Of all the companies we have worked with, few are as colourful as Aduna, a firm that uses two West African superfruits and turns them into healthy beauty and snack products for the “North”. The website is a glorious rainbow of hues and reinforces the valuable brand, which Aduna has created. Brand value is extremely important—although starting with products with naturally astonishing properties is essential, (Aduna first focused on Baobab and has since added Moringa). Unless you are able to create an attractive brand, the company will struggle to be sustainable, and the poor communities Aduna assists will be deprived of the revenues these amazing can generate.
A good friend of mine called Tony Piggott, who had spent 30 years in advertising, was well aware of this and started a project called Brandaid. Clever name! More than most, Tony (now CEO of JWT Ethos) appreciated the value of brands and how impoverished developing country communities would remain so, unless they could seize the power of brands for their own benefit. Brandaid helps artisans in emerging countries gain western brand-value-creation expertise.
I first came across the Baobab fruit myself when my son returned from six months in Senegal and he encountered these fruits, grown on ancient community-owned trees, which possess amazing natural properties. However, due to lack of meaningful markets, these fruits just tumble to the earth and rot. I was staggered when just two years later I came across Andrew Hunt at the Global Social Venture Competition and his vision and drive impressed me massively. Since then, ClearlySo has worked with Aduna on two angel investment rounds totalling £750k, and one of our angel investors has joined his Board. This is the case in about 1/3 of all the businesses we support, and more like 3/5 when we consider only those who have pitched to our Clearly Social Angels network.
We do many of the things one might imagine a firm like ours does with regard to investor and investee preparation and investment facilitation. In the case of Aduna, we were able to help in a very particular way. At the time of writing this piece, Aduna is one of the nine finalists involved in the “Pitch to Rich” competition sponsored by Virgin (Rich, as you may have guessed, is Richard Branson—and I guess he is also quite “rich”, so it’s a double entendre). If Aduna were to win, they would be showered with money, advice and some fame, as you can imagine.
Becoming a finalist was the result of a public vote and Aduna were in a fight with a few other enterprises, and trailing by a bit. Under the whip of two of my colleagues, Clare Jones and Mike Mompi, we “took to the social media airwaves” to try to increase the vote for Aduna. The result was that they came from behind to win by less than 20 votes—we were delighted to be a small part of that story.
Although this is not a core aspect of our normal business offering, Aduna is not a normal business. From time to time, we are able to assist our clients this way but Aduna was uniquely suited for a social media assault. Again, it does not work with all companies—there is something quite special about the mixture of West Africa, an appealing brand and superfruits when you are trying to attract social media attention.
We look forward to working with some more Aduna-like entrepreneurs in the future. I can see a few in the pipeline already!
First published in Third Sector in June 2015.