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About the Social Venture Advisory Network
The center's network of professionals, experts, and alumni drawn from all schools across Columbia University form a vital part of the ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Referrals made by the center may also be to other social enterprise organizations in the impact investing and advisory fields. Professionals and experts share insights below on a variety of topics relevant to early-stage social and environmental venture startups.
Apply to be a part of the Advisory Network here.
Hiring the Right People: How to Reduce Hiring Bias
If you’ve ever had to hire for an open position, chances are you’re familiar with the feeling of wanting the role filled yesterday. However, there is a reason for the first part of that famous phrase “hire slow.” Hiring the wrong person can have disastrous effects.
Not only does turnover cost companies significant amounts of money with replacement estimates for senior hires costing employers up to 213% of salaries, but making a bad hire can have a negative impact on company morale that is long-lasting and far-reaching.
Have you ever hired someone because you had a “good gut feeling” or you just inexplicably “felt it was right”? If so, irrespective of if that specific hire worked out, you’re guilty of decision-making bias.
You’re in good company! Even trained interviewers are guilty of bias. In fact, a 2000 study from the University of Toledo confirmed that the first impressions made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could predict the hiring outcome.
As humans, we’re programmed to make quick judgments and decisions through a series of mental shortcuts known as heuristics or biases. The more complex the decision, the more we rely on these shortcuts. Making judgments on people, such as with hiring, is quite complex, and we often see these shortcuts arise.
Some of the most common ways that bias sneaks into hiring are below:
- Similarity attraction effect: When we find ourselves drawn to candidates with shared interests or experiences. Gravitating towards similar people is a common human tendency, but it does not translate to improved hiring.
- The halo effect: When we like one thing about a person (perhaps they are well-dressed or charming), we tend to overestimate his/her skills or abilities in other areas.
- Confirmation bias: I see this one the most with trained interviewers who often become enamored with candidates based on application materials. Confirmation bias will “lead you to hone in on information confirming that conclusion, which is why this bias often contributes to inconsistent and/or leading interview questions” (Loehrke, “3 common hiring biases and how to overcome them, ” The Business Journals, January 22, 2018).
Evidence shows that “trusting your gut” does not lead to better hiring results.
Luckily, it isn’t hard or expensive to incorporate evidence-based research into a few tweaks and hacks to create a structured, intentionally designed hiring process that is fair, objective, and more accurate.
Before you tackle hiring, you want to make sure your company has done the following pre-work:
- Is your executive team aligned on what diversity means to your organization? The definition of diversity can be broad, going far beyond obvious demographic representation, and 70% of companies have not defined it.
- Is your company inclusive? Reducing hiring bias can have a positive effect on increasing diversity, but hiring diverse employees is all for nothing if your culture isn’t inclusive enough to make them want to stay.
- Consider investing in an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with strong data and analysis tools. Measure outcomes to ensure accountability.
- Ensure you have a strong hiring pipeline. Your selection process will only be as strong and diverse as the candidates in your recruitment process.
Ok, now we’re ready to improve your hiring process:
- Kick it off right: The more time you invest up front with all decision-makers, the more likely there will be alignment throughout. The hiring kickoff should include discussions of a) the job description that will be posted and how accurately it reflects the components needed to be successful in the role, and b) who will be involved in the hiring process and how (not only defining the roles, but determining who has decision-making authority).
- Consider “blinding” resumes: One of the best ways to reduce bias is removing personally identifiable information from the resumes of applicants including their name, gender, age.
- Create a score card: Reduce gut decisions and facilitate more objective discussions amongst disagreeing interviewers by creating a ratings score card. Use the job requirements listed in the job description and a numeric rating scale (for example 1- strongly disagree, 2-disagree, 3-agree, 4- strongly agree). Train interviewers to use ratings and note what they heard in the interview that led them to each assessment. When interviewers disagree, use the ratings to facilitate a discussion based on a shared understanding of the skills and competencies required to be successful in the role, not on gut feelings.
- Use a coordinator to move candidates through the process: Hiring managers may feel rushed to fill positions and have some of the common biases after meeting candidates. Utilize an objective coordinator (who doesn’t meet the candidates) to collate the ratings and input from various interviewers, and serve as a more objective partner for hiring managers.
- Leverage skills assessments: When it comes to the validity of job performance predictors, very few things prove to have correlation. One predictor with positive correlation is a skills assessment that mimics the type of work required in the role. Don’t be afraid to have candidates complete such assignments early in the process to remove unqualified candidates, or later on to differentiate between top choices.
