For the last ten weeks I’ve been honored to represent StartSomeGood as one of twelve social ventures selected to be part of the 2012 Good Company Ventures program. Every Thursday and Friday we’d gather in a vibrant co-working space in Philadelphia to discuss what it takes to create and sustain a successful venture. The companies ranged from a venture revolutionizing remittance payments in Latin America through mobile phones to a venture making laundry delivery more eco-friendly.
In-between lots of busses and trains from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, and stays on friends’ couches and strangers’ AirBnBs, I learned a number of really important business lessons. As I reflect back on my summer in the City of Brotherly Love, here are my four biggest takeaways:
- Start with the basics. Often as social entrepreneurs we get so enraptured with the big-vision that we forget the most core building blocks of our ventures. Who are the customers? Who are the buyers? Are they the same? They might be — but they might be vastly different. Can you clearly articulate the value you are providing? It’s crucial to not jump ahead before ensuring that you have a really solid grasp on the basics.
- Good design matters. To say that I saw a lot of powerpoint presentations this summer would be like saying that Philly cheesesteaks can be a tad greasy. Each venture would create a presentation every week summarizing how the previous week’s lessons applied to their company. That, plus lots of guest speakers, meant that there was lots and lots of slide-clicking. When you see that many presentations you start to really appreciate great design — simple graphics, key text, and a great flow. Good design is hard, but it’s an investment worth making for your audience.
- Dream big. Start small. To create the type of impact in the world that all of us seek to have, we all have to be audacious dreamers. But just as a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so too does the ability to create a positive dent in the world. An overarching theme of Good Company was to be sure that we were taking on a sizable challenge worth our time, but also that we had a thoughtful and realistic way to get going. The “go-to-market” strategy as it were, is crucial to prove to investors and customers alike that while you may want to go from “A to Z,” you know that you first must get to “B.”
- You’re always selling. It’s easy to feel a step or two removed from traditional business when you’re simultaneously focusing on your social impact — but remember you are never not selling. Especially if you are the founder of your organization, every interaction you have is selling your venture in some way — whether it’s to a potential investor, a potential customer, a potential partner, or even a potential supporter. You may even have designated roles for a sales team, but every member of your team plays a role in selling your organization and as the leader of the organization you need to model that.
Thanks to Good Company Ventures for your advice, lessons and guidance this summer. If you’ll be in the Philadelphia area, be sure to come check out the Good Company Ventures’ pitch day (date in October, TBD, but check here for updates) to hear all twelve of us tell our stories.