Anou’s First Return

Last week we were contacted by an unhappy customer about one of the rugs they purchased from Anou. They noted that their rug had multiple frayed threads and asked if they could return it. We were happy to. We even covered the return shipping.


After finding a couple of frayed edges on this rug, the customer decided they wanted to return it.

When we first launched Anou, we were told it was too risky to expect artisans to fulfill their own orders, much less provide free returns. Instead, we were advised to consolidate products to monitor quality before they were shipped. But this wouldn’t have worked for two reasons. First, it would have been cost prohibitive. Second, artisans wouldn’t be able to learn and understand the expectations of quality their customers have.

Anou’s success thus far has been built on the idea that experience is the best teacher. Artisans don’t necessarily suffer from a lack of training, but rather a lack of experience. The more meaningful experiences artisans have, the better they will become at their craft and the more successful they will be. That is why we’ve made sure to make it as easy as possible for customers to return their products. While returns can be costly, we consider it a necessary expense to build the experience needed so artisans can thrive.

Given that the Anou’s store has only had one return since it’s launch, something is clearly working and it is unlikely that we’ll change our free return policy anytime soon!

Week One of Artisan Management of Anou

Last week we brought together the leaders of Anou’s artisan community for four days in order to prepare them to take over operations of the Anou store on January 16th (read more about Anou’s transition to becoming fully artisan led). As of tomorrow, the leaders will have taken the reigns of the site for one week and there have been no major issues so far. Things are looking bright for the rest of the month!

The smooth week we’ve experienced can easily be traced back to all the topics we covered during our four day training. Below are a few of our favorite pictures from the training. If you want to see all the pictures, check out the album on Anou’s Facebook page.


Rabha, Kenza, Brahim, Mustaph Chaouai and Tom eat lunch when everyone arrives in Figuig after a long journey from their villages.


The training kicked off with a afternoon walk out to the Algeria – Morocco border.


In order to improve the overall packaging on the Anou store, Anou’s team organizes an egg drop contest. The team member who uses the least amount of money to buy packaging to protect an egg from a two story drop wins!


Four out of the five eggs dropped survive the fall. Not bad!


Mustapha’s egg survived!


After the egg drop contest, Brahim begins to walk through everyone on the new dashboard. The tools on the dashboard enable the team to do things like review new products added to the Anou store, send payments and track existing orders, among other features.


Brahim teaches Rabha how to send payments to artisans using the new dashboard.


From left to right, Kenza, Rabha, Brahim and Mustapha interview members of Association Assala to begin building the association’s online store on Anou.


This is what an effective training looks like. Every member of Association Assala gets a chance to informally ask questions with Anou’s team before the training begins.


Brahim delegates the responsibility for the training to each member of the Anou team.


Rabha trains each member of the association basic photography skills.


Mustapha gathers any relevant information about the products and materials the association uses.


While Mustapha and Rabha work with the association, Kenza and Brahim set up the association’s online account on their mobile phones.


After a short while, the association begins to take some stunning photographs of their products.


Anou’s team spends the remaining time in Figuig finishing up the association’s account and reviewing any aspects of Anou they don’t fully understand. By the end of the training, Anou’s team was ready to take over the management of Anou!

This is just a quick glimpse into the preparation of Anou’s team to take over the site. To learn more about this training, take a look at our Facebook album! 

Sneak Peak: Tools For Anou’s Community Leadership

As you might of read, we’re incredibly excited to see how Anou’s artisan community leadership manages all aspects of Anou’s online store for a period of 30 days starting next week. The key to their success will depend on the tools they have at their disposal and the ease in which they can use them.

Keeping in mind that Anou’s community leadership consists of artisans who not that long ago were not computer proficient, we had to rethink the administrative tools that Tom and I use to manage the Anou store. Our previous administrative page got the job done for us but that was about it:


The community leadership rarely used this page, with the exception of Brahim. When a trainer needed to add an artisan account on Anou, for example, they would simply call me up. After a couple of clicks on my part I would set up the account and the  trainer would go on his or her way and complete it.

In redesigning the administrative page, we wanted to ensure that community leaders could complete all critical aspects managing the Anou store. With this in mind, we went back to the drawing board to create what is becoming Anou’s classic design: a clean, minimalist page, peppered with single colored, evenly spaced buttons:


All the buttons on the administrative page are organized by color. Blue buttons are used to review information (e.g. profiles for artisans or currently posted products), green buttons are used to create something new (e.g. a new artisan account), gold is to review anything related to orders, and purple buttons are research and insights (e.g. review expenditures/revenue). To create a new account an artisan trainer only has to make a decision between two buttons, can you guess which one it is?