- Only use structured interviews: Another valid job predictor is the structured interview. This requires employee education, but it is well worth the effort. First, decide on the goals of the interview – what you are trying to learn from different stages in the process. Then, pick an interview type to match – my favorites are screening calls early in the process and then top-grading and scenario-based interviews for semi-finalists. Make sure interviewers are trained on consistency for apples-to-apples comparisons, how to listen to what candidates are not saying, and how to use open-ended questions instead of leading ones.
- Ensure time for candidates’ questions: Finding the right fit means that a candidate has to be as excited about your organization as you are about him/her. And, that excitement has to endure long after he/she is hired as an employee. To ensure candidates don’t feel as if they’ve been sold a bill of goods, make sure to leave ample time at the end of interviews for the candidates’ questions, be open about organizational/team/role challenges, and do not oversell the role.
- Beware of reference checks: It comes as a surprise to most people, but there is actually a very low predictive correlation between a candidate’s reference checks and success on the job. Why is that? No one wants to give a bad reference. However, reference checks can still be useful. A few tips to get the most out of reference calls: first, listen to what is not said. I often ask former managers to rate the candidate on a scale of 1-10. If it’s not a 9 or a 10, I need to find out why (on occasion an 8 can be good, but a 7 or below is the kiss of death). Another tip is to share what a candidate has said, for example, “John mentioned that you once gave him constructive feedback on X, could you tell me more about that?” By giving the reference safe cover without the fear of revealing anything the candidate hasn’t already revealed, you can put the reference at ease.
Hiring doesn’t have to be stressful – and you don’t have to have a giant HR team, sophisticated systems, or a massive budget to ensure you’re using best practices. Incorporate the tweaks above into your existing process to create a positive experience for candidates and interviewers that effectively reduces hiring bias.
Director of Portfolio, Acumen
Director of Portfolio, Acumen
Innovative Financing Structures
Since the term “impact investing” was first coined almost a decade ago, the space has grown to become a $100 billion industry. As investors and entrepreneurs continue to explore the dynamics of their roles and relationships, one thing has become clear: traditional VC financing structures do not always fit social startups’ needs, nor do they always yield the expected results for these investors. As a result, entrepreneurs and investors must work together to create innovative financing solutions that better fit their goals.
Developed markets have a well-established cash continuum, which successfully finances startups from their creation, through angel investors, all the way to large cap private equity or IPOs. In many emerging or frontier markets, this constant flow of growth capital or secondary buyers simply doesn’t exist. In addition, certain social enterprises are not structured to reach scale or generate a liquidity event for their shareholders.
Take agriculture, for example. Agriculture entrepreneurs are desperately in need of capital but smallholder agriculture is a sector where traditional financing structures don’t fit. They might not only disillusion investors, which are unable to get their money back, but also undermine the farmers’ social impact. Most of the world’s poor are farmers and agriculture is their (or their communities’) livelihood. Many social enterprises are looking to partner with these farmers (or their associations) to help them better connect to global markets and, in the process, grow their margins, increase the quality of their crops, and improve their yields through better or more innovative farming techniques. These businesses need capital to grow and become sustainable to ultimately improve the living conditions of these farmer communities.
These companies are not, however, intended to reach massive scale or have strategic buyers take out their early stage investors; they are most impactful if they become livelihood businesses that can sustainably maintain their social missions and the communities they serve. Thus, forcing them to scale beyond their capabilities or regions can create tension in the operations and for the management teams, and can potentially compromise the mission and even lead to failure. Given the dynamics outlined above, most agriculture entrepreneurs have not been successful in finding sufficient pools of capital for their different stages of growth because even most impact investors need to complete their investment cycles, exit their capital, and generate acceptable financial returns.
Considering this challenge, investors like Acumen started experimenting with more innovative financing structures designed to align with these businesses’ growth and cash flow trajectories. These structures act similarly to debt or equity instruments in their risk/reward profiles and in the governance rights they offer, but with self-liquidating payout mechanisms over defined horizons and non-disruptive schedules to the companies’ cash flows and missions. What I mean by this is that these structures target the same returns as traditional debt or equity, but (particularly in the case of equity) do not need an external purchaser to facilitate the exit of the investors. They are structured in a way through which the company (with its cash flows) repays shareholders during a certain period of time until either the shareholder obtains an agreed upon return, or the schedule of repayments ends. They are not simple term loans because they grant governance and decision rights to the investors, and they do not have rigid repayment structures but rather flexible ones that are aligned with the companies’ cash flow generation. This gives the company more space to operate and only repay when they have generated cash.
