About the Episode
A single text can change a life. How? Let Stevan Simich, the founder and CEO of Mogli Technologies, explain. From Colorado to Africa, his focus on providing “appropriate technology” has fueled growth for nonprofits and educational institutions around the world. These organizations are tackling huge problems and bringing forth major change with text messages. Listen now to hear how a few inspiring stories have molded Stevan’s thoughts on what it means to measure impact.
Meet Our Guest
Stevan Simich is no stranger to building apps that transform organizations. As the founder and CEO of Mogli Technologies, he’s spent the last nine years developing technology that accelerates businesses across the globe. He’s passionate about creating tools that can drastically change processes and measure impact. “I pinch myself every day that I get to do this for work. That's the power of technology—we're global and interconnected.”
Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Stevan Simich, founder and CEO at Mogli Technologies. They're developers of an intelligent text messaging app called Mogli SMS. If you go to their website, you'll see the headline: It's not just a text message. I think that statement really hits home during our conversation. But in order to understand how Mogli is impacting the lives of others through SMS, it's helpful to understand how it all got started.
Stevan Simich: Started Mogli Technologies about eight and a half years ago and initially our work was really focused on helping international development organizations and foundations, impact investors around the globe to adopt Salesforce. And not only to be a good technology partner with them, but to understand the environment and the conditions and the reality of using technology in places where there is low connectivity. You've got unique individual personalities, cultures, and other things that to navigate, but more importantly, to bring them the perfect technology needed to fundraise, to run their business, to do their field operations. And that evolved into us developing a certain number of apps over the years. And the one that sticks the most is our Mogli SMS app right now, which is growing fast and being received in lots of places across North America, but also around the globe.
Chris Byers: So what problem is Mogli solving today? It might surprise you. As Stephen and I began our conversation, he started by sharing a story from 2012. He was contacted by someone from Nuru International, a nonprofit organization committed to ending extreme poverty in remote rural areas around the world. What happened next is astounding.
Stevan Simich: And he said, look, we just don't have the funds, the resources, the money, more importantly, the efficiency to cover this geography quick enough to help these farmers balancing vehicles, staff, hotels, food, etc. It's just too complicated and too expensive and won't get to people in time. But every single one of those farmers has a flip phone. Despite living in a mud hut, having no electricity, no running water, and a pit latrine somewhere in the community. But they could reach those farmers on a momentarily basis and say, hey, how's it going today? Did you try this technique? Did it work? Are your crops improving? Are you still having the same problem? And on a daily basis, be in touch with 5,000 farmers across this big geography and more importantly, help them, help their families be successful that year and not suffer. And so that started our jump into text. And it was Kenyan farmers that really taught us what that looked like in 2012 and 2013.
Chris Byers: Incredible, isn't it? And this is just one of the several stories like that that Stevan shared with us. So let's jump into the conversation and hear how Stevan and the team at Mogli are using technology to impact lives around the globe.
Chris Byers: So your team is sitting in Colorado, working on engineering, working on marketing, whatever, and they are delivering a product that nonprofits and NGOs are using to connect to that last mile. So they're actually educating or even just following up with people that they're trying to help survive. Is that what I'm hearing?
Stevan Simich: Yes. It's pretty cool, huh? I pinch myself every day that I get to do this for work. That is the power of technology right now. That's the way the world's moving right now. We're global. We're interconnected. You know, that's what I've loved about text messaging is that in our services work, it's a very complicated, long process to deliver successful technology to an organization. You need to understand their strategy and their technology and their use cases in their environment, their user stories. And when text came along, it's like, hey, it sends and receives text messages. Do you need it, yes or no? And it's universal and it works in any language. And people already were using it. So there is no learning curve for it. What we could do is deliver it aligned with a CRM. We could deliver it with sort of some of our newer features and functions, which is, you know, our form, form template and survey functionality where we're now launching a text to pay functionality that is being well adapted. And it's been really fascinating to see how it can be so easily, quickly adopted and expanded again across any language and culture and time zone environment. So, yes, it's been a blast. It's been fun. And yes, a little team here in Colorado and extending our reach around the globe.
