Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small—and Other Tips from a Social Entrepreneur

Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva (one of the most successful social ventures in history), is by her own admission an unlikely entrepreneur.

In 2005 when she launched the microloan program, she wasn’t aiming to make a fortune and she’d never run a business. But she did navigate challenges and stick to her mission—and now, Kiva facilitated more than $850 million in loans to entrepreneurs in the world’s poorest communities.

Jackley will recount her journey at The DRIVE/ Conference, May 23-24, in Seattle. Here, she shares what she sees as the crucial ingredients for new projects to succeed.

CASE: Kiva is a great social venture success story. What are the three top things that you think made it work? 

Jessica Jackley: Good timing. Taking the right risks. Sticking to mission and values through rapid growth.

We’ll talk at DRIVE/ about marrying storytelling and data. What role has storytelling played in your work with Kiva? 

Kiva lets entrepreneurs tell their own stories as much as possible. Since the beginning, Kiva has insisted on authenticity, not a carefully crafted story for some marketing campaign that’s designed to pull at a potential lender’s heartstrings in some particular way. Just authentic stories of entrepreneurship, and a corresponding opportunity to participate. No one wants to be manipulated or guilt-tripped into contributing to something.

DRIVE/ is all about data and analytics. How have you used data in your career as an entrepreneur? What have you learned about data along the way? 
I’ve learned that data can tell a powerful story. I’ve also learned that more is not necessarily better. Asking the right questions at the beginning, and knowing why you want to track or measure something, leads to the right data.

What’s the most valuable professional lesson you’ve learned in your career? 
Learn to say “no” as easily as you say “yes.”

What’s your best advice for building a new initiative or project? 
Focus on the person or people you want to serve. Don’t be afraid or apologetic about starting small either—most great things start this way.

What attracted you to DRIVE/ and what are you excited to see/do in Seattle? 

I’m always drawn to gatherings of motivated people ready to learn. I’ve lived in Seattle before so I don’t have a list of tourist activities I need to do. I will probably just go on a jog through my old neighborhood!

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