Have you ever felt so strongly about a problem that you couldn’t rest?
People delve into entrepreneurship for different reasons – freedom, risk, admiration, passion, frustration.
Our favourite driver is purpose. An insatiable belief that a problem or injustice is so important that you’re willing to dedicate your life to changing it.
Many people don’t have the option to explore their purpose or the privilege to do the work they love; it’s easy to forget that we’re the lucky few. So at last month’s Startup Power Breakfast, we invited three entrepreneurs-on-a-mission to help us understand how we can blend purpose and profit to create sustainable change.
1. Find a purpose that means the world to you
‘Your purpose needs to permeate your body.’ – Sam Moyo, Morning Gloryville
It’s not enough to slap the words of your mission on the walls of your office. This purpose is what carries you through the journey. It’s what wakes you up every morning, motivated to create change and find meaning in your work.
Daniela, founder of CASTELLANO, didn’t know a thing about margins and cashflow and wholesale and retail when she brought Wayuu bags to London and fell into the business of ethical fashion. She just had an ambition to connect indigenous Colombian communities with the developed world.
Sam set out to throw a rave free from the boozing and blackout nights of the club scene; the impact of that one party turned #TheGloryvilleEffect into a business and a whole movement to bring conscious clubbing to the world stage.
Our third entrepreneur, Yuliya, lived the struggles of an emerging designer first hand in Ukraine, before setting out to make it easier for the next generation.
‘Immerse yourself in an environment you care about.’ – Yuliya Polishchuk, XXWHYISM
Live it, get lost in it. Find that one little problem that keeps coming back to you. Investigate. Make it yours.
The rest will come.
2. Tell the story you need to share
Once you’ve found something so important it consumes you, it’s only a matter of time before the story bursts out of you. No longer just a niggling thought. You start to tell the tale to make people understand why it matters so much. Some of these people will hear you. They’ll urge you to make it happen.
People buy what you believe in. It’s not enough to stick a cool product or idea in front of people and expect them to shell over their hard-earned cash, or even harder earned time. They want to understand why they should care about this one, over the millions of others.
‘Show the human face that’s hidden in every product.’ – Daniela Castellano, CASTELLANO
During their crowdfunding campaign, the CASTELLANO team found that sharing videos and interviews from the Colombian women who produce their bags helped to build trust amongst their backers. In a similar way, the Morning Gloryville community grew to 150,000 people by letting the fans share their story.
‘It was like a rash. A really nice rash.’ – Sam Moyo, Morning Gloryville
When you don’t have money to throw at marketing, you realise that your story is your most important brand asset.
3. Recognise the community that backs you
At their first sober rave, Morning Gloryville sold 26 tickets. No matter how good your story, accept that not everyone will care. Instead, spend your time finding those who do and build something amazing for them.
For Yuliya, this means tirelessly spending her time creating opportunities for emerging design talent to connect with big brands for collaborations. Daniela always brings her focus back to the women she’s working with in Colombia. ‘I felt frustrated that people would buy their stuff and re-sell it overseas, but never give credit to them or share the stories.’
Again, it’s about the people. Your people.
‘When you lose hope, your community are the ones who remind you of your purpose.’ – Sam Moyo, Morning Gloryville
Beyond helping you to grow, your community are the ones who’ll make sure you’re always moving towards your purpose. The early adopters – your ambassadors – care about this story almost as much as you do.
Keep communication open with a core group from your community, particularly when you’re making big decisions about the direction of your business. This will help you to avoid alienating supporters while you grow, and drifting down the (sometimes very tempting) river of opportunities to sell your soul.
Recognise who these people are. And listen to them.
Beyond the core community, Yuliya and Sam both found it useful to have someone to turn to for unquestioning support. A friend or advisor who’ll have your back no matter what, but won’t hesitate to give you a reality check. For Daniela, it was the mentorship and understanding ear of a group of entrepreneurs she admires that helped get her through challenging times.
4. Build a sustainable business model
‘Ideas are great but if you can’t deliver them it’s pointless.’ – Yuliya Polishchuk, XXWHYISM
Starting a movement is all well and good but the real impact comes when you create lasting change. That means even a social enterprise has to find a way to make the business sustainable.
For our speakers, this realisation always came at a ‘good problem to have’ moment. Scaling to 40 cities across the world, rocking up in London with a suitcase full of bags and stories, fielding collaboration requests from global fashion brands. It wasn’t until they started to scale that it clicked they’d gone and created a business, not just a community with a shared purpose.
Be realistic about how much you need to make for this business to work sustainably, and build a business model around that. You’re doing yourself (and your cause) no favours by refusing to make money.
The good news is that by this stage you’ve got a story that people believe in and a strong group of people who want to make it happen. Even if you know nothing at all about business, you’re well set up to make a success of it.