Prior to his departure from Hong Kong, and SOW Asia, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Scott Lawson to talk about his 7 years in the social impact investment space.
More than an investor, Scott had become a trusted advisor, mentor, and thought leader to many in the space, and during our discussion he issued this warning to aspiring entrepreneurs. It came as part of a wider discussion on the challenges that he has seen entrepreneurs face, and while it may seem like he is being a bit harsh or somehow looking to discourage people from jumping into the pool, the reality couldn’t be different. For him, and I invite you to watch the full interview, the world needs more entrepreneurs whose mission it is to being solutions to the challenges our societies, economies, and environments face.
Too often, people jump into this space without understanding just how tough being a “good” entrepreneur can be, and too often, they end up leaving. This is in part due to the fact that for the last decade there has been a bit of celebrity around the space. and a generally perception that because you are a “good” person trying to “save the world” things will just happen.
The reality is that entering this space a very tough road. One that is difficult and tiring at times, but one that is ultimately very rewarding if you are able to maintain course. TO do so, there are a few things that I have come to understand are core requirements for (aspiring) entrepreneurs in this space to possess:
See the challenges as opportunities
The world is a crazy, disorganized, and at times disheartening mess at times, and for you to succeed as social (or socially minded) entrepreneur you are going to have have to put all that craziness aside, and find the opportunity for yourself to make a difference.
This doesn’t mean that you emotionally turn off, but to be able to effectively focus your efforts on solving the problems, but if you let your emotions get out in front of your actions, you will begin to feel as if there is no way that you can get anything done..
Have a Clear Mission, and a Passion for that Mission
To be able to deliver an organization whose products or services solve a real problem, you are going to have to make a very clear choice early on what your mission is, be it save the polar bears, deliver education to rural parts of India, solve the food wastage issue. It needs to be something that you can clearly articulate to others, and it has to be something that you yourself are deeply passionate about solving.
If you cannot clearly articulate your mission, or if the focus itself and what you hope to achieve in under 30 seconds then you are in for a challenge. A challenge that for many manifests into a confidence issue as traction takes time to take hold, and without the small wins to provide confidence, the initial fuel burst provided by passion burns off.
Get Out [and stay] of the Office
One of the biggest mistakes I see with aspiring entrepreneurs is that while they have a clear mission, the value proposition for the platform that they have created isn’t clear and they are not gaining any traction. 9 times out of 10, this is due to the fact they have not spent enough time learning about or working with the issue they are concerned. It is not that their ideas are necessarily that far off, but people are impatient at a time when patience and depth of understanding is needed.
To the most effective way to do this is to step out from behind your computer get out into the real world.
Execute First. Talk Later
While we may live in a world where ideas are rewarded over impact, as an aspiring social entrepreneur, your mission should be for maximum impact not not to talk about how you are going to change the world and pick up awards for the most innovative ideas.
The work that you are doing, or are considering taking on, is about impact. it is about changing the lives of the (x) that you are trying to save from (y),
Build and Empower a Team
Besides having a clear mission, and a product or service with a strong value proposition, there is nothing more important to me than a strong team who is empowered to get things done. For many entrepreneurs it is also one of the most difficult things to do, but for the organization to grow, the entrepreneur needs to be able to effectively bring in and empower the right people to take the organization forward.
Leverage the power of entrepreneurship to do what you love ending what you hate can be a very rewarding endeavor. An endeavor full of challenges, it’s my hope that for the aspiring entrepreneurs who are reading this,you will take the lesson here that while your passion and ideas are welcomed, your understanding of the challenges, you need to find a way to put yourself and your organization in a place to be able to execute on those ideas.