Three Scoops of RAZA

Open Road — Week Five by Team RAZA

Team RAZA experienced a lot of growth our first four weeks on the road. And not just in the way we bonded and worked together as a team. With each week, our partner companies grew both in size and maturity. We journeyed from working with a small clothing company in Detroit preparing to open its second store to an established brewery in Fargo exploring ways to hand ownership stake to its employees. It seemed with each week we got to immerse ourselves in increasingly specialized realms of business. In week five, however, we found ourselves back at square one.

The Golden Yoke is a farm and creamery in St. Ignatius, Montana, a town of about 800 located nearly 40 minutes north of Missoula. It was the earliest stage of any of our partners on the trip. Its founders (and only employees), Connie and Laura, started the company in 2015. They had purchased a dairy farm and needed an outlet for the milk. Not being the biggest fans of cheese, they secured a grant to send Connie to Penn State’s ice cream school (you read that correctly) and opened The Golden Yoke a year later. Today, The Golden Yoke makes small-batch ice cream and sorbet with only local ingredients that it sells from its shop in St. Ignatius and in several stores around the Missoula area.

We quickly realized that working with The Golden Yoke would require a different approach than we had become accustomed to working with other partners. Having no formal business background, Connie and Laura were extremely grateful for any assistance we could provide and were open to any projects we wanted to take on.

To us, this was both a blessing and a curse.

Establishing the right scope is the crucial first step to any project and also the greatest challenge for Open Road teams. With so many possibilities to apply core business learnings, it’s easy for teams to get wide-eyed and want to take on more than they can manage in such little time. With a company as young as The Golden Yoke, we saw amazing opportunities to flex our muscles and show off our aptitude around complex concepts and frameworks we’ve learned at Ross. But at this stage of our trip we also recognized the futility in preparing a fancy PowerPoint with insightful recommendations if they couldn’t realistically be implemented. We needed to provide real value, and we needed to do so more quickly and with less resources than weeks past.

To best serve our partner, we let ourselves be guided by one simple question: What mattered to Connie and Laura most, right now?

In our time on Open Road, one of the most valuable lessons we learned was that for a small business, solidifying the fundamentals can go a lot further than even the most brilliant long-term strategy that lacks steps for execution. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work to provide Laura and Connie with some tools they could use immediately to strengthen the foundation of The Golden Yoke.

We developed an interactive tool they can use to track the profitability of different products and accurately assess production costs. Now, they can identify opportunities to improve the top and bottom lines. This will be especially handy as Connie and Laura explore whether to hire their first employee to help sell ice cream from the shop window. With the tool, they can calculate what volume of sales they need to pay an employee’s wages and still gain profits.

We also created the company’s Yelp page and got the business verified by Google. Though seemingly basic tasks, both are crucial first steps to increasing search engine optimization and driving awareness for new customers to discover The Golden Yoke’s ice cream.

Our journey’s final partner presentation happened on picnic benches in front of The Golden Yoke’s shop. It certainly wasn’t our flashiest meeting of the trip, but it was undoubtedly our densest with actionable impact provided. And that’s what matters most right now for The Golden Yoke.