Stanford Magazine has a terrific article about Kiva called “Small Change, Big Payoff” by Cynthia Haven. This is the story of how Matt and Jessica Jackely Flannery created it to enable people to make micro loans to entrepreneurs around the world.

The results are awesome: more than 123,000 people have loaned more than $12.4 million to 18,000 entrepreneurs. In fact, there so many lenders that there’s are individual limits so that everyone can make a loan. The process involves reading a short profile about each entrepreneur and then deciding which to fund. From beginning to end, you can make a loan in under five minutes if you’re a slow typist. Lenders do not earn interest though the micro-finance organizations that helped Kiva find the entrepreneur does. Entrepreneurs pay 99.67 percent of the loans.

Here are some lessons that any entrepreneur can learn from the Kiva phenomenon:

  1. Create meaningful partnerships. Most entrepreneurs create partnerships to impress investors, journalists, customers, and parents. Hence, most partnership as bull shiitake. The best test of a partnership is whether its existence requires that you change numbers in a spreadsheet. No changes = b.s. partnership. In the case of Kiva, it has sixty seven partnerships with micro-finance organizations. It is these organizations that provide the “leads” for lenders to fund.

    Also, Kiva has partnerships with PayPal (free transactions), Google (free traffic) as well as with Yahoo!, Micorosft, MySpace, and YouTube. As you can imagine, these kinds of partnerships do make you reboot Excel.

  2. Catalyze and support evangelism. Like Apple, Harley-Davidson, and Tivo, evangelism starts with a great product, and Kiva has one. When you have a great product, then evangelists will appear, and Kiva has 250 active volunteers—what I would label “evangelists.” Kiva has really institutionalized evangelism if you ask me.

  3. Find a business model. You’d be surprised how many people wave their hands or avoid the topic of business model completely. Kiva’s model is a minimum $2.50 voluntary fee that lenders pay when checking out their “shopping cart.” If I understand this right: lenders receive no interest and pay a voluntary fee to Kiva in order to loan money. And you thought Google had a great business model—wow, as Wayne and Garth said, “We’re not worthy.”

  4. “Bank” on unproven people. What would the ideal background be of the founder of Kiva? Investment banker from Goldman, Sachs? Vice president of the World Bank? Vice president of the Peace Corp? Vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation? Partner at McKinsey? How about temporary administrative assistant at the Stanford Business School? Because that’s how Jessica started her quest. The spark that lit the fire was a speech by Muhammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

  5. Focus on free marketing. Kiva launched in 2005 with seven businesses in Uganda. The first “marketing” was sending out an email to the wedding invitation list of Jessica and Matt. All seven businesses were funded in a weekend. Then the Daily Kos picked up their story from a hacked together press release. Then PBS’s Frontline covered the organization and loan volume went from $3,000 to $30,000 over night. No road show. No Demo. No TechCrunch 40.

  6. Ignore the naysayers. The Flannerys got a lot of advice that you can’t send money around the Internet without government approval; that Kiva couldn’t scale beyond a few African villages; that a non-profit couldn’t offer an investment product; and that it would violate SEC regulations as well as the Patriot Act. Besides this, Kiva was a no-brainer. :-) - Chhorn Yan.jpg

Yup, there’s a lot any entrepreneur can learn from the Kiva story. More importantly, why don’t you go to its web site and make a loan? You could co-invest with me in Chhorn Yan, mother of six in Cambodia, who needs capital to expand her home-based, offline grocery store. One way to look at this is we could fund one Webvan or 800,000 Chhorn Yans.