Many social entrepreneurs focus on their mission and hope that this will motivate people to come onboard. However, a social business without a strong business strategy will struggle to succeed.
You know what you want to do and believe that if you Just Do it! things will work out .. somehow.
Having your social goal front and centre isn’t enough – while it will be a prime motivator, it can make you focus on the wrong thing. The fact is you have to deliver something that people want.
To make positive social change on any meaningful scale social entrepreneurs need to seriously investigate “Is there demand for what I’m selling?”
Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of car-rental company Zipcar and the founder of peer-to-peer car rental company Buzzcar says she was criticized for not making the company non-profit. Chase knew she would need significant capital to get Zipcar off the ground and a for-profit business model allowed her to take on investors and raise capital.
“In the venture capital community, they say: ‘Will the dog eat the dog food?’ And so you are a startup and you are producing dog food, and the question is, ‘Will the dog eat the dog food?’ If you think about any social thing you are doing, if you are doing it for purely social reasons, well, then the question is: ‘Is the dog interested?'”
Chase saw Zipcar as a business first and a social enterprise second. While Zipcar gives consumers an alternative to owning a car — an inherently environmentally-friendly and therefore classically social entrepreneurship type of endeavor – that’s not why people buy into the Zipcar model.
“Consumers, or collaborators, will buy a service because it delivers to them what they need in their self-interest,” says Chase. In the case of Zipcar, consumers rent cars because it is more convenient and cheaper than having to maintain a car.
So, whether you are trying to save the planet, feed the hungry, house the poor or create jobs – you need a business strategy that helps you deliver on your mission.