Building a People-First Business

A change is brewing amongst startup founders.  Gone are the days of creating a business with the sole intention of becoming a millionaire.  Entrepreneurs are increasingly moving toward business models that incorporate an element of social good, as Jennifer Ding, founder & CEO of ParkIT, and Victoria Sun Esparza, Mission Strategist at Union, can attest.  Below are some of the highlights from their recent talk at our July Head-to-Head Happy Hour.

 

The Dallas coworking and business community

“The Dallas coworking community is surprisingly robust compared to other cities.  There are a lot of different sources of capital, programs, and opportunities for both social enterprises and nonprofits to build their businesses.” – Jennifer Ding

“Dallas is a really philanthropic community.  There’s a lot of money and people want to do good with their money.  But in my opinion, it’s really segmented philanthropy.” – Victoria Sun Ezparza

 

The changing nature of securing investment

“The classic sources of investment we look at are angel investors and VCs.  Companies are starting to do funds.  AT&T started to do one, Jaguar/Land Rover started one, the city of Columbus started one.  Even Kickstarter allows us to get funds from the people who would use our products.  It’s totally possible for businesses not to have to rely on these individual investors anymore to raise funds.” – Jennifer

 

How to successfully attract investors

“What people really care about is mission.  You’re almost evangelizing in a way.  You have to get people to somehow join your team, whether that’s getting them to support your Kickstarter or getting the support of judges.  If we’re creating for ourselves, our friends, our family and our community, we’ll create a more legit product.  You also need to have a very deep understanding of the customer.  The biggest thing to focus on is why you’re doing it, and why are you the only to truly solve that problem?” – Jennifer

“I think at Union, one of the things we found that made us successful is that we took a cup of coffee and thought ‘What does this community want?’  Our community needs this, and we want to be able to build community.  Finding something that fits with the DNA of your community is really important.” – Victoria

 

The connection between profitability and social good

I love that profitability is no longer disconnected from doing social good.  The ParkIT team and I recently went to an event with Rent the Runway in New York that honored female founders, and it was interesting – all the founders had integrated some sort of social mission into their business without being a non-profit.  Now we can integrate social good into our products in a way that encourages use.  It gets people excited to be a part of it.” – Jennifer

 

Some pitfalls of social entrepreneurship

The common problem startups face is spreading themselves too thin.  Start with the first use case and build something amazing, then you can focus on how to scale.  When I first started, I made the mistake of collecting data from too many different sources instead of focusing in.” – Jennifer

“I think we invest too widely.  We’re community-based and our community has a lot of diverse interests, and we end up kind of supporting lots of different things over the year that only hit a small group of people.  One of the things I’ve been working on since I got to Union is how to invest in a particular field and do it very deeply.” – Victoria

 

Thanks again to Jennifer and Victoria for joining us!  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to stay up-to-date on our future HeadSpace events.