Building Social Impact Startups
Sometimes we make entrepreneurship too complicated…It’s about finding a problem and presenting a solution for it. Often times, it starts with scratching your own itch.
When I met my guest today, Michael Odiari, he was full of energy and passion…
But his idea just felt pretty…meh.
Serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence for Silicon Valley-Based Accelerator Program, Founder Institute, my role was to help people craft or augment an idea to take to market.
In many cases, this usually sends them down the path to funding before go-to-market…
But it’s all contingent upon the nature of the build.
And for those that don’t know, Accelerator Programs are usually designed for ideas with massive upside potential.
There’s nothing wrong with Lifestyle Businesses, Service Based Businesses or just general Small Businesses.
But the reason you likely need an intensive Accelerator Program is because your idea requires all hands on deck.
And likely a TON of capital behind it.
We’re talking Unicorn potential businesses ($1B Valuation or more).
And while many of them likely never even get off the ground, FI (Founder Institute) has an amazing track record of success.
In fact, we have an 80% success rate of all graduates.
20% will go off to raise big investment dollars and/or Exit.
And for an Idea Stage Program, that’s quite an achievement.
There’s a ridiculous process to get in.
And I could go into an entire article’s worth of explanation on how that works.
But if you’re here to build the next Uber or Airbnb…
It’s definitely something I’d look into when you’re done here.
Back to my story…
Michael came in as a student for the Fall of 2018.
His intensity and passion were legit off the charts.
And I could see there was something much deeper than what he was presenting to us.
Eventually, after a few weeks, I pull him aside.
“Why are you doing this to begin with?” I said.
He tried to not let me press him…
Defaulting back to his pitch about how motorists needed a more convenient way to pay parking tickets.
But there’s no way he was this revved up about a modernized payment portal.
About an hour later, after just spending time getting to know him, the truth came out.
Michael was involved in an incident that set him on a new life path…
And one that he was afraid to share for reasons as to not “rock the boat” too much.
Trying not to rock the boat, Michael downgraded his REAL idea.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
You see, in the state of Texas you have to display your license plate on both the front and rear of the vehicle.
Evidently, one day, having just been given a warning about improper display, Michael found himself pulled over again within 30 minutes of the last stop.
Only this Officer made a different decision than the warning Michael had just previously received.
And, within a matter of just seconds, Michael found himself staring down the barrel of a firearm.
Both alarmed and confused, Michael later decided to do something to figure out how this could have been prevented.
Spending over 50 hours doing ride-along sessions with Officers over the coming months thereafter…
Michael realized there was a solution to provide that would create a safer environment for both parties involved.
Because the statistics are quite alarming.
Most Officers are injured or killed during traffic stops than any other duty.
Couple that with the number of Drivers that have experienced a similar fate and you’ve got yourself a mess.
But rather than address a highly divisive issue, Michael initially deferred to his parking ticket app.
Both shocked and at a loss for words as to the story he just told me…
All I could think to say was “DUDE, that’s your why right there!”
We proceeded to re-shape Michael’s vision around his true cause.
And I’m happy to say I’m now a member of his Advisory Board at Check where you can learn more about the solution we’re creating.
But here’s what we have to get over…
And I assume that might be you, too, if you’re here reading this article about starting a Social Impact Startup.
We can’t be afraid to address the real problem.
I get why Michael was afraid.
And later that night, I challenged him to just go up and pitch his REAL story.
Where the audience was crickets before, he lit up the room…
Having never even practiced or rehearsed an actual pitch for this REAL thing he wanted.
And here’s why that matters more than anything else.
Maybe your struggles are Intelligently Designed for you to derive a solution.
Where we often look at them as hindrances or exclusionary blockades on our path.
I hear way too many “cute” ideas and pitches.
Things people don’t really care about but think they can get rich off of it.
You know what?
I push out new content every single day…
And I’d do it for free.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder that I get paid money to help people become better entrepreneurs.
But this whole thing spawned from me diving into entrepreneurship in my early twenties and quickly realizing NOBODY taught me how to do it in school.
And if I can use my voice to help other people, I can then help others (like Michael) succeed in changing the world.
A trickle-down effect, if you will.
“Cute ideas are great but I want to see real solutions to BIG problems in the world…”
But so often we either tell ourselves we’re not qualified, don’t have the resources or just blame someone (largely bureaucrats) for not fixing the world’s problems.
You want to create an abundance of wealth for yourself?
Go make a list of the biggest problems in the world and devise a solution.
It’s sometimes that easy.
But we overcomplicate it with these fancy buzzwords like ML, AI and Blockchain.
Those are all GREAT things…
I’m not diminishing that.
But every new business idea doesn’t have to be trendy.
