Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Unsocial Entrepreneur?

What I am loving at the moment is the start-of-the-affair feeling you get with a new venture. It animates everything. You can think of little else. Your stomach flicks when you think about it. My mind drifts back to it while I am watching the TV or driving the car. In short, I am hooked and I will need to be because while starting a business is fun it is bloody-hell too.

This is the forgotten truth of entrepreneurship, be it social or for pure-profit. The personal cost is total. You hand your normality in at the door and emerge five years later blinking at the light. While I won't disappear, I know my world will have to shrink down to making this baby work.

I also have a secret for you too. I am going private. Yes, this won't be a social enterprise, well certainly not in the way set out by the CIC rules and I doubt I will get the Social Enterprise Mark. No, it will be owned by me and my partners. There will be social aspects - it will be a balanced business that will be socially accountable. A proportion of its profits will be given away, probably through a foundation. But it will, repeat, be private.

Am I turning my back on social enterprise? Most certainly not for the reasons above. Yet, I am turning my back on some aspects of being a social entrepreneur that I do not like. Such as putting my ass and my money on the line but being rewarded with peanuts. Such as not having control over the organisation I founded. Such as not being able to benefit much if it is ever sold for a lot of money.

I have concluded that those bits of social entrepreneurship seem to me a bit unfair. 30 grand and six months of my life are going into this. If it doesn't work I am worth less in the market than I just got myself a nice job. This new venture could cost me financially and reputationally. Yes, you'd shit yourself too, particlarly if there was a pauper's reward at the end, as social enterprise orthodoxy currently insists.

SO, if I do another purely social enterprise, you can be sure it it will not involve this level of risk and return. It is likely to be a side-project to which my social commitment exceeds my need to make money and survive. The simple fact is that as a 40 year old man with kids and a daft mortgage, I cannot afford, long-term to be a social entrepreneur.

I say this with no shame. Indeed I hope I would not be judged by those in the sector are paid either by the state (directly or indirectly), are `retired' with high net worth or with few enough responsibilities to manage on a small income.

Yes, there are some superheroes who risk and toil for low-return who also carry responsibilities, and while I take my hat off, I do not want to join them. It's not fair to those around me who will have to suffer my absences, cash-crises and stress these next few years. To make the choice of entrepreneurship now, at this stage, I need to be able to tell the family that it will be worth it. For all these reasons, I am now, in the eyes of many, just another unsocial-entrepreneur.

In my own eyes, I remain somewhere on the sliding-scale between pure-white and red-claw, but so far we can't accommodate this in our language - I'm either social or not. End-of. So great is our fear of assimilation that we have drawn the bridge high, meaning all those not like us are viewed as the same. So I guess, for some of you at least, I am, from now, not the Naked but the Unsocial Entrepreneur.


David Floyd said...

I agree with you about it being a continuum. In my case, I run a not-for-profit CIC partly because I know that the some of the work we do will always need an element of grant funding - particularly to fund the initial set-up of new projects. Our not-for-profit set-up is a means to be able to achieve our social goals but our not-for-profit status doesn't do anyone any good in itself.

It make no sense to me for the social enterprise movement to exclude people who are delivering social outcomes but find that a for profit model is the best way to do that while also earning a reasonable living.

Andrew Harding said...

Craig, great to hear you are about to launch a new enterprise - period. I get the impression you have had to leave a few good people behind who don't share your vision, and that's hard - but sometimes necessary when building a business. I've enjoyed seeing your ideas develop over the past couple of years and wish you the very best of luck with your new enterprise.

Liam Black said...

You terrible terrible sell out. How dare you betray us all like that. A private business. OMG a PRIVATE business! You will also have your SE Ambassador pips ripped from your shoulders!Ah hadnt thought about that had you??

You've not only let yourself down (and your family obviously), you've let me down and the whole movement. A terrible shame.

Yours is disgust


ps i hope you can hear me crying

Peter Holbrook said...

First off, good luck with your new venture – you built Speaking Up into an amazing social enterprise that changed a lot of lives and broke through many barriers, and I know whatever you do next you are going to do with passion and intelligence.

We’ve been colleagues in the movement and fellow social enterprise ambassadors for a good few years, and I felt I should briefly respond to a couple of your points here.

I don’t want to take away from the challenges and pressures of running a social enterprise, or in fact any business, because I know firsthand that it’s never a walk in the park. However, I know that social enterprises don’t all share the frustrations you’ve expressed and are able to properly compensate CEOs, investors and employees – chiefly by picking a legal structure that works for them and that allows them the flexibility and choice to decide how to reward staff and CEO.

You say you are leaving the social enterprise movement, but the way I view it is now we have one more ally working in the private sector, and the private sector just got a little more socially enterprising. You’re one of the most experienced and pioneering people that the social enterprise movement has seen, and you’ll always be part of it. Sorry, we’re not so easy to shake!

Rob 'Arris said...

Best of luck Craig, i have no doubt you will make a success of your new enterprise. I also take special note of the road you have gone down in terms of business status. As you know my own private limted company business has social outcomes, works predominantly in the public sector and makes a profit (a naughty word that engenders all sorts of libellous thoughts in some of the conditioned, android like public sector commissioners). You will enjoy the journey ahead, and the rewards can and should be enjoyed by you and your family. Whilst fully respecting Peters comments i believe that you have no choice; there is a glass ceiling that your head has been bouncing upwards on for a few years. I beleive this venture will realise your potential more than your previous excellent endevours. The other plain and simple fact is that most social businesses, whether they are private or 3rd sector are simply contractors to the public sector. The overarching aims, and use of profits or surplus is a concern for any organisation, whatever status. All the very best.

Anonymous said...

Take me with you! I've learnt the hard way. That thing about control is ALL important.

I was naive - seduced by social enterprise values - we're all acting in the common good. Aren't we? Kindof but people still have their ambitions and when something is exciting enough it turns out there are quite a few people in the queue to take ownership.

When push comes to shove questions like "who is the entrepreneur behind this?" become mere detail, it's who's in the driving seat that matters.

So take me with you please!

Martin Murphy said...

Craig this is a lovely and honest article. Reading it I'm left with the impression that despite your new direction you are still and probably always will be a social entrepreneur.

Good luck with everything you do I'm sure that more than yourself will benefit when it's a success.

Duncan Fisher said...

Hi Craig,
I am doing the same. I did an interview recently in Third Sector on how charities are in trouble and sang the praises of CICs. But now that I come to set up a new business, like you, I cannot say to my family that we cannot gain from all the effort and pain that goes into the business. So I have gone totally private too and I am prepared to sing the praises of private enterprise - look how much it has benefitted mankind compared to charity. I am going to be a very proud private entrepreneur and my aim is to enrich the lives of those I sell to - they will get more than they give me. Good luck! Duncan Fisher