What I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise

What I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise

In my last post I wrote about why it’s alright to quit. Here are some things I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise.
Your vision is what people buy into. 
“People love to be challenged with idealism” Tim O’reilly.
I was constantly amazed by just how much people connect to a human story.
It’s easy to start focusing on money, when you realise you aren’t making any, and you’re working several jobs to make this work. But what people invest in is the vision, the story.
Your purpose tells you what to say no to.
This was the advice we got from a chat with a Glasgow social entrepreneur.
Starting a business you probably have a million ideas like we did. Knowing what to focus on is really important. Energy follows attention. So focus on what you can optimise.
Purpose is not the same as the why. It’s what you are trying to change. The impact your business wants to make on the world. It can be as simple as Debbie Millmans
“I try to make the supermarket more beautiful”
Founders need to learn let go.
I’ve now worked with several founders and they are amazing people. The dedication, energy, passion is unmatched. Every moment is spent thinking about, talking about or working on their business. And they cannot let go of their baby!
Steve Jobs was notorious for this. He was involved right down to the last detail. For your sanity and those you work with, letting go is important. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you
Then TRUST them.
Trust them to do their work well.
The reality is that not every founder can grow the business, it takes a very different set of skills. The smart thing can be to let others take charge they might surprise you. Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso did this. She stepped down as CEO this year to focus on creative and brand marketing, where her passions and talents can be best used.
Be clear about partnership roles from start.
Again this was advice I got before we got started.
Ask each other where your strengths and interests lie, what each person sees for the company and be honest. As a team we all had very different passions, this should have meant that we could work perfectly together. It takes work to balance this and overtime I realised that we weren’t equally contributing to decisions.
If you decide on an equal partnership, set ground rules for what that actually means. What is the decision-making process? What happens if you don’t all agree?
Make sure everyone in the team is heard and heard equally.
Japanese companies start with the lowest ranking person speaking first at meetings and the highest ranking person speaking last. This is one way.
Creating space for people to speak up honestly is important.The people pleaser like myself will only speak up when asked what they think. The introvert may have the best ideas, unless you ask them and then listen, you may never know.
Decide and set the company culture early on.
I recently finished reading Small Giants Companies that choose to be great instead of big by Bo Burlingham. It’s an inspiration. It showed me that successful companies with mojo focus on creating an intimacy with customers and employees and are embedded in their community. This comes along with the usual passion for excellence and openness to innovation. It’s a process and continuous act, just saying it doesn’t make it true.
Enterprise is a creative act and you can create whatever you want. Whatever culture you want. And I want a working environment like the Small Giants with passionate, creative people who have space to grow.
Understand your risk aversion and liability…
Just like in investing you need to know just how much risk and liability you are willing to take on (this was much less than I thought!)
Trying to make change isn’t simple….
It’s a moral rainbow. You may think is right, someone else could be equally convinced it is wrong. I don’t feel comfortable with the current enterprise is the way to solve Africa’s problems, aid is bad drive but there are many that absolutely think it’s the way forward.
There isn’t one way, you just have to experiment till you find the one that works for you, the communities you are working with and the problem you are trying to solve.
Find people and organisations you admire and study them…
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” Mark Twain.
I really agree with Mark Twain, we get caught up thinking we’ve come up with the most original idea ever. There’s no one doing what we’re doing.
There is always someone you can look up to. Work out what they do well, what they don’t do well and learn from them.
Starting a business with a team makes your life a lot easier….
As Y Combinator say “a startup is too much work for one person”
I learned that there is so much involved in starting a business and if you can do it with other people it’s much better.  To share the load with. Like me you may be working to earn an income while building your startup. Working with a team means you can share the load. They’ll have skills you wont have. You can bounce ideas of each other…
Finally taking the time to reflect… and look forward is vital
I’ve learned this from one of the companies I work with. Getting into the habit of looking back on where you’ve come from and where you want to go is really important.
A mentoring session we had really revealed this to me. We were asked these questions
  1. Given what we’ve done up till now what do you feel?
  2. What have you done right?
  3. What could you do better?
  4. What organisations do we aspire to be like?
  5. Within reason where would we like to be in 1 year, 3 years, 6 years…
Do it every couple of months and record it. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.
Looking for a mission statement inspiration, read the 8 word mission statement.
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Have you started and quit your own business I’d love to know your experience 🙂
Why its OK to quit your social enterprise