We still bury our trash in the ground.
Like a dog with his bone.
We pollute the skies that hold the same air we breathe.
Pretty crazy for a society that’s as advanced and intelligent as we are.
Look at Elon Musk.
One of the most recognizable and popular entrepreneurs on the planet.
What’s he doing?
Cars that use renewable energy…
Solar units that can power an entire home.
Train systems through tunnels run completely on clean energy.
Oh, and sending missiles to Mars (no biggie).
But you get my drift.
He’s not only making a fortune but making a massive impact just fixing problems.
Okay, so, find a problem in the world you want to solve…
Now, let’s talk about practical steps forward.
The biggest advice I could give you before you make one move forward on this idea is to go research.
And when I say research, I mean total immersion.
Like I said, Michael did over 50 hours of ride-along sessions with Police Officers.
In so doing, he gained key insights as to how Police Officer’s worlds work.
If you listen to him talk, he can legit speak their lingo.
He knows the procedures, he knows the challenges, he knows the real opportunity.
My suggestion to Michael, which I would advise to you…
Is to try and find a job in the field you want to affect change.
Because it’s legitimately like a paid internship!
50 hours of ride-alongs is great…
But what if you got PAID to do your research.
This idea, to really nail it, is going to take significant Domain Expertise.
Plus, if you have BIG ideas and are going to seek out investment capital…
They’re betting on you just as much as they are the idea.
In fact, it’s likely they are betting on you way more than anything.
So, equipping yourself with both the knowledge and understanding of the industry is an absolute MUST.
Next, I would say analyze your market.
Who’s out there doing what you aim to do?
And don’t FREAK out, as most do, when you see someone already exists.
Competition is a good thing.
I repeat, Competition is a GOOD thing.
If you walk into an investor pitch meeting and say something like “There’s NOBODY doing what we’re doing!” you’re going to lose them.
Like 9 times out of 10 they are done with you.
Because no competition means many have tried and failed already OR there’s not a market for what you’re doing…
And probably both.
So, we WANT competition.
Study what they do, how they do it and where you can fit in the space.
Something else to consider is how you can collaborate with the competition.
I’ve heard of MANY stories where people reach out to a competitor, tell them what they’re doing, and they end up becoming huge strategic partners.
But that requires knowing where you fit in the market, the solution you provide in relation to theirs, and a focus on the same, value-driven, solution.
Next, I would start getting people on an email list to provide updates.
This list should also include Investors, if you’ve made those contacts.
The reason for this is you’re probably looking at a slow build.
Many people (nearly all) underestimate just how long it takes to get something off the ground.
And if you’re a newbie entrepreneur, you need to give yourself adequate time to learn and grow.
Having an email list and sending out updates is a great way to nurture prospective customers, partners, advisors and investors in one, full-swoop.
One of the biggest mistakes I hear from nearly all entrepreneurs is they say they wish they had focused on an email list sooner.
You can’t sell anything yet…
Let people experience this journey with you.
It’s a way to turn people into superfans and likely customers when you launch.
It also impresses people, like potential funding sources, with how committed you are and the steps you’ve made forward.
That’s the name of your game right now.
Last advice for today, albeit there’s so much more we can discuss…
Surround yourself with Mentors.
Seriously, you need people that have walked this path before.
The bigger your idea, the more hard-hitters you require.
Stretch yourself on this and don’t just settle for the next-door neighbor.
This is where getting plugged in with a program like an Accelerator is HUGE!
Because no way Michael snags my attention to be on his board were it not for that program.
People that are worthwhile to be in your corner say “NO” way more than “YES”.
So, blasting a cold outreach email to their inbox or a DM on LinkedIn isn’t likely to bear much fruit.
You’re going to have to get outside of your comfort zone on this one…
And make sure you WAIT until you KNOW it’s the right fit.
As with all business arrangements, they’re like mini-marriages…
You need to understand it’s a legal commitment.
In fact, marriages are actually easier to get out of than equity positions in your company (true story).
For a social impact play, it’s vital you have people that can open the doors you need opened.
In Michael’s case, Politicians, Sheriffs, Security Experts, etc.
I’m the lone marketer on his team (HA!).
And surrounded by a ton of techy nerds.
Which is awesome.
You want to have a well-rounded team.
And that team should fill in where you have weaknesses so you can focus on where you thrive.
Don’t be afraid to give up equity seats for partners and/or advisors.
If you have a BIG play with massive upside, you’re going to need all hands on deck but you don’t currently have the capital to afford the expertise and manpower you need.
Get a Lawyer, have them take you through the process of setting up a legal entity (Likely a Delaware C-Corp)…
And get to work.
But don’t be afraid to go after your true why.
Because people just like you change the world every single day
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