"" Tim Coates: December 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Journeys to Entrepreneurship

A team breaks it down at a StartUp Weekend event in Seattle earlier this year

Not long ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman translated today’s zeitgeist, declaring that it’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.

Friedman shows how the innovation and energy emanating from entrepreneurship is vital to our economic future. Entrepreneurship skills are needed not just in startups, but increasingly in multinationals, small businesses, social enterprises, nonprofits and communities. Startup Everything is coming.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we need to ensure multiple points of entry for people to develop and apply their entrepreneurial abilities.

I recently learned about customer journey maps from Anne Yurasek at FioPartners. While we didn’t call it this, we completed a similar process at 21inc. Several participants in our leadership program were using their experience to launch ventures. These were great outcomes and we wanted to encourage more. We designed five archetypes of typical participants, mapped their potential journey to entrepreneurship and explored how we could improve our program to catalyze and accelerate that journey.

Given the reliance many regions (and countries) are placing on entrepreneurship, an exhaustive mapping exercise to discover and categorize the various ways people experiment with and plunge into entrepreneurship would be of huge value.

There’s interesting research on why people become entrepreneurs. Author Scott Shane shows that only 1/3 of entrepreneurs actively search for an idea. Almost 56% get their ideas from working in the same industry they start their business in. Surrounding people with entrepreneurs also helps (this explains, in part, why I took the plunge and why 21inc’s programs have the outcomes they do).

I haven’t yet seen all that's known about why people become entrepreneurs collected in one place. If anyone knows a good source please pass it along. That’s the book I want to read this holiday season. I'm writing from France so any reading is going to happen between wine, croissants and pain au chocolate!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lessons from Constraint

Humans have an uncanny ability to believe they're above average. Psychologists have a word for this, illusory superiority. According to Wikipedia, it's when people overestimate their positive qualities and underestimate their negative ones.

In one study analyzing driving safety and skill, 93% of US drivers put themselves in the top 50% for skill and 88% thought they were in the top 50% for safety. One survey of faculty at the University of Nebraska found that 68% rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability

People who strongly identify with certain groups can do the same. In more than a few conversations I’ve heard successful business people compare themselves favorably to other professions. Haven’t earned your chops in business (and not fake business, like HR or law)? Then you don’t have chops.

I've been thinking about this because I'm meeting with a lot of private sector people and interested in positions there. What skills did I develop running a nonprofit that might help me jump to the other side?

Creativity and Resourcefulness
One significant difference between a private and nonprofit enterprise is resources. Nonprofits live in a looking-glass universe where money doesn’t act like money. It forces nonprofit leaders to be extremely creative and resourceful to get the job done.

Don’t have big marketing budgets? Recruit a team of student volunteers to phone bank and promote events. Need great web content? Leverage relationships with companies for high-definition video cameras and let creative interns make content. 

Many management gurus talk about motivating people to where they would want to work for free. I wish I even had the option to pay! The best volunteer driven organizations, like the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival that utilize over 1000 volunteers, build a community with their volunteer base. It becomes the cool thing to do.

Motivating volunteers relies on trust, persuasion, a compelling mission, shared effort, and a clear understanding about why someone is motivated to act. The fundamentals of good management.

Long-Term Relationships
An entrepreneur friend once said that he was impressed with my patience and ability to balance the needs of many difficult and diverse stakeholders. Nonprofit leaders by definition have multiple masters. They walk a fine balance creating value for both the customer AND serving the donor, neither of which are homogeneous groups. 

Nancy Lublin of DoSomething.org makes a strong case for the marketing prowess of nonprofits. In an a review of her book in the Economist, she says that nonprofits focus on long-term relationship building based on "frequent contact, repeatedly saying thank you and sending updates through newsletters. This contrasts sharply with the one-off transactional approach to customers that is all too common in the business world."

Nonprofits live in a world of constraints that require us to draw upon a diverse range of abilities and constantly innovate. Don’t tell the business guys, but these are the high-skill high-touch abilities in highest demandThere is more than one way to earn your chops.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Powers to Combine

Who would have thought that one of the best ways to start a company was at a conference?

Startup Weekend has proven its worth. With 381 completed events that have launched 4,272 enterprises, this young organization now receives millions in funding from Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kauffman Foundation, and support from Startup America. Startup Weekend’s themes are also venturing further away from its comfort zone of starting mobile app companies, and into education and other sectors.

Startup Weekend is just one example. Other novel ways to combine people and ideas include DemoCamp, ChangeCamp, open-space techniques, Village Capital, Accelerators, and Seedhack. Underlying their success and popularity is new thinking in how diverse individuals combine to learn and create things (from companies to better public services and personal development). Many organizations are integrating these insights into programming with positive results. For example, last week’s Economist had an article on Harvard Business School's new experiential leadership curriculum, FIELD.

We’re in a fascinating period where the ways individuals combine has undergone a revolution from 1.0 (broadcasting) to 2.0 (engagement), just like the web. These new experiences are part conference, part classroom and part action leaning, wrapped together with facilitation, technology and purpose.

The forefront of these efforts is where people gather in spaces specifically designed and carefully curated to support innovation. Spaces like the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto, The Hub (especially in San Francisco) and the Box Office in Providence are leading the way.

It's interesting that while there remains excitement for online only communities, these events gain ascendance. It's recognition that learning is social. And when some of best ideas are at the intersection of fields, ideas and sectors, face to face is still needed to push limits and create magic.