G is for Go: Start it, grow it, sell it and move on
The experiences required to launch a social business are very different to those needed to take it to scale and oversee it into maturity. Liam Black writes about the detrimental impact leaders can have if they cling on for too long.
“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Orson Welles, film director
In social entrepreneurship, leaving well, at the right time, with the organisation in rude health, can be a very tricky exercise.
In a straight, for-profit business the exit options are obvious for the successful founding entrepreneur. Start it, grow it, sell it and move on. Start something else, become an EOB (Entrepreneur on the Beach) or angel investor, write a book, front a terrible TV show. In the non-profit world the cash-out exit door is locked.
I have seen too many promising social businesses stall or begin to rot because the founding social entrepreneur has insufficient self-awareness to know when it is the right time to leave. Starting something and growing something to scale require very different skill sets and experience.
Beware building an organisation in your image, a platform for your ego, which is all but impossible for you to leave because if you do it will fold. Build your company not just your profile.
Not every social entrepreneur is a good leader. Why should they be? Indeed, the wholly unrealistic expectations we have of social entrepreneurs (be innovative, business savvy, charismatic and a great CEO/leader) set up many for burn out and failure to realise early promise.
“Starting something and growing something to scale require very different skill sets and experience”
Start up, although fraught with challenges and worry, is exciting and pushes all your buttons. Managing a larger company with all the DBI (dull but important) stuff to be done (tax, legals, governance, HR) may not be for you – probably isn’t. So, at the very outset, start thinking about what your exit might look like. Be honest with yourself. You might be the fire starter but not want to be a CEO. That’s absolutely fine but be clear with the people around you – especially your board – what your intentions are and how you want your role to develop as the enterprise grows and changes.
Don’t let your ego and lack of insight get in the way of the successful scaling and maturing of the great thing you started.