Earlier this year on a very, very cold January day, I had the privilege of speaking to young social-entrepreneurs at the Bullis School in Potomac, MD. While I was able to give a high-level overview of what it takes to start a business and do good at the same time, I was surprised when the students began to ask specific questions about margins, regulation issues, competitive advantage, and the real cost of doing business. Needless to say, I was impressed by their insight and precision. It reminded me of two very important points I learned the hard way along the way:
ONE. Entrepreneurship is not about the glory, but about paying attention to details. Details are what make a product or company excellent. Often times people get motivated to start their own business because they think they will become rich and buy everything they ever wanted…this could happen, but it’s not the goal, just a potential by-product of hard work. This is not a strong enough motivation and can get people wrapped up in the hype of entrepreneurship, and not the daily hustle that is needed. Without the daily hustle you will crash and burn. This is where details come into play. To succeed, one has to have hyper focus on details. How can you maximize profits without sacrificing quality, how can you create more efficient systems that cut out unnecessary middlemen who essentially add no value, how do you compete against dishonest competitors, etc? Without answering these tough questions, the business will not survive and will not be sustainable, and this is important for the second point.
TWO. Doing good. The amount of dishonesty in the commercial world is shocking. However, I believe that the greatest thing about business is the ability to add great value to the lives of your customers and do good at the same time. But this shouldn’t be an afterthought. Rather, it should be built into the system of business from the beginning so it can become automatic and part of the culture of the organization. Social entrepreneurship is a powerful tool and can often times solve systemic problems that NGOs and charities can not. To accomplish this dual task, you have to have the right set of principles from the very beginning.
The link below summarizes this great day and opportunity I had to pump up these young entrepreneurs!