“If it doesn’t make money, then what you’re doing is just a hobby.”
Over the past year, I’ve heard this phrase re-packaged and delivered countless times. Harsh, stinging, and sobering, this line of thought hammers home the most basic of axioms for entrepreneurs, calcified as truth undoubtedly after centuries of trial and error. Ultimately, if no one will pay for the ware or service an entrepreneur is selling, then one’s venture is but a pasttime at best and a waste of time at worst. Early stage entrepreneurs get usually one to two years worth of doubt and runway to prove that their product is of value to others. During this time, entrepreneurs advance through significant milestones. Initially the concept, the pie in the sky dream, is all an entrepreneur has to cling to. Yet, any entrepreneur worth his or her salt, must quickly get their idea “out of the shower,” turn it into an actual product, then sell it to customers. Otherwise, the venture dies. This is true whether someone is starting a new school, church, or social enterprise. There comes a juncture where quitting must be seriously considered. Fortunately for EdConnective, we’ve reached our first sale, and in doing so, entered the next phase of entrepreneurship, avoiding the reaper and improving the likelihood of sustained flight.
The comment above, shot from the hip, made me feel simultaneously belittled and enlightened. My cousin, a seasoned business professional, offered unfiltered insight into my struggle to reach success with my ed-tech venture. From college to grad school, I was conditioned to attack problems, more or less, individually. When the workload increased, when projects became more complex, when life got hard, I coped by digging down deep into my resevoir of willpower to overcome and get things accomplished. In that same tradition, I tried to disrupt the professional development market, as a sole founder and only member of my startup for a year. Upon recent denial of a startup accelerator, of which I just knew our venture was a shoe-in, the feedback I received was clear, “lack of a dedicated co-founder” was a “key issue.” That denial was startling. So, within the last three months I finally began shifting paradigms, from worker bee to organizational leader, and the results have been extraordinary. I brought on a co-founder and hired a virtual assistant that helps with marketing. My mental health has improved significantly, EdConnective has increased its outreach, improved the quality of service, increased the number of teachers we serve and most importantly, nailed our first couple sales.
Teambuilding vs. Working Harder
During a frank conversation between my partner, our advisors, and myself, the stakeholders at the table realized that reaching out to each school, one by one to spread EdConnective, would never result in the nationwide impact envisioned for the social enterprise. To reach classrooms at scale, EdConnective management could no longer bottleneck our outreach. In the spirit of capacity building, this new year will largely be dedicated to finding the right partners that help EdConnective proliferate. Our logic: there are countless education consulting groups and professional development organizations that could benefit from adding our service into their quiver of offerings to schools. If a group in Nebraska has relationships with the public school system there and sees a need for teacher support that is not being solved, why not offer to solve that need through our partnership?
Ultimately, what has been most transformative for EdConnective as of late is realizing that “work harder” isn’t always wisest. On the contrary, “build capacity” seems to be the most prudent response to challenges inherent to startup success.
For more on EdConnective, follow Will Morris on Twitter @edconnective.