Building a social enterprise is hard. It is a team sport.
Social enterprise dream team
If you only take one piece of advice from this post let it be this: from the first day you decide to build a social enterprise you must also decide to actively seek out other people who feel just like you about the issues you want to solve. You must find these people so you can develop friendships with them. You may be able to run a traditional LLC all on your own, but if you are seriously getting into social enterprise then you have no choice – there is no option of working alone. Not because “I said so”, but because the nature of social enterprise is based on the founder and founding team’s ability to connect with other humans. In real life. Do not worry about building websites, designing graphics, writing business plans or anything else until you build your social enterprise dream team. You need your crew. Not the group of stoners you went to college with. Politely excuse yourself from any types of relationships that have the slightest chance of throwing you off track.
Many of your new friends will not become cofounders or contribute labor whatsoever, and that is perfectly acceptable. You will need these well rounded humans in your life because once you get two or three months into the process, your “project” will be the ugliest most confusing thing to the outside world. This can present a problem if the only people you surround yourself with are those who look at you as the crazy person who thinks they, among all the people in the world, could actually build something that makes a dent in the universe. These people are everywhere, and they are more dangerous than a crack dealer on every corner.
You do not have time to go through peeks and valleys of emotional roller coasters because the negative comments and reactions people gave you when they were at your apartment visiting your roommate. Surround yourself with the right people so you can enjoy the journey. Of course your baby is going to look ugly as hell before you give birth to it.
If you surround yourself with the right people you never have to deal with the conversation about “Well, what is this thing anyway? It doesn’t seem like it’s worth all the trouble. People don’t even want these things.” Those are specific examples of comments I listened to people say to me. At the time, I did not have someone advising me to ignore those types of people, and to do whatever I could to find the right people.
Social enterprise and priesthood
I look at social enterprise similar to the way I look at becoming a priest. It is a calling. I did not choose to be this way. Also similar to a priest, is how I view my commitment to serving the people. This will be the last job I ever have to search for – the job I am creating for myself right now. For the rest of my life I will be dedicating each day to serving the people. I can not imagine it any other way.
It requires a wide range of advisors, mentors who were once in your shoes, a legal team who shares your vision and passion, seed capital, and I believe they recently identified an “I’m totally crazy” gene in all successful social entrepreneurs.
Many of us know firsthand how complicated and overwhelming the next few months of your life will be. There are a number of small things you can keep in mind that will help you keep yourself in check, and also save up to 1-2 months of lost time. Lost time can be described as the time you spend working on the wrong pieces of your project. It can be dangerous if lost time continues without correction. It ultimately leads to you and/or your team suffocating for more capital. Investors can see that you mismanaged the investment so it is unlikely you will be able to tap into those wells for more money. There are some cases where there is just cause for delays, but the level of stress your body will endure as you approach $0 with the uncertainty of additional funding is more taxing than it is worth.
How to overcome the time lost obstacle?
As early as possible begin searching for a rock solid project manager or scrum master who is willing to help you in exchange for equity, or better than that would be some type of creative partnership. For example, offer to develop a new website for their business. If you have video skills and equipment, or if you have a creative partnership with a video production company you can offer the project manager professional video services to help market their business or whatever.
Creative partnerships are a crucial element in your survival.
Creative partnerships are equally important to a prototype or storyboards or any other piece to this puzzle. You are playing with fire if you skip the step of developing creative partnerships. You will not realize the negative impact it has on your team, moral, and overall output until very close to the end of your burn rate. When you are about to run out of money and forced to start searching CraigsList and Monster.com for a job, I am telling you it will not feel good. It is so defeating that in many cases the founder never reenters the startup scene again because they are so embarrassed. Not because people make fun of them, but because they were on the verge of living the rest of their life doing what they loved but because of their own ego they ended up becoming their own worst enemy. The worse thing is they didn’t even realize their ego was in the way. It is not until after the failure occurs are they able to look back at their personal behavior and can plainly see how they shot themselves in the foot for absolutely no reason.
Get over the initial first draft hump.
Anytime you catch yourself working on something that you do not have a detailed outline and project plan for, stop. Usually, the lack of planning is not because you are lazy. It is more because you are unfamiliar with the type of work so you do not know what “planning” looks like inside that profession. These would be the pieces of your project which should be completed by your creative partners. At the least, simply ask the best candidate for an initial rough draft.
Closing insights and advice for building a social enterprise dream team
Question everything. Do not stop until you completely understand the issue at hand.
Always be thinking about who your next draft pick will be for your social enterprise dream team.
Minimize your time lost working on the wrong stuff.
Help humans to help other humans.
Act like you’ve been there before.
Invite us to your next event.
You are invited to ours.