The darkest hour – when it’s fly or die for a social start-up

"We are the closest we’ve ever been to our first customer and our first sale, yet I think we are also the closest we’ve ever been to total failure." Accidental social entrepreneur Helen Trevasksis contemplates the future from the uncertain perspective of a social business starting up in India.

Our business plan is 90% of the way there (after too many Frankenstein-shaped iterations to count). We find ourselves surrounded by a super smart team and cheered on by enthusiastic supporters as we inch toward creating ‘The Deck’. I know what a financial model is for, finally, and we have one, which a friend who knows about such things assures me is highly sophisticated. We have spoken to a friendly angel as part of our investor grooming and we’ve lined up the partners we’ll need post-funding, to turn plans into activity. We are even facing up to the reality of what it takes in form filling, in pounds and in rupees spent, in time to get our product legally saleable in India, a country known for relentless bureaucracy.  

We are the closest we’ve ever been to our first customer and our first sale, yet I think we are also the closest we’ve ever been to total failure. I feel flat, exposed, naïve and find myself wondering if what we set out to do makes sense, and whether how we’re planning to do it is just plain crazy. 

Maybe it’s growing pains? Maybe it’s fear? Or perhaps my increasing sense of foreboding as each new doom-laden piece of information pings into my inbox – How many months to get the three licenses we need? How many years before we turn a profit? How much do we need to shave off pilot costs? Is it justified? I don’t know but I really don’t like it. Especially as I’ve started to dismantle my career and my domestic life ready for a move to India in 2015. 

There’s no choice but to keep going, I wouldn’t know what else to do. And I don’t have much advice for myself nor do I seek any. But deep down I do know that whatever the outcome for our social venture, for the idea we’ve nurtured for four years, whatever the outcome dawn always comes.