“Essential to the economy”
The team climbed over 17,000 feet before reaching the yak cheese factory. Nepali yaks only live and produce milk at higher altitudes, they learned, and local communities depend on their herds to survive in the remote mountains.
“Yaks are a fascinating animal,” says Heiden. “Semi-domesticated, so they’re a bit wild – not the prettiest animals. But they are vital to the economy, to the people, and they represent the way of life of these people. Without these yaks, it would be practically impossible to live up there, and it amounts to using even excrement as fuel, as energy.
Located in the village of Bhijer in northwest Nepal, the Yak Cheese Factory is a community-based enterprise – its founder hopes to help support the local school and medical center with profits from cheese making, and over 40 Nepali women from across the countryside supply the factory. with the trays of fresh yak milk needed to make the cheeses.
“It has a unique creamy composition,” Coles says, “and I’ve tried now yak milk chocolate, yak milk yogurt, the milk itself and cheese, and it’s all really Well.”
The team spent their first day at the factory observing and asking questions, learning all about the process of collecting the milk, testing it, pasteurizing it and turning it into cheese.
“When the women bring their yak milk, the composition is tested several times, it is rigorously recorded,” explains Coles. “They have to make sure that all the space where it’s produced is extremely clean. They have a whole process in place to make sure everyone who comes in and out is extremely clean and wearing the right kind of gear. The cheese itself can sit for an entire day to harden before it is ready.
However, just as important as understanding the cheese-making process was understanding the people who made the cheese.
“In the past, we tended to focus on areas where the founder lacked skill and help them improve their skills in that area,” says Coles, “and what we’ve found in recent research is is that it’s actually better to take a different approach. We figure out the founder’s skills and interests and find ways to get people to do the other things so everyone can focus on the things they’re good at and what interests them. When you do this, young startups grow their revenue much faster.
“We’ve been there, engaged, seen their processes, seen everything from how they test milk to actual production to where they store it, everything,” says Heiden. “And then we also sat down and went over all the finances, everything, set goals. They had goals, but how to achieve those goals? We also engaged with the local town to find out what they think this place should be and what it already is for people – to develop solutions for this yak cheese, to get a better understanding of a business remote like this, but also to make it more successful and really fruitful for the community.
They learned that the factory aims to dramatically increase production from 200 kilos last year to 2,000 kilos this year. What if they couldn’t? What if they couldn’t sell their cheese after having produced so much?
“You could have a dynamite year going from 200 to 800 kilograms of cheese production, and that’s great if you sell it,” says Coles. “That’s a lot of growth. But it won’t be seen that way if you tell your stakeholders that the goal was 2,000. It will look like a failure.
Coles and Heiden discovered that the factory needed help building a system where the founder could focus on his strength – cheese making – and while others would focus on sales.
“We started developing a sales system where they could hire sales people who worked 100% on commission, so they could focus on selling the cheese. This meant the founder and his team could double cheese production,” says Coles. “I think that basic change really helped. This year they produced over 800 kilograms of cheese. Peter Werth was excellent on the customer segment side. He managed to put them in contact with The Kathmandu House, which is a large hotel in Kathmandu. The hotel is going to be a customer and buy cheese from them.
Now Daigle Labs is working to help the factory buy a dirt bike – one of the best things the company needs right now, says Coles, because there are no roads, no trucks and no easy way to reach the herds of yaks.
“It sounds weird, but in this context you have to remember that introducing something basic like a dirt bike makes a big difference in terms of business productivity,” he says. “Grounding them means they can go to more places and bring in more milk to make more cheese.”