Social entrepreneurship may possibly be the hottest thing people are trying to pursue right now. And it sounds like the ideal career for millennials, working while helping others. But it’s not all as rosy as it sounds.
When you want to set up a social enterprise, there are certain things you can’t do without. Founding topishare, I’ve learned a lot along the way. It was a journey. It IS a journey.
Let me tell you how I got here, and what you should do if you want to create a successful social start-up as well.
I’ve worked in business for 25 years, of which 15 years setting up and running start-ups. And I’ve made money. A lot of money.
Although I’ve supported charities, donated money directly to families in need, and volunteered in the past – I even came up with the idea to set up a coding school in Sudan – my business goals were always to “just make money”. I think I never realized I could combine my passion for helping others and my entrepreneurial mind.
It was a sunny day. One of those days where the temperature is just right, where the smell of the air is just perfect, and where the sun doesn’t burn, but gently brushes your skin. While sipping some excellently brewed coffee on the terrace in one of Tel-Aviv’s most expensive cafés, I heard myself talking. And I didn’t recognize myself. I had become what I’d always despised the most, a ‘capitalist pig’. I had money but forgot about the suffering of others.
Disgusted with what I had become, I told my husband and daughter I wasn’t going to do it anymore. And that day we decided to leave it all behind.
Surrounded by monkeys, snakes, coconut trees, and beautiful views in the deep jungles of Costa Rica, my daughter and I talked about the world’s problems. One night, it was pitch black dark, the jungle only lit by the stars in the sky, we vented about the world’s inequality. How unfair the world is. How the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. How our inability to talk with each other constructively is creating worldwide conflicts.
And that’s when I said: why don’t we try to do something about it? That’s the first step in starting a social enterprise.
STEP 1: Turn your Frustration into a Solution
You need to be motivated by wanting to make a difference and leaving the world a better place. So, don’t start a social business just because you want to make money. You need to be passionate about the cause you want to tackle, and from there you need to think of a strategy that will lead you there. You need to be 100% in.
For me equality and conflict are two major concerns I have been frustrated with for a very long time. That’s why through topishare we decided to build a place where your average joe, a business (small or big), and topishare are all equal and are given equal opportunities. We also have created a safe space for people from different areas to have real, constructive conversations about sensitive issues. A few of our partners, such as EurasiaNet, IWPR and Chai Khana, are a major part in our efforts to drive building peace.
STEP 2: Build a Fair Business model(s)
But a business is a business. You do want to make money. That’s why you have to be very smart about how you design your business models (and you will need them to drive the change you want).
Design a business model (or several) that will benefit both your consumer/user and you at the same time. As a result, you will both gain. And that should be your aim.
We thought long and hard with topishare how we could create an equal and fair system. And we came up with several. We are not going to go with one business model, we’re going with multiple. But with all, one thing is crucial: it should not benefit one more than the other. On topishare, everyone is equal and everyone can earn money.
We are not specifically aiming our business models to developing and emerging markets. People everywhere can benefit, but it will be most advantageous for people located in places with less opportunities to earn money. And as we grow, more and more people will be able to earn money through and with topishare.
STEP 3: Surround yourself with Passionate, Smart People
You’ve got the problem, the solution, and have designed a fair business model. Because of who you are, your character traits, you are uniquely positioned to deliver a solution to a real problem. But that’s not it.
You need to realize that you, solely, do not have all the answers. You need to realize that you can learn something from every person with whom you interact.
You need to surround yourself with passionate, smart people. Meaning, your team needs to be as passionate about solving the same problem as you are, and they need to be very creative and driven. Without a good team, a team that does everything to reach the same goal, you won’t succeed. No matter how noble your cause, no matter how lucrative your solution.
At topishare our team is our family. And I surround myself with people who are smarter than me in areas I am not strong in. Because that is the only way you can grow and get the results you want.
With topishare we’ve created a business that has social impact, alleviating poverty and building peace. Step by step. We didn’t want to receive investments from outsiders until we were sure we’d created something that would have actual impact, that it would be the next thing. And now we know it will be.
So, when you decide on setting up and running a social enterprise: make sure you know your cause inside out, make sure it’s your life’s passion to drive change, make sure you’ve designed a fair business model, and – most of all – make sure that you can realize it.