We are seeing more and more examples of investors deploying capital via these structures out of both their equity and debt funds. In the case of equity instruments, mandatory redemptions or mandatory distributions based on revenues, profits, or cash flow generation have been the most common. In the case of debt, revenue-based straight or convertible loans and debt/mezzanine based on profits with flexible payments are being used more frequently. These are structures that use self-liquidating repayment schedules in more versatile ways but with the same rights as equity or mezzanine debt investments.
Thanks to the creativity and openness of both impact investors and entrepreneurs, these structures are allowing the sector to push forward and help all stakeholders succeed. However, as in everything, there are challenges. The primary one that startups are now facing with these structures is the preservation of their cash flow. Healthy cash flow is a rare commodity in the early stages of startups, and it must now be used to pay down investors. We are trying to solve for this with more flexible or longer-term structures, but I still encourage you – as entrepreneurs, investors, and advocates for impact investing – to always understand the needs of your companies and the goals of your investments. Continue to think outside the box, challenging the status quo through innovative ways of partnering that can allow capital to fill gaps, support businesses looking to change systems, and create new markets.
8 Social Media Principles for Social Ventures
Social ventures strive to create multidimensional value and cater to a diverse set of stakeholders. Thinking about people and the planet while turning profits is an honorable but challenging undertaking. Organizations across the 'doing good' spectrum such as TOMS, Warby Parker, and Charity: Water, among others, are showing the way. By leveraging the power of the masses through social media, these organizations have harnessed tremendous engagement for their businesses and, most importantly, for their social causes.
Social ventures and 'for impact' brands are intrinsically well-suited to participate in social media. While some 'for-profit' brands and businesses struggle to connect with their customer base on social platforms for lack of a meaningful purpose other than pushing their latest products, social ventures have compelling stories to share and important reasons to solicit public engagement. This enables and allows for authentic engagement and a two-way dialogue, creating grassroots support for a social mission.
However, success in social media is not a given. With most businesses activating via multiple platforms, consumer news feeds are abuzz with too much clutter and information. Disrupting and getting a person's attention in this digital ecosystem requires a mix of old-school marketing strategies combined with emerging digital principles. Successful social media campaigns employ some or all of the following to achieve their goals:
- Value Proposition: Articulating the value offer or purpose (who you are, what you stand for, what you offer, why people should care) in a simple, clear, and concise fashion is fundamental and essential to a winning marketing campaign.
- Storytelling & Content Creation: Translating a mission or purpose into a powerful idea or story with which people can connect is the inherent power of great storytelling. Dispersing these stories through content in varying formats to accommodate consumer behavior, preferences, and context on various social platforms is the type of executional detail that social marketers cannot afford to gloss over.
- Engagement with your ‘Tribe’: Identify the individuals who are most passionate about a venture's mission or purpose. The 'Tribe' is active, engaged, and not shy about endorsing and sharing more about the organization. Social ventures need to recognize, honor, and cultivate their 'Tribe'.
- Plan for 'The Share': Advertising that goes viral is not a lucky happenstance. In many instances, it is a function of a great idea and/or story, coupled with brilliant insight into the audience and simple calls to action (CTAs), incentives, strategic hashtags, etc. that draw in more people to participate and spread the word. The earned media is worth the trouble!
- Amplification: User generated content is a good start, but micro- and macro-influencers have a role to play as well. Partner up—it pays!
- Connecting the Dots: Sync and synergize Paid, Owned and Earned media (POEM) efforts. Additionally, bringing the online and offline (PR, events etc.) together is essential to maximizing ROI.
- Measurement: Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), analyze often, but avoid 'paralysis by analysis.' Most importantly, uncover the stories behind the numbers to evolve and enhance your marketing efforts.
- Test, Test, & Test: The cost effectiveness of most social media marketing lends itself well to experimentation, making 'test & learn' an important cornerstone of the marketing plan.
Social media marketing is effective and efficient, and should be a priority for social ventures. An energized and thriving social community is not only a real business advantage, but is also very gratifying and the best kind of validation for any enterprise.
