Advice to Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs
2010 Echoing Green Fellow Jodie Wu recently led a conversation on TED.com centered around advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs. We've excerpted moments of the conversation below. Click here to view the full transcript.
How do I know if a business is the right way to make the difference to the area I want to explore?
I'd say let it grow organically. Start it on the side, and then when it starts taking off, then you turn it into a business. I started Global Cycle Solutions with intentions of going back to grad school after 6 months, but then an investor came in, and I was like, I'm not doing this halfway...I'm all in! I bet you'll hit a transition point like this when the time is right.
How do you pull yourself out of a conventional job—which is secure and paying the bills—and find the courage to strike out on your own?
It's actually the most adventurous thing you'll ever do. I think what makes it terrifying is the fear of making mistakes. There's no mistakes, just mountains of things to learn! Just follow your heart and your passion, and I think you'll find happiness.
What are some common mistakes future entrepreneur's should seek to avoid?
Assuming that they know everything, and their model is the only one that works. Go in and learn first. Then figure things out.
What is the best way to determine if one should run as profit or nonprofit?
For-profit vs. nonprofit is just a tax status. I think if you're in education, stick to nonprofit and find revenue-generating models that allow your model to be sustainable beyond donations. Plus, if you're nonprofit, I'm sure there's lots of people who'd love to give to keep your organization alive. You just have to continue to inspire.
How do you mobilize and keep skilled laborers, hire great managers and build a network?
As the saying goes, build a cathedral. Gather a following, inspire, and then mobilize to build something that lasts a lifetime. For sure, your first hires are some of the most important. Don't be afraid to interview well over 100 people just to find the perfect person.
What advice can you give to me as I move from design to business? Specifically towards making that leap.
Of course you can jump into the tangible product industry! It's one of the hardest things because once you do have the design, you have to think about manufacturing, quality control, distribution, and even pricing! It's tough, and it depends on your markets. Kickstarter definitely is a good way to launch your designs towards production. If you're already in consultancy, talk to the people that you consult and get their advice on the product industry. They probably know where you can find OEMs in the like. For sure, you're going to have to think about the scale you hope to achieve (will your own small workshop be sufficient or do you need to go to the big guys abroad?) Bootstrap at first, but be ready to hire where you don't have the skills! HR is the most important aspect of any start-up!
How far along on the development path can I be before I start turning investors off? Or will this even happen?
Investors always want to invest in the thing that'll make them money! Or meet their bottom line, whether its financial, social, or green! And I doubt your product could ever be too refined. Any company just has to keep on innovating! Look at computers, cars, and phones! Everyday, it's upgrade after upgrade. And if you can partner rather than starting your own business, it's all the better. There's no reason to be redundant. Create synergies where possible! And the WHY is the one thing that will stay consistent as your business changes due to external factors. So, keep that one close to your heart.
Echoing Green Live
May 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Fellows in Brief, May 2013
May 23, 2013 at 10:04 PM
echoinggreen: thx! RT @modelcitizen: @echoinggreen leading the charge in funding #socent. My kind of people. :) #openco http://t.co/3eUTPkvmLv
May 18, 2013 at 02:33 PM
How do I apply for a grant?
May 22, 2013 at 04:00 PM
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