Advice for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs

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.

Wrapping Up:

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.

China Entrepreneur Fear

Fuck Fear

As an entrepreneur, I know that one of the greatest obstacles to be faced is one’s own fear. A step needs to be taken. There are million reasons why one should do something, and in the minds of an entrepreneur, there are often another million for why one can’t.

For some, this fear is a figment of their imagination, while for others it is a keen awareness of the challenge itself. It comes from the guts, buries itself deep into the deepest recesses of the brain, and for some it is paralyzing. To truly overcome it, there are no shortcuts.

A team needs to be built. A “minimal viable product” needs to be launched.

It is a process that I am at constant battle with, be it launching something new or working to improve one of the platforms or projects that are already out there, because as “the entrepreneur”, I often feel like every element needs to be perfect. Something that is perhaps less so with existing platforms, but when it comes to taking a new step, it really doesn’t get any easier.

For fear to be overtaken, a full step has to be taken.

With that in mind, I am happy to announce that with the launch of this post (and the video above it) a new project is ready.

It is a project that isn’t exactly new, as it is something I have been playing with and trying to get it "just right", but I realized that what I was doing was stalling.

It wasn't that the clips weren't ready. I wasn't. Something my good friend Brian Tam of Let's Make Great! called me out on during our interview, about the power of fear to paralyze.

So here it is, #Entrepreneurs4Good, a series of videos about entrepreneurs whose mission it is to solve the challenges faced and are gracious enough to share their stories about their work.

It is a project that for me has been really inspiring, and I honestly hope that you will be as inspired by these individuals as I have been. Inspired by their vision, their action, or just their raw courage to overcome their fears to take their first steps towards building organizations whose mission is to solve the challenges we face.
They are great people who are doing their best to do great things, and I hope that these clips do them justice!

A couple of requests.

  • If you are inspired by a particular story, or feel that others could be, please share with those who feel will be affected or interested by the clip!
  • If you know someone whose story you think could inspire others, please introduce me to them. My initial plan is to cover the APAC region, but as my travels take me to other parts of the world, I will be taking time out to meet people and you introductions would be extremely valuable.

With that, I hope that you will enjoy (or already have enjoyed) the clip .. and if you'd like to see more, please visit my Youtube Channel.

Hope all is well and have a great weekend!