5 Ways to Create a Startup with a Social Purpose

Contribute to the world in a 21st century, entrepreneurial way

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adopets, a socially conscious startup out of Boston, MA, challenges us to change the way we adopt pets

Perhaps you hope you to contribute to the world positively, but is understanding what cause is being honored each month and posting on social media enough to be called a contribution? For some, that’s only the tip of the iceberg and starting a cause or a movement is their way to affect change; starting a startup with a social purpose.

After an entrepreneur adopted a pet in early 2016, a journey began to reinvent pet adoption. We all likely have some experience with social challenges that can be solved or changed, but it takes a leap of faith and courage to do it effectively. For this particular cause and team, it took over a year of education, trial and improvements to get the right formula in order to unleash adopets unto the world. With the drive to change the way we adopt pets – from the new owner to pet organizations – this platform is the result of a meaningful experience that didn’t go to waste, by a team looking to make a difference.

Understand What You Need and What You Have

Understanding what you need to make your socially conscious startup a success is a lot of trial, error, and perseverance – not unlike any other startup in the making. The difference is knowing your product will better the world, not just solve a problem. Take a moment to assess the things you have control over like understanding the climate of your cause; is it a hot trend right now, or a lasting power? Also, is your physical location prime for supporting startups? How about your cause; are there enough current people who subscribe to your belief? Finally, set goals and lay out mini-milestones to help keep you and your team stay motivated.

Be a little selfish

When you get ready to make a change, it’s helpful to understand your level of selfishness as an individual. Being selfish isn’t all bad just like having a piece of cake isn’t bad – if you do it once in awhile you’ll be okay, it’s when you do it every day that you start packing on the pounds. Being a little selfish can build leadership skills and even foster sound relationships. Here are 5 ways to understand how to take a startup dream and amplify it to a social cause knock-out:

1. Be willing and able to listen

Not everyone speaks the same language, and even if they do, communication can still vary from one person to the next. Listening is so much more than just hearing and can mean anything from you and your body language to learn to read other’s nonverbal cues. A great example is when you interview employees before you have much funding to offer them a full-time paying role; how do they respond? Are they invested in the cause or a paycheck? Understand that without salaries, you may risk losing some great people, but the truly worthwhile ones are so invested, they’ll be willing to work their normal 9-5 and come home and do some more for a shared dream.

2. Have sympathy and empathy (yes, they’re different)

Empathy is vicariously sharing feelings with people. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Sympathy is feeling compassion for someone or something else, which usually involves hardships or misfortune. Brené Brown does a great job materializing these emotions, but both can be useful depending on the situation.

Empathy is fantastic for getting your core group of staff and even initial early adopters aligned with your project. Know that it can be easier when all people share something in common; perhaps the entire team is made up of developers, or the early adopters are completely invested in the cause due to a shared experience. But, occasionally if things aren’t going as right as you’d like, or as the team starts to grow and expertise varies, a little compassion via sympathy can go a long way.

3. Understand that money and time come and go

There’s a saying in the startup industry that if you’re doing it for the money, you won’t be successful. Pushing for a social change helps unify a passion among people easier than if you were just selling any old product. But, commitment and money still help to get things going.

In the early stages, time is the only currency you’ll have and people – especially employees and advisors – have to be willing to give it to get it (and vice versa). The hustle you and your team put in early on will drive things like a successful launch, passion for keeping the momentum going and a need to reach the goals you’ve set. The mutual understanding is that everyone is working equally for a future where sacrifices will get smaller as success gets more attainable. After the launch and gaining investors (if that’s part of the plan), being smart with your financial decisions will help keep selfishness in check, as outlined in Fast Company’s list of The Five Most Common Ways Startups Lose Money. Logical decisions like not spending more than you have and only hiring staff when you’re able to, are certain routes to make your funds last throughout the journey. Hours and dollars will pass quickly, and if not spent deliberately, then what’s the point?

4. Use the experience of those who came before you

Being independent is a tremendous individual attribute and for a company, allows the assurance to make moves for the right reasons in order to march towards the future confidently. But it becomes an Achilles’ heel when asking for help becomes a problem. Launching a startup – socially conscious or not – is downright difficult. There is no shortage of naysayers and pessimists, let alone the sea of potential competitors. With all the odds stacked against you, one of the hardest things to do is seek top advice and guidance. Who you can trust and will their experience benefit your specific mission?

First, dive into your network and let them know what you’re doing – you’d be surprised at who and how you’re connected to people. Don’t forget to put as much energy into resourcing advisors as you would employees. While these folks may not earn a paycheck right away, they’ll likely want equity and can be imperative to your success. Finally, remember that your value provides them value – don’t sell yourself or your team short in this exchange, but also try to scratch the advisor’s back by making introductions and furthering your relationship.

5. Learn from your mistakes

The reality is that you will fail in this noble process…a lot. Sometimes trouble will come in small ways and other times hiccups are present in much larger cases. Become comfortable with the idea that failure and mistakes are part of the experience and attempt to embrace them as an opportunity to learn and find answers. When the learning is complete, don’t be afraid to pay it forward and offer friendly (and sought after) tips and tricks so others can benefit from your process. The startup community craves selfless individuals to share their knowledge.

Although mistakes are inevitable, be aware that they will try your patience; don’t give up. Your obsession to keep pushing and fighting are what makes you stand out when most stop trying (a.k.a. if it was easy, everyone would do it). In adopets’ experience, working through the most difficult stages is what leads to the solutions that define success.

In the end, if you’re determined, you’ll create your own path towards bettering the world that current and future generations will benefit from. What will you do to contribute?

For more information, contact Jen Nussinow, CMO of adopets at [email protected]

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