Andrea is the Co-founder at Plum Alley Investments; and Dara is the former Associate Director of Membership Engagement
Andrea is the Co-founder at Plum Alley Investments; and Dara is the former Associate Director of Membership Engagement
The Five Best Practices for Early-Stage Fundraising
1. Be clear on the right sources of funding
Do your diligence. Know which investors have experience and stated commitments that align with your mission. Take time to understand the landscape for capital raising from grants to debt to equity, and funder expectations on milestones. Looking at competition in the space to see who is funding similar work will help you target funders and differentiate your own organization. Most crucially, funding comes down to relationships. The more senior the relationship you can build within a grantmaking or capital-giving organization, the likelier you are to receive funding.
2. Demonstrate clear traction
Knowing what milestones investors will expect at certain points will help you plan your business and operational strategy, in addition to your funding timeline. Incubators, accelerators, awards and recognition, or competitions can be crucial launching pads, as can creating a minimum viable product (MVP) and demonstrating product-market fit.
3. Know your business model and social mission
Funding rounds can and should be tied to the growth of the company. When thinking about investors, it is critical to think about the financial capital you need and the support and partnerships that funders can provide at various stages. The financial and legal structure of your organization will also determine the kinds of investors you are going to attract and seek out. Structures ranging from B-corporations and LLCs to nonprofits and L3Cs should be determined at the very beginning of an organization’s life to avoid a costly legal shift later.
4. Articulate uses of proceeds
Come prepared to explain how you plan to allocate funding to accomplish your goals, both social and financial. Demonstrate a clear plan for the top categories of spending and how that will translate into achieving specific goals. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) for the organization. It can be valuable to identify KPIs and engage funders to offer input and co-design KPIs that will enable more transparency and ensure alignment of goals.
5. Minimize risks for your investors
Most funder/organization relationships are multi-year partnerships. Strong relationships are based on shared vision, aligned expectations, and a commitment to transparency. Take steps to ensure expectations are clear up front in terms of pace of growth, impact targets, and remaining technical or business risks.
Plum Alley Investments is a membership designed for individuals and institutions looking to invest in a new way for financial and personal returns in private companies. They fund women entrepreneurs at the Series A-level.
Founder & CEO, Junction Education; Council Member, GLG
Founder & CEO, Junction Education; Council Member, GLG
The Double Bottom Line: Balancing Social Impact and Financial Sustainability
Starting a business is hard. By some measures, about half of small businesses will fail within five years. Why are the odds of success no better than the flip of a coin? CB Insights provides a handy breakdown of the top reasons for startup failures with some helpful color around each. The reasons for failure include failure to pivot, difficulty in raising investment capital, insufficient passion, loss of focus, bad timing, and building a product or service, but not building the supporting business model.
In the world of social entrepreneurship and impact investing, the challenges are further amplified due to the “double bottom line” against which most social ventures are measured. Double bottom line is the ever-critical balance between demonstrating impact on social or environmental good/wellbeing, while also building a provable, sustainable business. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve put ample time into thinking about and planning for metrics on both sides as you build your business plan, business model, and products or services.
When I was at Booz Allen (now Strategy& and part of PriceWaterhouseCoopers) I became involved with the firm’s work with the Clinton Foundation and NYU to help small businesses in Harlem cope with the wave of gentrification that had begun. The small business owners who were attentive to advice and metrics the consulting teams developed with them on impact and finances not only survived but, in many cases, thrived in the years ahead. Those who didn’t were sadly lost to history.
Most businesses getting off the ground will require some form of investment in their early days—from sweat equity to friends and family writing small checks to angel investors who share their passion and believe in them and their team. As you start to take your seed of an idea out into the world, social impact investors can also help provide another path to patient, supportive, capital if they buy into your social impact measures, sometimes even before the business side has proven itself out. Meanwhile, alternative sources of capital—angel networks and venture firms as you grow—will push progress on business measures such as revenue, usage, margins, and cash flow. Building a scalable social enterprise entails knowing both worlds—or having co-founders who can help cover the gaps—before you get too far along (ideally in the first 90 days) because before you know it, two to three years will have elapsed and you end up on the wrong side of the coin flip.
If you’re investing the most precious resources you have—time and energy—make sure you’ve built a plan that can deliver on the double bottom line at the beginning of the journey. Doing so will tilt the odds of success in your favor and, while there are no guarantees, you’ll already be positioning yourself head and shoulders above other social entrepreneurs who will, unfortunately, struggle in striking the right balance.