Chris Byers: Yeah, I think that's a wonderful story. I think most of us most days are trying to make these little tweaks to our lives or improve our technology, where what we're doing is serving, you know, that top 10%, that top 1%, whatever, and making life a little bit easier. At least in the Western world, technology's come quite a ways, so I think it's cool to be able to see places where we're making really big impact and helping people, so that's a wonderful story.
Stevan Simich: And again, we've had these interesting scenarios where in Honduras a year and a half ago, you know, some of these environments are really the places that have pushed us as technologists further than I think we would have. In our experience here, with organizations in North America who are, you know, educated, technically advanced and in that top percentage of wealth in the world.
But I've found that the work in these environments where there's a lot of constraints has actually pushed us as technologists in ways that I never would have imagined. And we're able to blend artificial intelligence with text messaging in Honduras for one of our clean cookstove clients. And it was around a situation where we were installing cookstoves, they've got a chimney that comes through the mud hut and the metal roof. And if it wasn't installed right there, it wouldn't work in and smoke out people. But we used a combination of offline mobile image capture and then text messaging to convey images that would review is that should be installed right or not? If so, good job contractor who just built it, move on to the next house or no, you need to fix this.
And why that matters in Honduras isn't because obviously, got to get the job done right. But in Honduras, which is for the longest time the murder capital of the world, if you go into the wrong village on the wrong day, at the wrong time, you literally could get killed. And so we were actually designing a lot around the safety of staff and getting it right the first time so that when they complete that clean SIPTU cookstove project and move on to the next village or the next home, they got it right and they're complete. They get paid, which is what they're trying to do. You make a living and then move on to the next job. More importantly, that they're not having to come back on that house, you know, weeks or days later where it could actually be quite dangerous.
So some of these environments have pushed us into thinking and using technology in new ways. And that was one of them, which was like, hey, what if we sprinkle a little AI on this and bring together some of the things that we're using, but just do it so it's better. So it's been fun to see how these environments with certain constraints can push us as technologists in the new places.
The metrics of impact measurement are powerful. But at the end of the day, if you've got that good story, it's sometimes worth a lot more.
Chris Byers: Well, tell us a little bit more about how you've talked about the impact and the groups of people you're impacting. How is it they interact with Mogli? Maybe let's think of it this way, as a user, maybe I'm a nonprofit. Maybe I am thinking about, I'm trying to communicate with people in kind of far flung places a little bit better. What is it, kind of in real detail and in the weeds, I suppose. How is it you're doing that? How are you making that easier through Mogli SMS?
Stevan Simich: So I think the use cases that we've been fortunate enough to experience, you know, range from certain geographies we already discussed, but so many use cases. And I think one of the exciting ones that I'd love to touch on and maybe, by example, share a little bit about how Mogli SMS fits and even how Formstack engages. We have a shared client, the organization's headquarters is based out of Boulder, Colorado. But they've got operations in L.A. and Chicago and Memphis and other areas around the country. And the organization is Big Green. And what they do is provide learning gardens for elementary schools, high schools, middle schools, in typically schools that have pretty high at-risk students and high free lunch percentages. And what they're trying to do is introduce kids to the source of where their food can come from and what would the experience be like to grow food right at their school. And some of these kids who only eat food out of plastic bags and other things are now experiencing growing a carrot for their first time, and lettuce, and other things and then experiencing actually eating.
And Big Green wanted to actually gather the stories from those teachers who are introducing these learning gardens to students. And one of the challenges they always faced was as they gathered that story or experienced the story, by the time they got back to the classroom, they have already been bombarded by questions from the students and another adminstrator might have caught them in the hallway. And they never got to share that story. And it was lost. And one of the things we realize, of course, is that text messaging is on your phone at any moment. And what if while they're in the moment in the learning garden, they have that story, this little girl grew her first carrot and got to harvest it and taste it and the smile on her face or how she's going to bring this experience back to her home and help her family. And what they would simply do is text a keyword story into Moglia, and then we can engage a simple form. And then at that point, once enough information is gathered, it would fit them into Formstack, where they could add photos, they could add a longer text description, and then submit that into Salesforce for use by marketing and other people who want to know the stories to share more about what that program is about. And so that's the kind of the essence of why Mogli was created. And actually, as I think about the locations where Big Green operates, you know, I'm pretty sure you guys have your headquarters in Indianapolis. Is that right, Chris?
