Seth Godin has a new book on the shelves. I am sure most of you have heard of it, What to Do When It’s Your Turn. If you are familiar with Seth Godin then this type of unique publication is to be expected. Seems like it was a natural next step in his evolution.
Tribes is another popular book, but what is different about Tribes is that it is targeted at the person who already has confidence in themselves to start their own movement. It is a great book, but for the Americans who are still struggling to find meaningful full-time work it may not be quite helpful. Building a tribe that you will lead seems out of reach to someone who is applying for highly competitive jobs and building their resume. What to Do When It’s Your Turn is specifically for the people who have not yet realized they are allowed to create their own path. Blaze their own trail. It was just what I needed.
I have gone through various life events, professional experiences, and developed many skills leading up to this point. As this story begins from about six months ago, the previous years will give you more context of how I ended up here. You can read more about that on my “Intro” page.
Last September, I was offered a position as a designer for a new startup in Princeton, NJ. Cinema6 is a new video monetization and distribution company founded by six entrepreneurs. Many of them already have successful exits with their previous companies. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was hesitant to start the position because I spent the previous three months developing a new project, The Startup University. I could feel that my new project had legs, and working for another company would pull me away from that vision. I already had a full-time job with another agency in Princeton as their senior designer. I was working from home. It was a good setup. I had income, and I was able to work on my personal projects.
I turned down the job at Cinema6 on Monday, October 6th, 2014. I told them I did not want to risk losing the position I already had in the event things did not work out. Four days later, something unexpected happened.
i took the road less traveled.
After the experience of working for a corporation who treated me like a cog in the machine, I knew where I belonged in the world. I knew where I was meant to be. I found the meaning of my life.
If you know my projects from the last six years then you are aware of the community work in which I started my career. It was time to get back there. One problem was that I had cut most of my ties from the community and university when I was consumed by the corporate world. It is an uphill battle to reestablish these connections. Lesson learned: always keep the bridges open because you never know what direction your life may go.
The next morning, I woke up and started writing. After writing 12+ hours per day for 23 days in a row I had 100,000+ words written about my life, family, education, opportunity, social problems, community, corporations, technology, the meaning of life, changing human behavior, and a framework for social change began to take shape.
The above framework is a workflow for social change. I thought about all the obstacles I ran into while building social enterprises over the last six years, and I created this framework to solve those problems. This framework is the foundation for the software I am building which includes features to help a social entrepreneur overcome the same obstacles.
I invested a few thousand hours researching social entrepreneurship, impact investing, education reform, and grasping a full understanding of humanity. This led to one of the top of the funnel resources I’m building – social entrepreneurship knowledgebase.
I spent a solid four months in seclusion while I continued to work on my theory of change, sketching wireframes, storyboards, and features for various new business models.
About two months ago, I was running out of money. To this day, I have not taken any contract or consulting work. I know as soon as I take new projects on for other people it will pull my focus away from my vision. Then I stumbled upon Seth’s new book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn.
The book was just the right amount of kick-in-the-ass. It is inspiring. It talks about timing, taking what is yours, and getting up off the couch to make an impact on the world. I have since bought eight copies of the book to distribute to my cofounders and advisors. I asked each of them to read it, and give it to someone who could use the inspiration – and potentially become a customer in the future.
I realized none of my work would matter if I didn’t socialize with others to determine whether I was building something that people actually needed, and would be willing to eventually pay for. I was developing a solution to my own problems, but did other people from the community also have similar problems? I assumed they did. I had to find out for sure.
I went on Meetup and tried to cast a wide net by starting an organization called Princeton Impact Project. Here is the description I used for the first Meetup:
What is the Princeton Impact Project? A movement of local community members who work cooperatively to create business models that tackle social problems like inequality and climate change. Members are assets to one another as they share resources, insight, and advice from respective industries.
Those who attend typically fall within one of the following categories (but attendance is not limited to):
(1) impact investors
(2) social entrepreneurs
(3) community members
This meetup series is our contribution to the establishment of a social enterprise ecosystem in the United States.
Life is a team sport. We came to play.
Over 20 people showed up. I did not know any of them. They attendees read about the event on Meetup.com. This is a great example of how to start a movement or the lay the groundwork for an entrepreneurial ecosystem. For some reason, all those people showed up. Perhaps because the words in the description struck a chord. Perhaps I was able to identify words that we were all looking for, and we all feel. However, the words in the description are not my words. These are the words of our time.
We now have 60 members in the Meetup. The Meetup is filling a number of gaps in Princeton. One being the existence of an inclusive venue for people to plugin and plug out as they have time to participate in the community. As we know from Brad Feld, the authority on building startup communities, when building an entrepreneurial ecosystem you must be careful for “gatekeepers”. A gatekeeper is a person who positions themselves as the only source of technology, investment capital, and other resources in a given geographical location. These people are toxic for the ecosystem to flourish. Eventually, they will be rejected by the community.
The Princeton Impact Project is also a place to establish relationships with people who may become cofounders with you on new projects. We have a number of members who already started community projects. They are now learning how to attach revenue models to their projects. As for funding, the meetup has become a great place for impact investors to connect with social entrepreneurs.
So far, I developed meaningful relationships with 10 members of the Princeton Impact Project Meetup. Some have become my friends, some are becoming my mentors, some are now my cofounders, and some are establishing themselves as impact investors. I have also been able to identify ideal customers. It turns out that my assumption behind the problems I am trying to solve are problems many others are experiencing as well. It has been a blessing.
One problem is that I have gone six months without any revenue coming in. The first six months were invested in research and development. Now I am at the point of customer development, but I need a bit more working capital in order to continue building. I am hesitant to take an investment at this early stage. Mostly because I do not want to spend time on pitching when I can be talking to customers, and getting myself closer to sales. That led me to organize an event in Princeton on May 14th. It is a social innovation conference called Cooperative Impact.
The Cooperative Impact Conference is the intersection of community, government, business, and technology.
It has been a wonderful thing to see how involved the city government is with community-based organizations. I had a great call with the Mayor of Princeton, Liz Lempert, last week. She is speaking at Cooperative Impact, and bringing the directors of a few city departments to have an open discussion about projects the city is working on. I told the mayor I was interested in having the city present at the event because I want to help facilitate the connection between government and community. There are great things happening in Princeton, but there are still many people who are interested in getting involved in the community, but do not know where to start. This is where I want to create value. Listening to the mayor’s challenges creates the opportunity for community members to create value to fill those needs, and match up with private funding.
The last part of my social change framework mentions “hyperlocal e-commerce”. Local e-commerce is an online mall where people buy local when they buy online. It is a local-based Amazon that creates wealth in a given town. It includes sales/marketing tools and a private equity crowdfunding feature. The idea is to export the model to surrounding cities. For now, it is called Princeton Boutique.
I will continue to add to this post as more develops. Stay tuned!