Co-founder, Execution Labs
Co-founder, Execution Labs
Raising Seed Capital: When Social Entrepreneurs and Game Developers are Doppelgangers
As I spend more time with social entrepreneurs, I’ve drawn a parallel I never thought I’d make: social entrepreneurs and game developers share a host of similarities. In fact, there is one instance in which these two seemingly dissimilar groups bear a striking resemblance, and that is when they are raising seed capital.
I have invested in two dozen seed stage game studios since 2012, and have myself been on the founder’s side of the table, hat and pitch deck in hand. Pitching investors is, for most people, not a fun or easy experience. But, what’s become clear to me is that more often than not, game developers looking for their first rounds of equity funding are often ill-equipped for the task. The reasons they struggle with fundraising are the same reasons many social entrepreneurs I’ve encountered have trouble in this area. It’s not because they’re not smart or passionate. In fact, it’s these very attributes that often get in the way.
Andrea Turner Moffitt and Dara Kagan offer a great primer on early stage funding strategies. What I’m referencing is a preface to those best practices. As a company founder, it’s critical to dramatically shift how you think about your business prior to pitching investors. Before examining how to make this cognitive transition, it’s important to understand why this shift is needed. Most independent game developers, for example, naturally think about their studio’s output as “art.” This isn’t surprising when you consider that most studio founders don’t have formal business training; rather, they are highly skilled and ardent functional experts in game design, programming, animation, or other relevant disciplines. By the same token, social entrepreneurs are typically passionate, scrappy do-ers who have fashioned a local solution to a broader problem, or perhaps they are scientists or engineers who have–just maybe–cracked the code on a potential answer to a persistent technological or health concern. Unfortunately, when someone has spent so much time focused on one goal or one narrow specialty required to reach that goal, and when passion (or compassion) is the motivation at the core of a business, very capable founders often have trouble taking a step back and 1) viewing their business holistically, and 2) understanding the perspective and goals of the early stage equity investors on the other side of the table.
For a founder, this can lead to frustration. Whether you’re building the world’s most innovative gaming platform or you’re on the cusp of solving one of the UN’s sustainable development goals, it might feel like you should walk into your pitch meetings and shout “Hey, do you see what we’re building here? What are you waiting for? Write that check!” It’s especially tempting to feel this way if you’ve already solved the problem on a small scale. However, pitching seed investors means you need to wear a different hat: that of the CEO. You’re not just a programmer or just a scientist or just an operator anymore. You must understand all of those aspects of your business, and more. You don’t have to be a domain expert in all of them, but you can’t pitch your vision as a business until you can identify all of the critical components of your venture and how you–or someone on your team–will own them and scale them.
Why? Because passion and ideas are not the things that make early stage investors lose sleep. What causes trepidation among investors is the tremendous executional risk that early stage ventures face. Further, investors worry about issues of scale. Seed investors want to invest in ventures that can scale exponentially. No matter how passionate you are, or how important the problem is that you’re solving, or how promising your early results may look, if you’re not thinking about succeeding on a large scale, you may want to reconsider talking to most early stage investors. Their business models highly discount the value of linear successes.
There are a host of ways these common mental incongruences manifest themselves, ranging from suboptimal team construction and poor pitch deck design to questionable financial projections and uninformed term sheet negotiations. The good news is that, whether you’re starting a game studio or a plant-based meat company, you can avoid many mistakes by understanding your own limitations and biases and by understanding the business model of the investors you are pitching. Find some seasoned advisors, read blogs, read books. You’re fighting the good fight, and people want to help.
Formerly Staff Attorney, Lawyers Alliance for New York
Formerly Staff Attorney, Lawyers Alliance for New York
Legal Issues in Structuring Relationships Between For-Profit and Nonprofit Entities
Historically, in the United States, a corporation or other legal entity could only be created as either a nonprofit—whose purpose is exclusively to create social value—or as a “regular” entity that exists to maximize economic profit. In recent years, some jurisdictions have created new vehicles (such as the low-profit limited liability company “L3C” and the benefit corporation) in attempts to make room under one roof for both goals. Although the new vehicles are useful, engineering a bespoke structure using the traditional nonprofit and for-profit corporate forms can often better suit an organization’s goals.
A nonprofit and a for-profit entity can relate to each other in three principal ways:
1. Ownership (i.e. a nonprofit entity can own a for-profit entity, although not the other way around)
2. Board composition (i.e. having corporate directors or trustees in common)
3. Contracts between them
All three methods can be deployed alone or in combination, and each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. The choice of methods will depend on your situation and goals, and you should confer with an attorney when (re)structuring your enterprise.
