Iâ€™m doing a bit more work on our field guide to social incubation and I thought it was worth going back to basics and looking at what you really need to get a social venture from zero to something. I found a few things online (like this and this) but not quite what I was looking for so I started pulling together some ideas from my experience and what Iâ€™ve seen from the BGV teams. I guess Iâ€™m trying to build up a bit of a checklist so if there are other things you think are important, please do let me know.
1. A problem to solve (and then an idea)
All social ventures should start from a clear understanding of an important problem and then an idea about how to solve it. Itâ€™s got to be something you care about — big enough to motivate you but small enough that you can solve it (itâ€™s sometimes best to think about the problem as two linked problems).
2. People to work with
Once you know the problem you want to solve, finding co-founders is the most important thing you can do. Iâ€™ve lost count of the times Iâ€™ve told somebody with an idea that they should spend their time finding the right person to work with and then theyâ€™ve come back six months later with limited progress and said they regretted not following the advice. Yes, lone entrepreneurs sometimes make it, but when you look closer you find theyâ€™re the exception rather than the rule.
Even before youâ€™ve built anything, come up with a name, written a plan, you should find somebody who wants to pay for what you want to offer — Steve Blank calls it â€˜customer developmentâ€™. There are a few exceptions but for the majority of social ventures, I think itâ€™s the right approach. Your customers may well come from your experience of understanding the problem because if you know it well, youâ€™ll understand who wants to see it solved.
4. A source of advice about the basics
Thereâ€™s a lot of simple stuff that every organisation has to do and if itâ€™s your first time you can save heck of a lot of time by finding a person or organisation that you can ask basic questions. How do you set up a bank account? Do you need to register for taxes? How do you best set up email? All that boring but important stuff.
5. A source of trusted strategic advice
As things develop youâ€™ll have bigger questions. Beyond the basics, a new venture doesnâ€™t come with a manual and youâ€™ll need to select your priorities and what you work on yourself. That becomes a lot easier if you have access to someone whoâ€™s done it before who can help you think through your choices.
6. Cost-effective professional legal and accounting advice
As you turn from idea to venture, itâ€™s worth investing time in finding good legal and accounting support. A good working relationship with a law firm or solicitor and an accountant will really help save time later. Ask around your network for recommendations then talk to them and meet them before making a choice.
Iâ€™ve put this lower down because I think itâ€™s easy to get fixated on the funding before youâ€™ve actually got other basics right. The key thing is to get the right kind of money at the right time. When youâ€™re starting out, you need just enough to quit your job or survive — getting millions of pounds of investment is going to cause you more problems than it solves.
8. Somewhere to work
You can start a social venture anywhere but it can be exhausting after a while if you donâ€™t have a dedicated space to work together or meet. It might not be your own dedicated office but somewhere you identify as â€˜the place you workâ€™ definitely seems to help early stage ventures Iâ€™ve watched.
9. A routine
Perhaps this is a bit controversial but I think it helps a lot when things are so uncertain to set yourselves a routine. You can manufacture this yourself, but I know the weekly routine of sessions, feeding back and office hours is one of the things that people value from BGV. So I think itâ€™s important to find a way of setting milestones and setting rhythms. Youâ€™ll be pulled from pillar to post if you donâ€™t.
10. Emotional support
The emotional strain of starting something new is incredibly important but often underestimated. Too many founders feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and donâ€™t find a way of sharing it around. Where you find it is up to you but weâ€™ve found that a network of peers who are also setting up social ventures is probably the most sustainable.