Focus On Implementation (Business Plans Are Overrated)
Lauri Elliott was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
by Lauri Elliott, CEO, Conceptualee, Inc., USA
I think one of the greatest areas of risk when starting a venture for social good is the vagueness that is often surrounding the business model. Vagueness makes it difficult to develop strategy, make key decisions, apply resources, capital, and assets correctly, and attract contributors, sponsors, and partners.
We have been able to reduce risk by reducing, or managing, the vagueness inherent in start-ups. Two ways in which we do this are focusing on organic growth, and leveraging our strengths, or assets, to create more viable, sustainable business models. Essentially, we start with what we know and what we have in hand to use.
We all know there is a high rate of failure for start-up ventures, so our initial stage is to develop and implement a proof of concept. We choose a scope that is small enough for us to manage, but creates a significant impact. And, we always consider how we scale and sustain the concept. We focus more on organic growth than developing hard infrastructure, which can be costly and tends to be underutilized in early start-ups.
In other words, we focus on implementation—not on developing a business plan. While there may be some who will support your idea financially, or otherwise, from the beginning, the vast majority of support will come by demonstrating that you can do something.
This approach then requires a different understanding about what capital (a strength or asset) is. Most innovators are working with very little cash flow, so we need to be creative about how we apply different types of capital, including relationships, intellectual, raw resources, and information. Once we understand our own capital, then we can look for others to work with us who have complementary capital. And then we are able to create a network, or ecosystem, that will support the sustainability of the venture.
Our work at Afribiz is a testament to these approaches. While designed to be a for-profit venture, our primary mandate is to drive broad-based economic development in Africa, and even other developing regions. Afribiz started as an information portal, which we could maintain on our own, and transformed into a media and broadcasting organization, among other focuses.
The first year and a half was spent on refining the concept. Our offerings during the concept phase for Afribiz were solely based on the strengths we had internally, and on those of our partners and contributors. Now, we are able to incorporate revenue generation and investment models to sustain and grow, moving forward.
While we have had good success with proof of concepts, not every proof of concept will turn out as you expect. In fact, they rarely do. Even when a proof of concept doesn’t yield the results intended, you will find that a string of proofs of concept will help you develop a viable business model out of what you did learn, while having reduced the upfront risk associated with taking on a new venture.
Lauri is a business strategist focusing on global business, innovation, technology, new ventures/start-ups, emerging markets, and SMMEs.