Ownership: A tax-exempt nonprofit endeavor may create and own a for-profit entity without necessarily jeopardizing the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. For example, a nonprofit that sees an opportunity to engage in “commercial” activity to generate revenues to support the non-profit’s mission may elect to create a separate entity, which it (the nonprofit) will own, to pursue the commercial activity. The advantage of the ownership route is that it allows the sponsoring nonprofit to maintain a fairly high degree of control over the for-profit subsidiary. The disadvantages of the ownership route are, first, that it is only available when a nonprofit will own a for-profit: the reverse is not possible, as a nonprofit, by its nature, cannot be owned. Second, there can be unintended consequences for the nonprofit owner entity if plans are not reviewed in detail with an attorney prior to implementation.
Board Composition: In theory, there is no reason why a nonprofit and a for-profit entity, that will not do business together, could not have 100% of the same individuals on each of their respective Boards. If, however, the two entities will be entering into contracts with each other, there need to be Directors on the nonprofit Board who are not also on the for-profit Board. Those “non-conflicted” Directors will be crucial for approving transactions between the two entities and managing potential conflicts of interests that may arise for Directors who are on both Boards. The consequences for the nonprofit may differ depending on whether the “overlapping” Directors are in the majority or in the minority on the nonprofit Board. The prudent course for an entrepreneur considering “Board overlap” between a nonprofit and a for-profit would be to consult an attorney.
Contracts: Needless to say, nonprofits enter into contracts with for-profit companies all the time. There have been cases, however, where a court has held that a for-profit entity has restricted the activities of a nonprofit contracting partner so heavily that the for-profit entity actually controls the nonprofit, resulting in impermissible private benefit to the for-profit from the nonprofit’s activities. In a situation where the relationship between a nonprofit and a for-profit has other features of a close relationship—such as ownership or Board overlap, as discussed above—the goals and expected results of contracts between the two entities should be discussed with an attorney.
In conclusion, a social enterprise can make use of a separate nonprofit and for-profit entity by choosing a combination of ownership, board composition, and contractual relationships between the two entities to tailor a structure that will maximize the goals of the social enterprise to the extent possible. However, consultation with an attorney is essential if the benefits of the available choices are to be realized.
Lawyers Alliance for New York is the leading provider of business and transactional legal services for nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that are improving the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods. Their network of pro bono lawyers from law firms and corporations and staff of experienced attorneys collaborate to deliver expert corporate, tax, real estate, employment, intellectual property, and other legal services to community organizations.
Program Associate, B Lab
Program Associate, B Lab
What are B Corps?
B Corps are companies that aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. They meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. The B Corp community contains 2,000+ certified B Corps spanning 50 countries and 130 industries.
Why Become a B Corp?
Measuring what matters helps you attract and retain the best talent. It demonstrates that your organization walks its talk about being a better company. It gives employees who care about this an opportunity to engage and to lead. It allows you to benchmark performance and gives you tools to set goals for improvement.
How Do I Start?
Check out the B Impact Assessment. It's a free and confidential tool to measure and manage the impact performance of your whole business. The Assessment can also help you learn how you can improve, even if you never get certified. For most companies, doing a rough cut assessment will take about an hour. From there, read through these guidelines to understand the performance and legal requirements to certify.
What is the Pending B Corp Status for Startups?
This is a one year program designed to help startups (< than 1 year ops) understand and improve their impact with the ultimate goal of creating a lifelong leader in using business as a force for good. It is a two-step process: protect your mission, and start measuring impact.
B Lab is a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good. Its vision is that one day all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world and as a result society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.
CEO, Greater Good Ventures
CEO, Greater Good Ventures
Understanding the Buy-One-Give-One Model
The buy-one-give-one model (BOGO) is a viable way to create commercial and social value, and is a model of social entrepreneurship that has increased in prevalence and power. The BOGO model has helped companies such as TOMS and Warby Parker reshape an industry and its consumers in order to create system-level change and, in doing so, create a competitive advantage for itself.
The model works well if you remember the following:
- BOGO works with products such as accessories and jewelry because they provide a way for people to publicly express their unique style and personality, while also provoking conversations that allow people to share the BOGO story with other people.
- Most BOGO firms are in the fashion and apparel business, with product prices rarely exceeding $100.
- Marketing and economic benefits should be simple and tangible. For example, for every product purchased, one is given away to a person in need. The social impact is clearer, easier to understand, and more personal than donating a percentage of sales.