Why its OK to quit your social enterprise

I quit my first business when I was 15. It was an eBay store, Sweet Talk. Reselling 10p books I bought at my local library and over stock car chargers from my Dads shop. I loved it. Keeping track of the finances, paypal, speaking to customers.

I’d read Rich Dad Poor Dad and had been truly bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Then GCSE’s started and I found it was difficult to balance the two. So Sweet Talk closed.

I quit my latest business a couple of months ago. This was meant to be the one. I’d had a bit of an epiphany in my final year of architecture at uni and realised that I was passion about using design to make a positive impact. Luckily I had a friend who shared the same idea and we decided to set up together. We were then asked by a friend who ran a charity with the same mission to join and set up a social enterprise with the charity.

It could not have been more perfect. We were setting up with a well established organisation. One that we loved, with a great reputation and experience.So we started our social enterprise.

The first months were amazing, we were moving forwards fast. Had projects opening up, got an amazing office space for free.

Then a big project fell through and suddenly we were re-examining the business model and looking at taking a very different direction. The only problem was I wasn’t comfortable with this

I tried convincing myself that I could work around it. Did lots of research looking at both sides, still wasn’t convinced. Raised my objections to my colleagues who had answers for every problem I could see, still didn’t feel right.

Then the thought hit me. Maybe I could just quit.

I felt guilty.
I’ll be letting everyone down!
I was afraid.
What will I do next? What if I’m wrong and its a huge success?
I felt like I was giving up.
Maybe if I try harder to like it or to convince the team of my point.

But in my gut I could feel it wasn’t right and it was time to move on. Speaking to my family and friends I realised that it was fine. The world wasn’t going to end on this decision.

It is easy to feel as though there’s something wrong with you for wanting to quit. All the stories we see are of successful people who never quit. No matter what. That’s why they are a success we are told.

Our culture is obsessed with perseverance, productivity and positivity.

Entrepreneurship embodies all this. It is the holy grail. The solution to all the worlds problems.

“winners never quit and quitters never win”
Quotes like this don’t make it easier
But its okay to quit
 quitting can be good
quitting isn’t the same as giving up.

Sometimes that path just isn’t right for you….
 It didn’t feel right for me, I didn’t believe in the new vision and story. I felt that there was a better way to achieve our social aims, and we were focusing on the wrong problem.

 But the path was right for my colleagues who are still continuing on. And I’m sure they will succeed. It just wasn’t for me.

Like Blake Lively who recently closed her online shop Preserve because “it wasn’t making a difference in peoples lives,’ social and ethical businesses can feel like everything. You personally invest in the vision. You want to save the world and it is a blow to realise it’s not quite what you want or even agree with.
Things had changed and with the information I now had, I could make a new decision.

To step out of the way…
Although conflict can be good, I didn’t want to be the “no” person. I realised if I couldn’t be passionate, it was better to get out of the way and allow people with that drive to continue.
…. pass on the baton. 

I have always been a believer in trying things. That’s one reason I’ve kept working for other social enterprises (as well as needing to pay the bills!)

Being able to see other ways of doing opened my eyes. I could work out what suits me and transfer learnings between the organisations.

I learned so much from the social enterprise. I learned a lot from leaving too. I learned that the method is as important to me as the problem the business is trying to solve. (Check out my next blog post for more learnings)

So if you’re thinking about quitting your business, job, project or whatever else. Think carefully about it and then go with your instinct. It’ll steer you right. And if you later realise it wasn’t the right choice. You can change your mind.

Quitting is not giving up.
It’s an opportunity to start again.
This time with more info.
Here are some great articles on quitting


 8/10 businesses fail within their first year so quitting is more common than we think