In this video, social entrepreneurs discuss the challenges they have faced In the different stages of their businesses. What challenges do you think your own business might face? What are the potential solutions? The challenge faced by social enterprises I will have to say is with the pricing, because they are not focused on profit and even though they make profit, it’s mostly channeled back in developing the communities they are working in. But we know that for a normal, profit making enterprise, they are looking at a price level where they can make optimum profit and then increase shareholder value. But here the shareholders are also involved in the communities, because they are a very integral part of the business ecosystem.
So the main challenge I think is the profits, because we don’t want to make more profit and we also want to provide the best price for our community. So the first challenge that we actually face is that, you know, “is this the right time?” “should we shut down?” and that’s the fear that every entrepreneur has, that “it’s not scaling up”. “How long should I wait?” “Should I shut down tomorrow?”. And the only way to overcome that is believe in yourself. Believe in the model. Nothing is going to show results tomorrow. The other is like introspect, processes. You know unit economics matters a lot in our business or in similar businesses.
Look at what are those points where you actually spend a lot of your money. And where can you optimize. So for example, three and a half people are actually working on managing our order system, our order panel, and we said “no, we only need one and a half people to do that and two people should be doing marketing”. So in a start-up, when you are anywhere there’s crunch, there’s resource crunch, how do you optimize people and their performance as we cannot have specialization, we cannot have specialized people for everything, for social media a separate person, for packaging a separate person, but that does not mean you compromise on quality.
With keeping your quality intact, how do you bootstrap is also very very key. And you know sometimes, some enterprises loose focus, when they get early on funding. The moment you get a lot of money, because is someone else’s money, then you just spend. And that’s where many enterprises, and many social enterprises also collapse. Because it’s not about how much money do you have, it’s about optimization, it’s about building efficiency in the story. The challenge for any business that’s grown is how do you build, how do you ensure you have the right infrastructure? How do you maintain staff morale? How do you recreate a values’ base that feels the right thing.
So one of the things that worried my staff is that we were always quite a small family kind of based organization, I knew everybody and you’d be out very visible. As a CEO, how we maintain that visibility? How you maintain the warmth and the kind of nurturing flavour of your organization, and how you guarantee that you get by and at every level. Because people don’t like change, even if it’s a good change. So you have to be really smart about change. And I think all the challenges of change are all the challenges of growth. That said, you are also working in a very uncertain economic environment.
You know, I know our chances are that things are better but I can’t see that. And so you’re picking to work, to build a business, business in areas where already are challenges. You’re choosing not to go into a high-end, you’re choosing to go in towards poverty. You’re choosing to employ people, some of whom have not being employed before. I have taken 60 apprentices. I actually love my apprentices but that’s not the point, the point is you have to build a whole system around how you support those. So all of those things have to go on maintaining your business and securing it and growing it, and actually how you’re integrating it all the way along, and integration is not easy.
One of the biggest challenges we had was starting, and that was, it’s kind of crazy when I look back at it and think how it was all put together. It was done with almost no money, and very little experience. And running that service in the first few months was incredibly difficult. You know, we thought I we have a kind of a community bus service, surely that would be something that everyone would want to use, from day one. But actually, But actually, what we found is that you know, you have to be doing it for a little while, to get people’s awareness.
And essentially what happened at the beginning is that we started running out of money pretty quickly without having yet build the kind of passenger numbers that we needed to pay all the operational expenses. And we didn’t really have a track record so borrowing money was not really an option. So we had to change, you know, change what we did and how we did it really quickly, and we completely redesigned the service, and cut three quarters of the costs away from what we were doing. We then found a niche, we found a core market a core community really, that really bought into what we were doing, and were happy to commit to using that service.
and at that point it really became a viable offer. First thing is that mistrust is within, not outside. So whenever something comes in your mind, first take your time to believe in that idea. Try to test it out before starting something. Before going to investors, you should have the guts that if that money was with you are you going to put that money on your idea? So be sure about that. And most importantly two things. Don’t go to investors without a pilot, if you want to scale. If you have your pilot in place, then you go to investors. Try to build the model where social impact is the immediate outcome of the business rather than adding two parts to it.
Because for a social entrepreneur or for a social entrepreneurship space, balancing the financial and the social returns for an entrepreneur is the toughest job. Because at one end, your customers have different expectations from you, on the other end your investors have different expectations from you, and you also have some different expectations from all the stakeholders. So aligning yourself with all these different expectations you know, needs fate, needs time, and needs lots of hard work. And lots of passion, which automatically comes if the idea is accepted by you.