Social innovation and technology can be a match made in heaven. When technology is used to help other people, address global problems and offer solutions, we could say this is the best way to use it. But social entrepreneurs are no different from all of the other teams attempting to build a successful start-up. The same rules apply, the same difficulties lie ahead and the same mistakes can lead to failure. Filippos Zakopoulos, managing partner of Found.ation*, gives us the following list of the best advice any start-up should follow.
- Learn and adapt
The most important feature of a start-up group is the ability to listen, learn and adapt. Very rarely will a start-up end up being successful with the first idea or product it creates. More often, it will need to redefine what it is doing by learning from new information, facts, and failures.
- Look around and research well
It is incredible how many people come up with an attractive-sounding idea and then before long dive straight into it. But today’s world is a huge, interconnected library of knowledge and shared experiences. Before starting something (and also after starting it, during and on a permanent basis), research anything you can find about it. Identify similar things, services or products from around the world and learn from their successes and failures. And if you can’t find anything similar, you’re most probably not looking hard enough.
- You can’t change the whole world at once. Start small.
No, really. It is very important to understand that things scale one step at a time. It makes no difference whether these steps happen very fast (actually this is what start-ups are all about), there are still steps and one has to climb them. Start small and grow fast, a step at a time.
- … and be realistic about what you are trying to achieve
One of the most important characteristics a start-up needs in order to ensure its sustainable development is to be in line with the market and the realistic needs it can have. For example, it is much better for a start-up to look at solving a specific problem in a B2B industry rather than targeting a new global social platform that has a very small comparative advantage over existing ones (which in the eyes of the start-up team would typically appear asymmetrically large).
- Test, test, test
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s right. All that matters is what your users think. So, try to gather as much feedback as you can from the early stages of the product or service you are developing. When the time comes to stand before an investor, a grant committee or anyone willing to support you, you’ll have solid evidence to prove what you have works. If not, you’ll have a reason to pivot. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
- The team is everything
The knowledge, skills and experience the team has on both the technical and commercial levels is a key to success. It is important that the team as a whole has a wide range of skills. What is easy for one individual may seem impossible to another. What one person can do in seconds may take someone else hours to complete.
- Fail fast. Don’t fail big.
You’ll hear a lot of motivational speeches mentioning the over-hyped start-up mantra ‘fail fast, fail often, fail better’. But note that no one wants to fail hard. Start-ups succeed because they take risks. And they take risks as they don’t have much to lose. So risk and fail and start all over again only if you can fail fast. New technologies give you tools that permit you to try things fast, and if they seem to be failing, move on! Fail fast, fail soft and try again.
- Go where no one else can go
Build a product that no one has built before. Solve a problem that is important to many people. Dare to follow a different path. Don’t try and copy Facebook just because Mark Zuckerberg has made billions. Design a service or product that will change the way we work or live, one that nobody has dared tackle before.
Bonus: Have a vision and make it an important one
As a last tip, it is important to state the obvious. If one is to succeed, it is important to have a vision. To try to do something great, to aim for something important. The individual steps are always crucial (and difficult), but it is the vision that will show you the path and be your compass to guide you in the right direction.
It is absolutely a prerequisite for us all to be constantly informed about such new ideas and innovations. So, Limitless, along with four other partners, have come up with a solution and launched a project aimed at developing the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe (Social Innovation Academy) with a focus on key issues in social innovation. Why Social Innovation Academy? Entrepreneurs and people who intend to use social innovation practices need to gain a thorough understanding of what social innovation has to offer. If you are interested in following the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to join our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.
*Found.ation is a leading privately funded and operated technology venture builder located in Athens, Greece. Originally established in 2011 as one of the first co-working spaces in SE Europe, it provides a full range of support services for the emerging community of Greek technology enterprises. It is a leading start-up enabling platform for tech-oriented products and services in SE Europe, a digital transformation consultant for corporations and a tech education hub. Since 2015, Found.ation has had an exclusive agreement with EIT Digital, under the Arise Europe Program, with the objective of strengthening the Greek start-up ecosystem, through the implementation of common, well-structured initiatives.