Interview with Neil Paine from Chaka Marketbridge (2012)
“We got into this because we were working in microfinance and saw people taking out microloans to invest in their production capacity…we found a demand side marketplace to help them get access to a market for some of those quality products”
Chaka Marketbridge entered the William James Foundation Competition in 2011. The Marketbridge team enables consumers to gain access to high-quality, handmade goods, and artisans in the developing world to gain access to the market they need and the market their artwork deserves. They introduce customers to producers, connecting them in relationship and trade. The WJF’s Erin Jones recently checked in with Neil Paine about Chaka Marketbridge and the power of negative motivation.
Are you in business or still planning?
Where are you located?
We are headquartered in Atlanta and have one person on the ground in Nicaragua.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Lots of them. We are working on optimizing our logistics and supply chain, improving the way that we move products from our producers in Nicaragua to customers all over the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.
How did you become interested in this problem?
We got into this because we were working in microfinance and saw people taking out microloans to invest in their production capacity. They would take a $400 loan and buy a way to turn more wood bowls, but they couldn’t find a place to sell those products. We found a demand side marketplace to help them get access to a market for some of those quality products.
What is your solution to the problem?
Beyond just pure market access, we do a lot of design with the producers. We have proven U.S. designers who sit with each of them and basically says “here is what is going on in this market, here is what they’re looking for, how can we blend that with your personal style in a way that will create some really unique products that will be very successful.” That is a very key element of our solution.
Who are your customers?
Generally, we sell business-to-business, wholesale. Our customers are usually home decor stores, gift shops, or museum stores. We have 130 stores or so around the country that are buying from us.
What are some of your major challenges?
We have had to vertically integrate a lot more than we wish we did and have had to go further back in our supply chain than we thought we were going to. Sourcing raw wood is a big problem for us because a lot of our products are made out of wood and sourcing that wood at high volumes is a big problem in Nicaragua.
How many people do you employ?
There are 4 people full-time.
Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?
We had some scathing feedback from somebody while we were in the Competition that we strongly disagreed with. The feedback was “you’re not going to be able to do it, you’re crazy, you don’t know what’s involved in order to pull this off.” That was a strong negative motivation for us. We rallied around that piece and said we’re going to prove this guy wrong, we know we can and we’re going to. He had said there’s no way you can get to 100 stores in a year. He was right, we didn’t get to 100 in a year, but we got to 120 in 13 months. That was a good negative motivator, nice to have that criticism to overcome.
What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?
I’m a member of a hub in Atlanta and it’s been a great resource for me. I also just finished participating in a Village Capital program. Both of those things were fantastic in terms of creating a resource network, a network of like-minded people who were pursuing similar objectives.
For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?
Check out our website at chakamarketbridge.com, which has a good update of what we’re doing and links to our Facebook.