According to Nielsen, 46% of global consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that have programs that give back to society. The millennial generation, which puts a high value on social issues, along with the BOGO model's simple yet effective marketing message, provide a way for firms to leverage core competencies for a social cause.
CEO and Co-founder, StreetShares
CEO and Co-founder, StreetShares
Boots to Business: 4 Lessons I Learned in the Military and Applied to Entrepreneurship
At the most fundamental level, running a startup is about executing leadership in an environment filled with uncertainty. No organization spends more time, effort, and resources to train people to lead amidst a swirl of uncertainty than the United States Military.
It is therefore no surprise that the U.S. Military has produced more business owners than any other institution in the nation.
It has a proven track record of teaching leadership, strategic planning, creative problem solving, task execution, and resiliency—all traits essential to business ownership.
These so-called “vetrepreneurs” do things differently. They apply lessons from military service to business. They unflinchingly handle risk. They rely on a tight-knit network of their fellow veterans for support and encouragement. And they understand perseverance.
My co-founder and I are both military veterans. To launch and grow StreetShares, we relied on four key lessons we learned in the military:
- Set a clear strategic mission and break that mission down into smaller tactical goals.
- Recruit talented people, build esprit de corps, and hold our team accountable for daily progress toward tactical aims.
- Keep mission focus at all times, but allow people to innovate in furtherance of the mission—“adapt and overcome” as the military saying goes.
- Lead from the front, and be prepared to get dirty.
Most importantly, we relied on the military community to make it work. Just as military members on foreign battlefields rely on each other, so too do veteran entrepreneurs. We hired several military veterans, and we applied elements of military culture to our startup.
The habits and practices of veteran entrepreneurs hold lessons for every business owner in the United States.
Founder, Rogovin Consulting
Founder, Rogovin Consulting
How to Use a Scorecard When HiringAs a startup, do you ever feel like you are
- constantly hiring because of high turnover,
- taking too long to fill openings,
- spending lots of time interviewing—with little confidence you’re choosing the right candidates,
- disagreeing about finalists due to lack of clear criteria,
- settling for less-than-ideal candidates out of desperation, or
- getting caught in exhausting cycles of managing those low performers?
You are in good company. Most organizations do just enough thinking about their open roles to get a job description together, and then they make hiring decisions based on gut feelings. But, there is a better way.
The best place to start when you’re hiring is to write a scorecard for your open role. A scorecard has three sections:
- Mission: What is the mission of this role, in two to three sentences, with no jargon? If you can’t boil down the essence of a job in this way, you don’t have the clarity to need to start hiring. Ask yourself: what would be true a year from now if I had the exact right person in this role? That’s your mission.
- Outcomes: What are the six to eight most important goals that this person must accomplish in the next 12 months? This should not be a laundry list of responsibilities. Save those for the job description.
- Competencies: What are the four most important competencies or skills that the person in this role should possess? The last one should always be your organization’s core values.
Once you have a draft of the scorecard, it’s time to shop it around to others to get input and alignment. Include your manager, others on your team who will work with your new hire, and any other stakeholders who will be involved in the interview process. Everyone needs to be on the same page about the job and whom you’re looking for before recruiting begins, not to mention interviewing. Getting alignment early saves time, money, and frustration down the line.
At each stage of your interview process, you will use the scorecard to rate each candidate on the competencies, providing evidence from your interviews to justify your ratings. In this way, you will both help to mitigate bias in hiring and be more likely to hire someone who will be successful in the role.
Scorecards are also useful in other ways. For example, you can share scorecard outcomes with candidates during the hiring process. It’s a great way to give candidates real clarity on what will be expected of them if they’re hired. Some of my clients even put scorecard outcomes in their job descriptions.
You can also use the scorecard during a new hire’s onboarding. There is no better way to be clear about what success looks like in the role, and this will ensure your new hire gets started right away with their most important priorities.
Lastly, the scorecard can also become the basis for monthly stepbacks with your new hire on progress to goals, quarterly feedback conversations, and yearly performance reviews.
President and Chief Launch Officer, Launch Warrior
President and Chief Launch Officer, Launch Warrior
7 Practical Steps to Launching
There are several important activities on which to focus at every stage of your startup’s development—from early conceptualization through launching and scaling. Going through these 7 steps will help you clarify your most important priorities at the outset and provide a frame of reference to guide you over time. Refer back to your initial responses periodically to see if anything has shifted so that you can realign your expectations and move forward with purpose.
