pieces on what some of these other start-ups had learned over the years. In a similar vein of transparency and (almost) full disclosure, here’s a list of all of the things we did well and all the mistakes we made in the first year of existence for anyone who wants to read them (so basically just our Moms *hug emoji*):
- Not being careful enough in our dealings with vendors: As a small start-up hungry to prove itself, we often prioritized immediate action over calm consideration and ironclad contracts. As a result, we often found ourself in prickly situations — we had an irascible IT vendor hold our own website hostage while mocking our “foreign” education and lack of IT knowledge; we also had a barbed wire vendor threaten to throw out two of our co-founders if they ever showed up at his shop again (while refusing to deliver 300 kg of barbed wire that we had paid for). If we had paused a few minutes longer to just think through the long-term ramifications of getting into contracts and dealing with certain ‘type’ of vendors (hint: unethical, mixed with some misogyny), we would have saved ourselves a ton of headache.
2. Not loosening our purse strings enough: As a new not-for-profit with a small budget, we desperately looked for ways to cut corners — from hiring an inconvenient but majestic looking MSRTC bus for transporting our saplings to scaring our staff into spending less money on field expenses (so much so that one of them spent the night in his car instead of getting a hotel). The most frequent result of choosing the cheaper option over the sensibly priced practical one was that we often ended up spending more money to reverse the damage than if we had simply chosen the latter.
3. Not taking ourselves seriously enough: Honest confession- none of us are the swiss clocks of human beings we’d like to be. We procrastinate, obsess over somewhat irrelevant fonts and formatting details and often turn work conversations into long rambling rants on politics, pilates and police brutality. We’ve also not done a great job of holding each other accountable for missed deadlines and delays. But we’re learning and improving — holding team meetings in co-working conference rooms rather than co-founder homes has helped tremendously, as have weekly check-in calls and Trello task lists.
4. Not thinking big enough: We surprised ourselves by not just meeting, but surpassing the Year 1 targets we had set. But when we shared the first draft of our five year scale-up plan and financial projections with friends and advisors, the recurrent piece of feedback we got from everyone was to THINK BIG! Set more ambitious targets! We initially dithered — the scale at which they were forcing us to think scared us a bit. But one thing we’ve solidly realized over the past year is that ‘being practical’ shouldn’t wade into the ‘undervaluing yourself’ territory.
What We’ve Done Well
- Picked a great subject to work on: The more we’ve worked in this space, the more we’ve realized how relevant the work we’re doing is. We’re happy to have the opportunity to do meaningful work every day. Land degradation, deforestation and poverty are huge problems that India is facing and we’re excited to have identified a model that works at the intersection of all three. We’re also super proud to be one of the few organizations collecting such rigorous data on our forests.
2. Put together a great team: We’ve been able to get a great set of people with a wide-range of complementary skills who are passionate about climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation. As a result, division of labour has been seamless. We’ve also been able to be extraordinarily honest with one another on our strengths and weaknesses and what’s been working and what’s not. This has led to some uncomfortable conversations and even the occasional outburst and pint of tears. However, each and every member of our team has been able to get over ourselves and leave their personal fears and vanities aside to put the team first.
3. Innovate and not lose steam during a pandemic: When the national lockdown was in place March through May of 2020, we had to halt field operations. But we quickly catapulted into using our GIS and cash transfer model to provide cash transfers, a critical feature of the F4F model, for daily wage workers in Mumbai and Pune who had lost their jobs. Amazingly, our COVID relief work kick-started interesting conversation in our community on the efficacy of cash transfers and UBI to drive socio-economic outcomes, while we also made plans to safely restart our field work during a pandemic- which happened as early as June 2020.
— Krutika Ravishankar | Co-Founder, Farmers for Forests