Looking for advice on how to start your social enterprise? We have gathered practical advice from ten different experienced social entrepreneurs in three different cities from around the globe.
Meet the founders of Project Rockit, Tilt Magazine, Good Return, Fighting Chance Australia, Studio Thick, Mighty Good Undies, Social-Cycles, Goodwill Wine and The Canvas Cafe. These social entrepreneurs are running their social enterprises in different industries in London, Melbourne and Sydney.
Inventshift first started these interviews in Melbourne by arranging meetings with Rosie Thomas, Adam Morris, Jackie Colmar, Brett Seychell and David Laity.
Rosie Thomas – Co-founder of Project Rockit
‘My piece of advice for someone wanting to start a social enterprise would be is to start. I think we can get so bogged down in the idea or we can get so bogged down by seeing other peoples’ final result, the shiny polished organisation. If an idea stays in your head doesn’t matter how innovative or original it is, it’s just a total waste. The thing about starting a social enterprise though is that you need to start and take small regular steps to achieving your goal.
At the same time, what’s really important is that you have a really strong social side, so know what that mission is. So, deeply understand the purpose of that mission because that mission is going to be your moral compass, it’s going to be your resilience. When shiny things pop up, it’s going to be your guiding bright light that keeps you on track. Also, work out what your enterprise is and be proud of that. Figure out what is going to be your economic driver because you can’t sustain your missing if you don’t have an economic driver. Be humble but be proud of that and don’t be afraid to focus on that to drive it forward. Above all of that just get started!’
Adam Morris – Founder of Studio Thick
‘As I say I think the businesses that really do well in the coming years will be businesses that have some kind of social enterprise at their heart. The best advice that I could give is not to look at it as business and profit as a separate or mutually exclusive thing to doing the right thing socially. The more businesses that we see come into the world that are strong sustainable profitable businesses that have doing good at their core will make the world become better because more and more are becoming on private enterprise as opposed to public service even to bring in positive change in the world. The more people can enact and enable that the better.’
Jackie Colmar – Co-founder and CEO of Tilt Magazine
‘My biggest piece of advice that has helped me the most as I have been on this journey is to just put yourself out there. It probably doesn’t seem like the biggest thing to a lot of people, but going out there and meeting and talking to people in the space can provide really beautiful opportunities to think of things and create unique solutions that you had no idea that even existed in the first place. It’s great to knuckle down and your own work and I am a big fan of that and I get really focused on certain things and I am like “no, no, no, no I don’t have time for this”, but it is so important to get to know your community and other people who are doing similar things so you can support each other better to maximize the impact.’
Brett Seychell – Founder of Social Cycles
‘To start your own thing, whatever it maybe, non-profit or for-profit you just need to be passionate about it more than anything else. And, you can’t just start something that’s going to take up all your time because you want to make money from it. Something I learned pretty quick while putting the business model together and looking at the bigger picture and plans, it said ‘how much money do you want to make’? I thought it was a really interesting question, because when you are being brought up you think I want to make as much as money as I can, as that is the corporate mentality and that’s why we have these jobs so we can get these promotions, and you want more promotions so you can get more money and buy nice things and so forth. The thing with your own business is that it is different because it is correlational, how big do I want to be? The bigger I get the less control I have and I might lose the value of it. Is it the value of it that’s more important? Will I have to be overseas for 9 month of the year? Because I love Melbourne, so not really and that’s going to reduce it as well. Then you start finding the difference between value and time, you start valuing time more than you value money and quality more than you value quantity. When you really understand those things, you value that passion whatever that maybe. If you have got that, I think you have more chances at being successful in your business.’
David Laity – Founder of Goodwill Wine
‘The beginning of a social enterprise like any other business is challenging. It’s in the early days of your business that you are going to be struggling the most as you try to build it and then having a business that passes on such a large amount of profit adds a new level of challenge. I think you need to have a good business plan if you are going to start a social enterprise and I really do think that you need to seek advice. There’s people out there who can help you and would like to help you and they have knowledge that you wont have or unlikely that you will have. I think the secret would be to prepare well and not expect to make a fortune out of your social enterprise, but that’s not why you should be doing it.’
Then we at Inventshift decided to head to Sydney. We were thinking about flying but thought a road trip might be fun. So, we got into our car KIA Carnival and drove for 12 hours with a lot of breaks.
Shane Nichols – CEO of Good Return
‘I think social enterprise is a really powerful tool. The important thing to have a successful social enterprise is to be grounded in need and so quite often people come up with ideas that are in isolation. They might be with a white board in a room somewhere but the most important thing is that there is a real genuine community need so before you progress too far with your social enterprise ideas or concept go ahead down and speak to the people on the ground you are supposed to be supporting, work out what their perspective is, what their real needs are. Once you have nailed that or once you think you have nailed that, then go and talk to others that are already working in that space in what ways you might be able to collaborate with them rather than necessarily going down on your own path because it’s through collaboration that the best things happen.’
Laura O’Reilly – Founder of Fighting Chance Australia
‘First of all I am a really big fan of the lean methodology in terms of social entrepreneurship. I am a big fan of start, fail, pivot, start again, fail even quicker, pivot. We did that with Avenue for a year and half. We had around three or four iterations before what became what it is now. I am a huge fan of just jumping in and trying and seeing where you land. I think in doing that process it’s really important to keep a strong sense of why as you can get lost in a different direction and you follow and you realise that you have pivoted somewhere that’s actually quite separated from your mission so as long as you stay focused on your mission the pivoting is a positive process. ‘
After Australia, It was time to go International to meet more social entrepreneurs around the world.
Ruth Rogers – Founder of The Canvas Cafe
‘How many people have said ‘just do it!’? My advice would be to get some information, advice and experience but don’t get too much because you could actually scare yourself into not doing it. The best way is to do it! But get as much as information you need beforehand. Don’t scare yourself off though, cause that would be awful. ‘
Hannah Parris – Co-founder of Mighty Good Undies
‘I probably have three pieces of advice. It is quite a rollercoaster and on top of all that you got a lot of boring stuff to do. There’s lots of boring elements in running a business. Accounting is not fun, and managing your receipts or dealing with purchase orders, all that sort of stuff that is pretty boring unless you are in love with the why you are going to get really sick of it. The next thing is have a really good team around you, build a great team that have shared values and shared why. That was a big lesson for me. You really can’t be doing it all by yourself, it’s too hard and take too long as well. So, have a good team with complementary skills but all with a shared vision of what you are trying to achieve. The last one is, make sure you can pay all your bills. There is no shame in saying I have got rent to pay, or a food bill because you need to be able to support yourself.’
See our original video with these entrepreneurs here.
If you are a social entrepreneur, we’d love to hear your advice on the comments below.
Social entrepreneurship is one of the most thrilling vocations out there. Sure, it can be tough, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. We’re always on the lookout for more businesses who are creating positive impact, so if you’d like to be featured in our ‘#SoCent Spotlight’ series just get in touch!