Interview: La Mano del Mono

MCN’s Ricardo Velazquez caught up with Mauricio Martinez Miramontes, CEO of La Mano del Mono in April 2015.

In the last 50 years, 50% of Mexico and Latin America’s forest have been deforested. Ecotourism is one of the fastest growing activity in protected natural areas. Why not use ecotourism to protect the forests? That is what La Mano del Mono was founded on through providing experiential and environmental education.

We caught up with Maurico Martinez, CEO of La Mano del Mono, to talk about the company’s growth.

“It was very exciting to work with MCN. I really enjoyed doing the business plan and reviewing the feedback. The feedback that the mentors gave us was really accurate and made us reflect on the commercial and human resources parts above all. Also, it made us improve the way we communicate our business model to the client.”

What problem is La Mano del Mono trying to solve?

We have two problems to solve. We have lost half of our forests in Mexico and Latin America and half of the rural population is not living in their homes anymore; they had to emigrate to the US or other big cities because of the lack of opportunities. By providing them with a livelihood in protected natural environments we help them and the environment.

Why were you interested in solving this problem? What is in your background that made you be interested in helping these communities?

I grew up in Monterrey, a big city where I had the opportunity to be a scout and see many of the natural beauties of the area. Later, when I was in high school, I traveled more to different rural communities. I had the opportunity to interact with these communities and see their reality. In college, I started to take my friends to travel to the places I knew. At the beginning the purpose was only adventure, but after I noticed that most of the people didn’t know all these places, all these lakes, mountains, caves and waterfalls, I realized that they loved the idea but they just didn’t have the opportunity and the knowledge to travel to these places. At the same time, I thought about all the rural communities that lived there, that gave us food and a place to stay. I thought about their problems of poverty and migration and came up with the idea to join the people interested in meeting these places with the rural communities that lived there. This also helped the economy of these communities. All this transformed into ecotourism.

How successful were the past years for La Mano del Mono in terms of profit?

2012 and 2013 were constant in terms of profit. In 2014, the profit decreased because after learning from the accelerators we have been with, we started to focus more on the internal structure of the company rather than the sales, capacity, and consulting. We had so much work to do; we had 8 invitations to projects that we could not take. That business would have made up the profit similar to what we had in past years. So our profits decreased but we were able to strengthen our internal structure.

What are the biggest challenges for the future?

We have several. One is to strengthen the business model. In past years, more of the 70% of our profit came from capacitation and consulting. Our clients are the government and international associations. 30% came from programs for companies, student groups and some tourists, so the challenge is to have more mobility and profit coming from the programs we give. That way we would be able to have stable profit. Another challenge is to strengthen the way we get the public to know about our services, and the last one is to strengthen the team and make them more capable so that the services we deliver have the same quality.

Sometimes when a company grows it is difficult to maintain the same level of quality of service and attention to the client…

Yes, that’s actually what happened to us in the past year. We had so much work to do with the company’s internal structure that we couldn’t take some projects, and that was reflected in our decrease in profit.

Is there any milestone that La Mano del Mono feels proud of? Some kind of accomplishment or recognition?

The truth is that we have been very fortunate with recognition. The ways in which we do our work is a very particular one for Mexico. We had the recognition of best natural product by Secretaria de Turismo. We had recognition by the CONAP as best program that promotes culture within protected natural areas. We were invited in 2009 by the UNESCO to present the work model of education of nature. So in that sense we are very proud and grateful. Also, the fact that we have been accepted to several accelerators and including the Mentor Capital Network is a big compliment for us.

Is there anything else you would like to add or share?

Yes, we want to invite people to our new experience offering called Las Rutas del Agua (The Water Routes). It is a travel experience in which the client can learn about water core zones: where water is born and why we benefit from it. The client can also have the opportunity to interact with the communities that are there. Also, I want people to know that by making any of the programs of La Mano del Mono, they are helping the communities that live in these zones. They would be helping these people stay in their homes and at the same time helping protect these zones. These are experiences that transform lives.