Chris Byers: Yep, that's right.
Stevan Simich: Yeah, so they operate out of Indianapolis, Detroit, Colorado, Chicago, LA, Memphis, Pittsburgh. And I'm sure they're probably looking to expand in other places. But how cool that they're right by your headquarters in Indy. And just the same for us here in Boulder. They've got operations in Denver.
Chris Byers: Yeah. Well, I hope that kind of tees a few people up to say, hey, maybe I can get involved there or try to find out ways where I can get them involved in my school, because I can see that being a great way to really educate people on healthier eating, on healthier living and so on. I love that story. I'd love to hear ways that over, you know, over your life, with just building a business, how you've learned to be more productive or what's an angle on productivity that you think our audience might want to hear?
Stevan Simich: Let me answer this first, just in a technology perspective, because this has been fundamental to our client engagement, our philosophy on how we do things. And oftentimes, the answer to this question isn't just simply throwing technology at something. I think it's the process around getting to the appropriate technology. And I think that's, I may have use that word already in our conversation. But to me, appropriate technology is the way anybody delivering something to somebody should be thinking. And appropriate technology means, you know, we've got a person in Honduras who maybe has a high school education, but is in an offline environment. Like how do they get whatever they're doing out in the field back to a system quickly and efficiently? And maybe, you know, a smartphone with a complicated app on it is not the solution because it requires a lot of training. But, you know, that individual's got a text on their, whether it's a dumb phone or a smartphone. And they could just follow a couple of simple prompts without much training. To me, that's appropriate technology and a lot of that determining what is appropriate technology for an organization, whether it's an international nonprofit or whether it's a good old U.S. based business, it comes from a series of questions and curiosity. And that first piece that we always ask our clients is what does success look like? Hey, great, you want to use text messaging. In six months from now or three months from now or a year from now, you're reporting to your team. Hey, we deployed this app, here's what it's doing for us. And success looked like fill in the blank. And if we know what that definition of success is for that organization, that use case, that environment oftentimes it's like, oh, that's what you're trying to do. No problem. Try using it this way or, hey, a couple of our clients have done something similar. It really worked well for them. Try that out and you cut to the chase and all of a sudden before it was ten steps to success. And now it's two or three steps to success. And a fraction of the cost. It's amazing to me how that simple question of what does success look like to you? Oh, it looks like this. Oh, great. Try this and you can really cut to the chase.
Chris Byers: That fundamental question is probably the answer most of us need to hear. Because I know for me, I all too often think, will this work for me, therefore, and if the answer is yes, therefore, it will likely work for our audience. I like that question. You really brought up two ideas. One is just that simple question of what does success look like? Because as you get the answer, you might realize, oh, this hammer I have actually is not the solution. There's a better, faster, cheaper answer. But then this idea of what is the appropriate maybe amount of technology or there's an education element that you're talking about, which is we can't assume even if our audiences, all Western, all of a particular age, we can't assume they've got the same set of background understanding knowledge. There's going to be a training element involved. And so if we deliver technology that solves the problem, but it's too complicated, then we've failed. Really, we think we've delivered it, but we haven't. So I think both of those are really exceptional things to listen for. When you're doing product discovery, especially talking to your customers, trying to understand what is it that's going to solve their problem. Because again, I know for me, I love the big, you know, the bright, new shiny object and new features. And so if it sounds like a new feature, I want to go build it. And that may not always be the case.
Stevan Simich: I think that's what I've learned in being in an environment where, you know, it is competitive against other technologies. I just watched our "competitors" in many ways. They come in with a technology checklist that they force upon the clients that we end up engaging, versus coming and going like, hey, how are you? Nice to meet you. What are you trying to do? You know, it's that little moment that defines sometimes the success or failure of a project or a technology.
