This past spring, progressive venture fund, New Media Ventures, hired a behavioral design consultant to interview early-stage founders about their experiences growing socially conscious companies.
The primary finding?
Despite what the rose gold-hued feeds of #girlboss Instagrammers would have us believe, getting a socially conscious company from idea to scale is a largely unglamorous undertaking, with an impressive learning curve, and widely characterized as “hard” and “lonely.”
And, yet, despite the perceived hardship, “entrepreneurs are just coming out of the woodwork,” says New Media Ventures’ Executive Director, Christie George, of the flood of mission-driven entrepreneurs she sees applying for funding. “They are excited to make change in the world and are working nights and weekends, on top of having jobs and families, to create the future they want to live in. It’s incredibly inspiring and life affirming in a moment where, if I were to just look at the news as my sole source of information, I’d be super depressed.”
George’s experience is far from unique.
With record capital flowing into impact funds and study after study showing that young talent prefers working for socially conscious companies, it’s not surprising that the pipeline of socially conscious startups is growing. But, with all the challenges mission-driven founders face, how can they maximize the odds of succeeding? As the first post in a monthly series for early-stage mission-driven founders, I spoke with three impact professionals who offered their thoughts on what entrepreneurs with an idea or MVP in hand must do to prepare for the trials ahead.
Make Sure Your Company Solves A Problem—And Be Able To Clearly Articulate How
At its most basic level, startup success requires customers who will use your product or service (and pay for it) because it solves a real problem for them. And, the best way to ensure that your company is positioned to solve your customer’s problem is to understand your customer really, really well. Then, you need to be able to demonstrate this understanding to potential investors.
“The founders who are closest to the customers that they are serving, and who are just relentless about putting them first, are the ones who succeed over time,” explains Victoria Fram, cofounder and managing director at VilCap Investments. “It’s founders like the former teachers who are building tools that are what they wanted when they were in the classroom that we see win in the longer term.”
As a mission-driven founder, the solution you’ve crafted also contributes to making the world a better place, but under no circumstance should those words be used to communicate your value proposition in a pitch deck.
“That sentence can be used to describe any one of a million companies,” says George. “Entrepreneurs need to be able to explain what they do and whom they serve, very succinctly, from day one but, more often than not, we see pitches that use big words or aspirational language to the point that the person looking at the pitch has no idea, specifically, what the company does.”