What social ventures need

I’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 I’ve seen from the BGV teams. I guess I’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. It’s got to be something you care about – big enough to motivate you but small enough that you can solve it (it’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. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve told somebody with an idea that they should spend their time finding the right person to work with and then they’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 they’re the exception rather than the rule.

3. Customers

Even before you’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 ‘customer development’. There are a few exceptions but for the majority of social ventures, I think it’s the right approach. Your customers may well come from your experience of understanding the problem because if you know it well, you’ll understand who wants to see it solved.

4. A source of advice about the basics

There’s a lot of simple stuff that every organisation has to do and if it’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 you’ll have bigger questions. Beyond the basics, a new venture doesn’t come with a manual and you’ll need to select your priorities and what you work on yourself. That becomes a lot easier if you have access to someone who’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, it’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.

7. Money

I’ve put this lower down because I think it’s easy to get fixated on the funding before you’ve actually got other basics right. The key thing is to get the right kind of money at the right time. When you’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 don’t have a dedicated space to work together or meet. It might not be your own dedicated office but somewhere you identify as ‘the place you work’ definitely seems to help early stage ventures I’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 it’s important to find a way of setting milestones and setting rhythms. You’ll be pulled from pillar to post if you don’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 don’t find a way of sharing it around. Where you find it is up to you but we’ve found that a network of peers who are also setting up social ventures is probably the most sustainable.