Chris Byers: So, Stevan, you've obviously had a great focus on nonprofits. And really your technology could be used in for-profit businesses, really just about anybody. But what kept you focused on that nonprofit space?
Stevan Simich: Good question. I think there's a lot of reasons. One, it's sort of that the basis of why I started the company. So it's been an area where we have a lot of experience and then non-technical knowledge and understanding. So when it comes to applying technology in that space, we meet those organizations as a thought partner as well as a technology partner. We also just believe that there's a leg to you as a leader, as a business, to become really good and deep within a vertical versus being spread thin and generic across many and started doing it half well or speaking generically across a lot of different places. Trust me, I'd love to be working in many other verticals. And we are, our biggest growth area has been in education, higher ed and K through 12, and financial services has been a growth area for us as well. But our focus has been as a small growing company, let's do it really well in those spaces and really own our presence there. And we can show up with an aligned team, aligned marketing and also be resourceful and efficient with our team and money to start those places really well.
Chris Byers: You have shared some really interesting stories today. And really, I know I do a really poor job of this, but I know the power of a story can really change an environment, change a life. How does telling stories kind of work for you? How do you think about that and its importance in running a business and really conveying the important message you have?
Stevan Simich: Yeah, I think my business has been in impact measurement now for twelve years. From my prior company and in this company in many ways, you know, bringing tools to deliver impact measurement. And we can get down to such crazy minutia and detail, whether it's, you know, tons of carbon saved or women entrepreneurs, you know, supported or gallons of clean water purifying. There's so many microscopic metrics that our systems are literally tracking and those are awesome, and you need them for proving your case to your board of directors for your marketing purposes, for your operations team to have feedback on like, hey, did we actually do what we said we're going to do and did it work? But for those funders that are getting behind those organizations, it is true differentiation for an organization to come in and say, hey, look, we did this, here's our proven data, here's where we succeeded, here's where we failed, can we please have some more money? That impact won't happen without those things being tied together. But at the end of the day, the connection is really around a simple story. You know, here is a man, Jacob, and his family in Kenya. And their lives were changed when Nuru International came around to help them improve their corn crop production. And put in a savings program for him and his family and to connect him to other farmers who are using these techniques in better markets to sell his his crops. That's a game changer, and a little text message along the way, helped helped him here and there and reminded him of certain things. And the metrics of impact measurement are awesome and powerful and incredible and you have to track him. But at the end of the day, if you've got that good story, it's worth sometimes a lot more. So stories are super important.
Chris Byers: One thing Stevan doesn't know is that we actually were able to capture some stories from people who've been positively impacted by the work he's done with Big Green.
The first statement comes from Keegan Amrose. She's a computer and information scientist at Big Green, and she says, "gathering stories directly from the garden has always been a struggle for us. It was difficult for teachers to get us their stories due to a clunky storytelling process and the timing. Mogli and Formstack have completely revitalized our process. Teachers can now submit a story to us directly from the garden. Not only are we getting more stories, but they're also better quality too. Our advancement team is ecstatic because now we have a means of showing our donors the impact we have on kids instead of just impersonal statistics.".
Here's what some of the teachers had to say about the impact Mogli and Formstack have made on their work. "I was honestly worried when I heard you guys were switching to text. Stories are long and I live on a teacher's salary, meaning I don't have unlimited texting. Now that I actually have had a chance to use the new method, I couldn't be happier. I can submit a story quickly and easily and can even include pictures. The best thing about it is it doesn't even eat up my data so I can submit as many stories as I want to.
A final one says, "I love the new way to submit a story. I used to try my best to remember to submit a story after a day in the garden, but I'd usually forget. Now I can text directly from my phone. Something I do every day. Anyway, I'm glad Big Green made the change. It makes sharing so much better.
Because of the nature of Mogli's SMS service, Stevan has a very clear picture of the impact his work is making in the lives of others. While it may not be that obvious for all of us, what can we do to begin getting a clearer picture of the real impact of your work? How can you instill the kind of passion Stevan and his team have for their work into your organization, and what kind of change would bring that?