How to Launch your Social Entrepreneurship Idea the Right Way

Once you have an idea, how do you launch your business? 

In our last blog, we explored how you evaluate an idea to determine if it’s worth pursuing. And in this article, we’re looking at what you can do to launch your business. But let’s jump right to the bottom line.

If you’re focused on figuring out how to launch your business, you’re likely going down the wrong path. One that can take you into excessive planning, putting up structures, building out products, hiring people, doing all sorts of things you don’t need to do. At least not in the beginning. 

Instead, focus on validating your idea. And then validating it some more and validating it even more. When you focus on validation, your business will be running as a by-product of your refining your idea and developing it.

This approach will keep you flexible to change, and it will keep you in touch with your potential customers and the other people involved in aspects of your business.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Lauren Edwards of the social entrepreneurship accelerator, SEA change, likes to say that the purpose of the accelerator is not to help people launch their business but to determine whether or not their idea is worth going forward.  Determining that an idea isn’t going to work is considered a success in the accelerator.

Why is this? The sooner you realize that an idea is not going to work, the sooner you stop wasting your time.  Time is finite you’ll be successful quicker if you spend your time on ideas that will work.

Basically, you don’t want to waste your time working on an idea that’s just going to limp along for years. Strive to fail fast, pivot, and come up with something that will truly serve your market. 

What does it mean to validate an idea? 

When you’re thinking about validating an idea, really what you’re doing is you’re getting out, and you’re talking to people. You’re showing them concepts. You’re building out minimally viable products or MVPs. You are attending different events and getting feedback in a variety of different ways about what you are offering through your business.

Let’s break these down a bit.

Talking to human beings

The first step of validating your idea is to get out and actually talk to human beings—people who will use your product or service or will be affected by it and getting their feedback. When you’re doing this, it’s very important to structure how you engage with people to be asking open-ended questions that seek to understand what their pain is that you’re trying to solve.

If you approach somebody and say, “Hey, look at this great idea, I’ve come up with, what do you think?” Rarely will they turn around and tell you that “Oh yeah, that idea stinks.”

No. The best thing you want to do is to really dive in and understand the problems that people are facing and how significant these problems are in their lives.

On a podcast with Ashley Connell of the Prowess Project, she highlighted that she realized her initial idea was only solving a discomfort. But not a pain — and that people pay to get rid of pain, but not discomfort. And so she had to rework her concept into what became Prowess Project — an employment agency for women getting back into the workforce that uses skill development, emotional intelligence, and relationship-building to connect women returning to the workforce with the right opportunities.

During this process, Ashley talked with hundreds of people, and you should too. Going out and talking with other people will get you outside of your bubble and give you so much more information on which to build your idea,

Build a Prototype

When you get into business development, you’ll hear the concept of the minimally viable product or MVP. This is the smallest version of your product or service that you can get together to get out in front of somebody and test. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. It can be as small as a little mock-up or it can be an early version of your product that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles.

We will go into MVP in more detail in a subsequent blog, but think of this as what is a test that you can do in the next two weeks to put something in front of somebody and get their feedback. If somebody can see something and put their hands on it, then you’ll get much better feedback from them. The other thing that you’ll get is experience seeing them interact with your idea.

If it’s a product that they can hold in their hands, you can see if it excites them or if they would pay for it. If you’re building something and somebody is not going to pay for it, and it’s just nice to have, well, maybe you’ve got to rethink your business. Thinking in terms of “developing small tests where you can get immediate feedback” is a great way to develop your product.

This approach leaves you open to changing what you’re developing based on feedback from your future customers. It is the best business process to refine and adapt your business to really address the needs of the people you are serving.

Hackathons and Accelerators

Another great way to validate your idea is to take it to a hackathon or an accelerator.

In a hackathon, typically you’ve got a weekend event where you’re coming together with other people. And if your idea is selected, you can get feedback from other people working on this at the same time, a lot of concentrated effort, developing a product in a short period of time gives you the flexibility to push forward, developing an idea and get some input from mentors and other people in the community.

If you’re developing a social enterprise, definitely check out, GiveBackHack. A launchpad for social entrepreneurship that is specifically focused on social enterprises.

Accelerators, on the other hand, are typically much longer programs. Often three months or four months or longer. Founders Institute has a great program for pushing people through. And here in Columbus, Ohio, there’s a program called SEA Change, which exists for social entrepreneurs specifically.

Not all accelerators are the same. So do your research ahead of time. But an accelerator is like a mini MBA. You learn the basics of running a business from understanding your business model, financial model, your brand, how to validate your idea, and typically get a lot of feedback from mentors and people in the community who really understand building a business. Accelerators help you network with the right people that can give answers to the questions that we typically have when starting in business, and even the peer support from these groups can be an invaluable resource when you get stuck.

Accelerators are a great community to be a part of, however, beware. Do your research into the accelerator. Some will have large pots of money to give away but will come with strings attached — such as taking an ownership stake in your company.

I would be very wary of anybody who’s looking to take a stake of ownership before you really have a product up and running or initial sales. The earlier you need money in your business, the more of that business you’re going to give away, which means less control that you have over determining its direction.

Mentors and Peer support

The next thing that you want for validating your idea is to have a good mentor. You can find these in local foundations organizations in the community. If you’re working in the social entrepreneurship space, reach out to nonprofits that are serving the cause that you’re impacting and find out who the influencers are that you can go to for support.

This can also mean connecting with your chamber of commerce, which exists to help professionals connect in the community. Look for other professional organizations in your area or mastermind groups that you can join in and become a part of.

As I mentioned before, having some peer support is going to really help you when you get stuck. And just having fellow entrepreneurs who are going through the same things, means that you’ll be able to help each other out. And that can save you so much heartache.

Partnerships

Another avenue for validating your idea is to look to form partnerships with analogous businesses. Great examples of these can be found in the wedding industry where you might have a wedding photographer who has a partnership with a wedding planner or somebody who does floral arrangements. They know that they can count on each other to provide a more comprehensive service.

In the case of social entrepreneurship, is there a nonprofit that is working in your space? Perhaps they have valuable know-how about the community and about issues that people are facing, but they just don’t have the budget to address that.

If you can work in partnership with them, quite often, you can get access to those communities and that insight knowledge that will help you develop your idea much faster. Plus, they can typically give you better feedback than somebody off the street who is not as familiar with your business. And so those can be very powerful relationships to have as you’re starting out.

Conclusion

When you’re looking to launch a business, don’t focus on launching your business. Instead, think about it in terms of validating your idea. Get out and talk to lots of people, but don’t just ask them for feedback on your idea. Use that as an opportunity to understand what their pain is, and then go out and develop prototypes, minimally viable products that you can get feedback on.

Go attend hackathons, accelerators, and find mentors in your community and partnerships that can help you develop your idea over and over and over again.

When you get into this mindset of validating an idea, pretty soon, you’ll be up and running with a business idea, earning an income quicker than you would be if you focus on launching a business and you’ll have a better product or service, because you will really understand the people that you’re trying to serve.

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