Of all the tools the artisan team has access to, this one is my favorite:


Any idea what might it be used for? (hint: it’s purple!) This button enables any community leader to review a series of visual graphs that represent important stats for Anou: quantity of products added/sold, revenue, profit and expenditures, to name a few. In one such graph displayed below, blue represents the profit Anou generated in a given month compared with the expenditures of Anou, displayed in red:


This information is vital for the success of Anou’s community. First off, it enables the community leadership to make more informed decisions based on Anou’s financial health. For example, leaders can determine how many new artisans they can afford to train in the next month, or if there is a windfall, they can elect to organize trainings that focus on design, quality, or other topics critical for the success of artisans in Morocco. It is the artisan’s money, after all.

The tools that the community leadership now has access to creates an unprecedented level of access and transparency. This enables Anou to successfully grow into a cohesive community of artisans capable of transforming how their market works.  The more artisans that can be involved in Anou’s operations, the more artisans understand how Anou works and the vision it represents.

Starting next week, we’ll begin putting these tools to the test!

Car Bumper or a Book Shelf?

Right when we think we got everything figured out, Morocco always throws us a curve ball. Last month, we had an artisan call in and say that the post office charged them almost double for shipping.

Normally, price discrepancies happen when artisans guesstimate the weight, but this never causes prices to double. We ruled out every valid reason why the post office could have accidentally charged such a high rate. We simply couldn’t figure out the problem.  That is until the rug the artisan sent arrived in the states.

The customer wrote to us saying they loved their rug but they were confused as to why package included this:

photo (4)

This happened about a month ago and we still can’t figure out what it is. We’ve wavered between a part of a car bumper or a piece of a bookshelf. Your guess is as good as ours.

We started investigating and found out that the post office required the artisan to include the metal object in their package. We also learned that another artisan had the same problem and they didn’t mention this to us either. So far, one customer received a free tagine, a second customer received bars of argan soap, and the third customer got a car bumper. Oh, Morocco.

One of these post offices we’ve already flagged for corrupt practices and we’re still looking into the second post office. Regardless, we still can’t figure out if this is a way to skim money from the artisan or if the post office just doesn’t have a clue.

Artisans are now aware that they don’t have to add anything to their packages but in the rare case you find something extra, give us a shout!

Developing Anou’s Vision for 2014

2013 was a huge year for Anou. At the beginning of last year, our vision for what Anou would become began to coalesce. By August, the vibrant community of artisans that defines Anou finally started to take shape. In November, Anou and the artisan community began to strain as sales tripled from the proceeding month. And, well, in December we had a bit of a surprise.

We initially thought that sales had unexpectedly declined in December. Compared to November, we weren’t putting out as many fires or providing as much support to Anou’s artisan team as the artisan community fulfilled their orders. In some ways it started to feel a bit quiet. But when we ran the numbers at the end of the month, Anou’s community had actually set another record in sales.

December was a telling sign of just how much Anou’s community has grown and matured over the past year. Most importantly the month demonstrated that Anou can be fully artisan run and be sustained independently. No longer do we have to write that artisan independence is a future we are creating because it is now a reality.

In the context of this success, many challenges loom for Anou both large and small. On the small side, the photography artisans post on the Anou store needs improvement; attention to detail with packaging can be insufficient at times; some orders have taken too long to ship; and artisan profiles sometimes lack the depth customers on the Anou store would like to see. However, we believe these challenges will slowly resolve themselves as Anou’s artisan team grows and gains more experience building Anou.

Anou’s larger challenges can be defined with one question: While Anou can now sustain itself independently, can it grow, adapt and thrive independently? The only way this is possible is with vision. More so than money or talent, vision is the scarcest resource of any successful organization.  Can Anou’s artisan team, with some members who lack even an elementary education, develop the vision required for Anou’s long-term success?

We believe that all visions are rooted in the experience of confronting challenges. That is why on January 14th, Anou’s artisan team will take over the full responsibility of managing Anou for a period of 30 days. To get ready, we’ll be bringing our entire artisan team together in Figuig for four days next week to prepare them.

During this experience, Tom, Anou’s technical director, will continue to push forward features and I will continue to manage customer relations, but only at the request of the artisan team. For Anou’s long-term success, the artisan team will also be identifying pain points to refine Anou’s operations. And most importantly, Anou’s artisan team will confront the challenge of managing Anou head on in order to begin developing the vision necessary to take Morocco’s artisan community into 2014 and beyond.

We can’t wait to see what Anou’s artisan team will do.