As a social entrepreneur, are you constantly wrestling with pressures and trade-offs of building a company that holds high environmental and social standards? Read this post for 4 ways to create an actual social enterprise.

Purpose driven founders must face the financial realities of building a profitable company.  Tweet This Quote

Much has been said in the last decade about triple-bottom-line, sustainable business, conscious capitalism, social enterprise, and other terms to describe the phenomenon of business (and commerce) being driven by values.

Somewhat less has been said about the relevancy of these fields to the world of startups.

It is, after all, a very difficult position of trying to build a company (which is hard enough as it is) while spending on premium prices for eco-friendly products, carbon credits, pro-bono services, or any number of other arguably-obvious ways in which a company can begin to address it’s ecological and social footprint.

With a recent surge in mission-driven startups (from sustainable fashion to local food, energy conservation to affordable renewables), it would seem that social entrepreneurs are bound to wrestle with the pressures and trade-offs of trying to build and run companies that hold the highest environmental and social standards of operations.

Even the most purpose-driven founders will inevitably face a feeling of unavoidable compromise when coming to understand the financial realities of building a profitable company.

Here is my advice for how to make sure that your startup runs in line with the values you hold for the world at large – and lives long enough to fulfill the vision that you’re working towards…

1. Forget about the definitions of terms like triple-bottom-line.

At one point, defining and championing those words was important. It was important to help business leaders from a past era understand that a new era was coming, and it was important to help those who felt differently rally around each other.

We are past the point when it is important to define and champion these terms. Now it is important – crucial, critical – that we actually build companies that embody them, even if they rarely or never draw attention to this fact. When it comes to advancing the state of values-driven business and commerce, it’s far better to “speak little and do much” than to shout about concepts, theory, and potential.

Speak little and do much.  Tweet This Quote

2. Think (really) long-term.

Hold the 5, 10, and 50-year horizons in your mind as you interact with customers, design your products/services and strategies, and build your team – including your investors. It could be argued that much of the environmental mess that our society finds itself in now can be chalked up to a financial system that only looks one quarter ahead – and had thus rewarded that sort of short-termism through every industry and field. Thinking long-term is a way to automatically account for how connected everything is – from your reputation, to your suppliers, to your customer markets. This is half the battle when it comes to being a part of a better future – because you’re not leaving the future out of the picture.

3. Surround yourself with values-driven people.

This means your team, your board, your investors – everyone who will have an ongoing influence on your company. Groups of people working strategically to create healthier communities, more vibrant ecosystems, and richer lives will always be stronger if non-believers are politely declined.

Think before taking money from someone who doesn’t see the world the way you see it.  Tweet This Quote

It’s wise to solicit the feedback of skeptical or old-school business people who understand fundamentals, but think very carefully before taking money (for example) from someone who doesn’t see the world the way you see it. There are increasing numbers of wise, experienced, and principled people who understand the importance of sustainability – and who can bring value to your business. Take the time to find them.

4. Make your customers’ lives better.

In many ways (as first time entrepreneurs will learn sooner or later – hopefully sooner) this is the only point that matters; without it, the others won’t amount to success. But it bears repeating.

The point of a business – especially one that is steeped in a mission to improve the world in some clear, compelling way – is to make people’s lives better in a way that they will pay for. At the core, there is a highly ecological aspect of the business-customer relationship. Assuming that your customers want to live in the better future that you see – then the best way to get them there is to create value that they want to pay for.

So if your ambition is to change the world by building a startup – aim at providing a product or service that fundamentally improves someone’s life or the environment; offsetting your carbon will always be a distant second to that.

The point of a business: make lives better in a way that people will pay for.  Tweet This Quote

Nathaniel Koloc

Author Nathaniel Koloc

Nathaniel Koloc is co-founder and CEO of ReWork, a recruiting firm dedicated to helping people find meaningful work. ReWork recruits exceptional professionals for companies making social, environmental, and cultural progress. Nathaniel's is a Singularity University Alum, an Unreasonable Fellow, and a contributor for Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, and Inc. among others.

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