Chemo Bites: RPCV Finds Startup Success with Kickstarter
By Guest Contributor on Thursday, December 19th, 2013
Kirsten Rogers is the founder and principal of Chemo Bites, where she is “fighting cancer with great food, one snack and one recipe at a time.” Kirsten recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, and here she shares some insights about how Peace Corps service prepared her to run a small business.
The lessons you learn as a Peace Corps Volunteer will apply to the entirety of your life. After two years serving as a Small Business Development Volunteer in Morocco (2007-2009) I walked away with a skill set that continues to be applicable today and was instrumentally in launching my own business, Chemo Bites.
In the spring of 2013, my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is now undergoing a rigorous course of chemotherapy. Many people have had their lives touched by cancer, felt the weight of the diagnosis, and simultaneously been at a loss for how to show their support. When my father was diagnosed I chose to fight the sense of helplessness by turning to healthy food. Hours in the kitchen gave birth to a recipe blog tailored to the dietary needs of cancer patients. My dad’s request for snacks, sometimes all he could eat due to the side effects of chemotherapy, lead to elaborate boxes of tasty treats. These boxes evolved to become my business and featured product: Chemo Bites Snack Boxes.
At each step in creating my business, I would run head-first into situations that reminded me of my service in Morocco. I found myself wanting to throw out the conventional business plan in favor of PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tools like community mapping and needs assessment. Here are a few lessons learned in the Peace Corps that have positioned me for success in running a small business.
Build your community, then the business
Gaining the respect of your Peace Corps community is similar to earning the trust of potential business partners. The hours spent drinking tea and going to social visits, like weddings, in order to gain rapport in your Peace Corps community, translates to coffee dates and networking events in the business world. Before you dive into the logistics of the business, use these practices to build a community around your idea and vision. Moving forward, you’ll have a solid foundation and a group of advocates.
Your work never ends
Running a small business is a full time gig, just as nothing about Peace Corps is nine to five. Meeting with your counterpart on the weekend? It happens. Run into a potential partner at an evening event? You have to be ready to promote your business and tell your story at any moment. Opportunities will arise in the most unlikely of places.
Counterparts contribute to your success
Collaboration can make or break your path to success in business and in the Peace Corps. My counterpart could be a handful, but we worked together through the challenges. I know other PCVs who requested reassignment and were more successful in the long run as a result. With the ability to intentionally select and cultivate relationships, you’re in the drivers seat to maneuver towards thriving partnerships and away from questionable situations.
People will tell you to give up and move on. Remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, Peace Corps projects don’t magically happen overnight, and small businesses definitely take time to gain momentum. If I had a Moroccan dirham for every time someone in my community said “NO” I’d be retired and living in luxury. Process the feedback of the naysayers but remain committed to pursuing your idea until all signs tell you it’s time to move on or shift direction.
Flexibility gives you advantage
While tenacity gives you an edge, flexibility gives you an advantage. You need to be prepared to incorporate new ideas, test out different options and even drastically change course. Peace Corps projects are always evolving based on the community’s needs, as has my business based on the suggestions and requests of customers. Innovate and don’t allow stagnation be the end to a great idea that has yet to come to fruition.
Did a PCPP? Give Kickstarter a try!
If you had a Peace Corps Partnership Project (PCPP), running a Kickstarter campaign is a great option for a new business to gain support and visibility. Like PCPP, Kickstarter crowd sources funds for a project. You only get the money if it’s fully funded. The key to success here is really a culmination of everything mentioned above. Chemo Bites recently launched a Kickstarter and, thanks to a committed and engaged community, it was fully funded in just 48 hours. Since the Kickstarter is still up for 25 days, I have the opportunity to add “stretch goals” to raise additional pledges and pursue new projects.
Your story is powerful and has the potential to inspire others. Be it a PCPP or a Kickstarter or a nascent idea, you are the best advocate to share your story. Shout from the mountaintops and people who believe in the vision will have your back.
Kirsten Rogers is the founder and principal of Chemo Bites. Kirsten has over ten years of non-profit and development work in international education, social and human services and health. She earned her Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and served two years in Morocco with the Peace Corps’ Small Business Development program as a Peace Corps Masters International student.