- Vision: What is your company’s guiding mission or north star? Clarify your “why” and what you hope to accomplish over the long term, and use this to guide you. A vision can and should be aspirational—something big and challenging to achieve, but highly motivating. Choose a worthy goal that can make a difference in the world, and use this passion as an ongoing source of inspiration to work towards.
- Values: What do you care about? What behaviors, attitudes, skills, and mindset are most important in how you want to approach your work? Use these criteria to vet future partners, investors, and employees. Having shared or complimentary ways of working makes it easier to align with key stakeholders around common goals.
- Plan: How will you accomplish your goals? Map out the critical action steps and timeline needed to make it happen. Understanding your key milestones and dependencies will be helpful in evaluating potential challenges that need to be addressed.
- Prioritize: What are the top 3 to 5 things you should be working on? It’s unrealistic and unproductive to pursue multiple ideas or activities with limited resources. Remember inspiring ideas, but focus your efforts on what matters most right now. Reduce your stress and increase your effectiveness by reminding yourself about the most important actions to move you towards your goals.
- Measure: How will you know that you have been successful? Set tangible goals with definable outcomes so you can track your progress. For instance, we will onboard X new clients worth $Y in revenues by Z date. Clearly defined metrics help teams work together more effectively.
- Connect: Whom do you need to know to grow? Build your network and identify individuals who can support you and provide guidance in areas where you may lack expertise. These relationships can become a valuable resource for referrals, business development, and other information as you scale. Consider creating an advisory board (formal or informal, paid or unpaid) early on to have a sounding board for business decisions.
- Assess: How accurate were your original plans? Reflect periodically on how things are going. Some questions might include:
- Are we focused on the right product/market fit or do we need to shift direction?
- Did we meet our target metrics and deadlines?
- Was our initial plan realistic or do we need to build in more time?
- Did investors understand our pitch and was our message clear?
By starting with a clear vision and values, creating a solid plan with measurable outcomes, and regularly evaluating your progress, you will stay on track to reach your goals. Using your network and soliciting input from others will also help you move forward with valuable perspective. Launching is all about execution, so make progress every day on your most important actions to make your vision a reality.
Senior Executive and Advisor
Senior Executive and Advisor
The Importance of Validating Demand and Measuring Outcomes
Importance of Validating Demand and Segmenting Customers
In my experience, most social enterprises (and traditional for-profit companies) fail because their founders believe they have a great idea/service/product, but they haven't sufficiently assessed the true demand for it. This is because they usually haven't (or sufficiently) segmented the market to identify their main customer segments and the customer "buying criteria."
Sometimes, the investors they approach for funding will recognize this gap in their business plans and therefore won't provide funding. But sometimes, the investors will overlook this. Either way, the social venture founders will spend a lot of time, effort, and money on sub-optimal product or service development initiatives and go-to-market activities. As a result, the social venture's likelihood of success and survival is greatly reduced.
My advice to all early stage social ventures is to properly validate demand. There unfortunately is no "crystal ball" to provide the answers, but there are sensible and market-tested approaches. For example, speak with a sample of target customers about their needs, their internal decision making process, their buying criteria, etc. Those organizations that do a good job of validating demand have a much stronger and better chance of success.
Measure Outcomes: It's Very Difficult to Have a Sustainable Social Enterprise if you Don't
It is essential to measure social and/or environmental outcomes and not only outputs if you're serious about running a successful social venture. Generally speaking, outputs measure what was implemented and/or how many were served (e.g. how many trees were planted, how many solar panels were installed, how many people were trained, etc.). On the other hand, outcomes measure how people’s lives actually improved (e.g. how much CO2 was avoided or mitigated, how many people found long-term employment as a result of the training that was provided, etc.). Such distinctions are sometimes obvious, and at other times less so. To properly and efficiently measure outcomes requires early consideration and planning.
I've worked with many small and large social enterprises over the years, and not enough of them measured outcomes. Many do measure outputs, but outputs usually don't tell us if the organization has improved lives and/or the environment. I have found that many organizations don't measure outcomes because they usually don't know the true difference between outputs, objectives, outcomes, and impact. It's difficult to measure something when you don't have a clear understanding.
Just as for-profit companies cannot survive in the long term if they don't generate profits, social ventures cannot survive in the long term if they don't produce meaningful outcomes and impact (even if they produce profits) because their investors and other key stakeholders will want to see outcomes achieved.