Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top 3 Entrepreneur Strengths that Become Weaknesses for Scaling

From Idea to IPO- that was the entrepreneurship mantra of the last decade. Get in quick and get out even quicker - with a pile of money - to invest in your next big idea. Scaling comes after IPO, sometimes with new leadership. This business path isn't applicable to social entrepreneurship where the mission is sustainable growth with no clear exit strategy (at least at the start). So one would think that current Wall Street woes would help the cause of the social entrepreneur - maybe divert some capital into long term investments like infrastructure, education, health-care, poverty alleviation - the things that worry the social entrepreneur. While capital is certainly an issue, it is not just about capital. The impact metric of social entrepreneurship is scale. You educate 100 kids, you educate a 100 kids. You educate 1,000,000 kids you change the world. That is the "impact metric". Scale is the equivalent of the IPO for social businesses. But entrepreneurial characteristics, the very ones that allow a company to form (for profit or not-for-profit) may become barriers to scaling or taking the company to the next level. With the fall in the number of recent IPOs there is a timely bit of advice in HBR from Anthony Tjan "Why Do Most Entrepreneurs Fail to Scale?" that I think is especially relevant for social entrepreneurs. The top three double-edged traits to watch for are:
1. Persistence. Willingness to persevere despite obstacles has created many great innovations and is often the foundation for successful start-ups. However, persistence can easily turn to stubbornness. Stick with your ideas when you know you are right and have supporting evidence. Be willing to abandon your position when signs show you need help or redirection.
2. Control. Early phases of company growth require the founder be involved in all operations. But as the company scales, that maniacal attention to detail can be counterproductive. Recognize the importance of delegation and let go when it's time.
3. Loyalty. Close ties inevitably form when people work together day in and out, and loyal relationships can yield great results. However, you need to know when loyalty is clouding your judgment in assessing capabilities and skill gaps.

To this list I would add collaboration - the equivalent of "mergers and acquisitions"- a common growth strategy to take a company to the next level. What do you think? Will the economic downturn be a blessing in the long run? Will social entrepreneurship no longer need the social and just become entrepreneurship?

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