Joe Shure, Associate Director of The Intersect Fund, describes how his team uses 37signals products to help aspiring business owners:
We help aspiring business owners — mostly immigrants and low-income individuals — get started. We teach them how to manage cash flow, find customers and set their businesses up right. We also offer small loans to help them buy things like hot dog carts, new truck tires and sewing machines.
Since starting the company in 2008, we've served more than 150 clients through our business training, lending and consulting services. We now have offices in two New Jersey cities — New Brunswick and Orange — but we began as a rag-tag bunch of college students, borrowing space and building contacts as we grew. We got where we are now through lots of work, a little luck, and 37signals.
Getting the word out was our first step. In the beginning, we met with community leaders, church pastors and potential funders on what seemed like a daily basis. Lacking an office, a staff, or even a file cabinet, we leaned on Highrise to help us manage our new relationships.
Consider a hypothetical client named Tamara — a seamstress — as an example:
Oct. 2010: Tamara enrolls in our business training course. Along the way, we keep tabs on certain goals: is she grasping the material? Is she writing her business plan? Is she gaining confidence in her abilities? The instructor makes weekly Highrise notes that help our team understand how Tamara is doing.
Dec. 2010: Having graduated, Tamara seeks a small loan to purchase a sewing machine. Her financials are in order, but our loan committee wonders about how responsible she is. They check her Highrise file and read her instructor's notes: turns out she came to every class on time and did great work. They approve her loan.
Feb. 2011: Things are going well, and we meet with Tamara to help her set business milestones: she wants to design a new handbag line, find 10 new customers and purchase a domain name.
Six weeks later, our team member Pasquale invites Tamara to the office for another meeting. He doesn't know her too well, but he can get up to speed in seconds by checking her Highrise file. He learns exactly how much progress she's made since joining us, and he makes sure to ask her about the goals she set last time.
Tamara's new handbag line is a hit. She's selling a ton of them online, and she easily repays her Intersect Fund loan. Our role was to understand the obstacles she faced and nudge her toward manageable goals.
If we merely offered microloans and business training, we would be a decent nonprofit. But our ambitions are higher: we want to be the trusted ally of those seeking success in the face of adversity. This means actually knowing our clients — their difficulties, their needs, and where they want to go. 37signals lets us build the tight connections that enable us to make a real impact.
Do you use a 37signals product in an interesting way? Let us know.