Saturday, June 2, 2012

Learning from the Sharks

The other night I went to a business school event aimed at entrepreneurs from SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) seeking to grow their businesses.  It was, if I am honest, a bit of a wake-up.  These boys (and they were nearly all boys) were hungry hunters.   Their focus both impressed me and left me feeling a bit wet in comparison.  Had I had the balls to mention 'blended return' or, worse, giving away part of my company to my staff, a hundred dead eyes would have turned on me in contemptuous disdain.   'No distractions' was the mantra coming from the front.   Don't waste time on multiple goals or equity carving - it will just distract you from the big prize.

The message was clear:  if you don't have one big goal and focus exclusively on it, you are fucked as a business.  Period.  Social enterprise would, had I mentioned it, be viewed as water-muddying.   Focus on profit, they would say, and give some away after if you feel guilty about it.

Interestingly, I was contacted this week by the group of Social Enterprise Ambassadors (remember them) of which I was one.   A reunion is being mooted.   The contrast between this group of likeable, driven and diverse people and the straight-faced biz-types could not be greater.   And I could not be in any doubt about where I would fit in with most or have the better evening with.   However, from a pure learning perspective, I suspect the biz people would at least match or even best my pals from social enterprise.  

I guess you learn most from people who are different from you.  When in the wacky world of social enterprise I see myself at the 'business' end of the equation.  I make money, I try to do good as I am doing it.  I don't like hippy-shit (to borrow Tim Smit's phrase) and I don't see Social Enterprise as Socialism-By-Other-Means.   I sit at the other end of the scale from the very good people running Community Shops, micro-enterprise units for recovering crack addicts or any of the stuff that has business as part of it - but isn't really business.  

However, put in a room where the testosterone is peeling off the wallpaper and competition oozes from a million pores, I feel very much at the softer end of business.  Here people tell me to take my 'dogs out and shoot them' if they (referring to my employees) are not delivering value to the business.  And never, ever, give the company away - just pay people bonuses - ownership is everything etc.   OK, that's as extreme as it got, and people mean well and, to be honest, not all of them were as bright as they thought they were, but, heck, my evening with the biz-guys contained as much learning as half a year of soc ent events put together.


Rob 'Arris said...

It's been a while since I posted, I was laughing reading that nice one Craig.

I know exactly what you are talking about in respect of the views of hard headed commercial business people compared to the softer pseudo third sector businesses. It's a never the twain shall meet scenario (we don't agree with their value base and reason for being in business, and they don't understand social business and it's range of objectives that ripple further than profit). They won't learn much from you because they are driven by profit based growth ("turnover vanity, profit sanity") and a spade full of arrogance and back slapping whoops and high fives. I generalise enormously but you know what I mean. You can l learn from them though because more of that type of approach dovetailed into a social or any other business is ot a bad thing for the balance sheet, as long as it is appropriately measured and balanced with the mission of a social biz. The third sector generally doesn't do this stuff very well and it suffers for it.

I would disagree with your new friends on the "ownership is everything" mantra. Yes it helps to retain ownership, I did just that with Advocacy Experience which I sold to VoiceAbility in November 2011, but the most effective businesses that I have seen give ownership, a stake whether that be shares or equity. Sustainability I now believe comes from this and it's one of the things I will do differently in future business's.

One thing the bright young things don't know yet, and we didn't know it then either, is that with youth comes naivety, you only need to watch an episode of the deeply annoying 'apprentice' to see that.

Nice post Craig

Ryan said...

My name is Ryan and I am the Founder of Healthy Souls Apparel. We are based out of Port Orange, Fl . I am emailing you because I feel that our company can be an inspiration to many if we can get the word out there. We created our company by wanting to give back to causes in need. We launched our first line by offering Flip Flops. Each one represents a cause such as Autism, Armed Forces, Rescue from Human Trafficking , Breast Cancer, and the list goes on. With each flip flop we sell, we give 20% of the proceeds to the partnered organization. We have been able to partner with some amazing organizations and we  are excited that our product gives back and allows our supporters and customers to be a part of changing the world also. 

We have had a lot of success over our first 5 months in business and are ready to take our story and message to more people. I am hoping that our company will be a story that you would be interested in helping bring to the surface. I would love to talk to you more so that I can really share the passion that we have doing what we do. Please let me know of a time  and way to get in contact. Also visit the site to see the organizations that we work with and the causes that we support with our product.  We believe that our story can help change the world and inspire others to do so as well.