The DC Social Innovation Project hosted a panel at Google’s DC headquarters this July on the intersection of technology, digital learning and employment. With many eager budding social entrepreneurs in the audience, we took the opportunity to ask the panelists one simple question: What is the single piece of advice you would give someone in the social entrepreneurship space?
Adam Motiwala of the Street Sense Digital Marketing Program and who is a fan of the Lean Startup methodology responded with: “The goal of an enterprise is to learn as opposed to just be successful. You’re actually just learning and that actually adds value and having value creates opportunity.” Indeed this is one of the principles of the methodology that seeks to help entrepreneurs in general (not just those in the social space) to create sustainable businesses.
Being open to framing the startup process as a learning endeavor was the theme of the panelists’ advice and so both Eleanor Grewal, Director of Programs at Byte Back and Paul Gleger of General Assembly spoke to the importance of learning and understanding those who social entrepreneurs seek to support. Suggests Gleger, “Know who you’re serving. Really understand what their motivations are, what their struggles are, and then make sure that your product really delivers on that.”
Many entrepreneurs go in with a set with of assumptions of who their customer is, the problem that they have, and that their product is the solution to that problem. Part of the Lean Startup methodology is that one must do the active research necessary to really test their hypothesis and be open to changing the solution or product based on what is learned. In the social entrepreneurial space Grewal suggests not only knowing the community you are trying to serve, but becoming part of it for “ it’s great to have a good idea, but if it’s not what people need then it’s not as social entrepreneurial as it could be.” Gleger adds that “ the guiding voice at the end of the day should be who are your users, what are they really looking for and what is going to make a difference for them.”
So take some pointers from our panelists and embark on a learning process keeping this tidbit of knowledge from the The Lean Startup in mind: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problems.”