Thursday, February 04, 2010

5 Steps to be H.E.R.O.ic

Actually, Tina,* we do need another hero. A lot of them. And we need the right kind of heros.

I am talking about H.E.R.O.s: those Human and Environmentally Regenerative** Organizations that do good by cleaning up bad, so that no matter how much they grow, the earth and human society are better off.

Imagine enterprises whose goods are good, and whose services serve. Who produce clean water like Water Health International. Who produce clean air like Envirofit. Who produce healthier children like JustMilk and A-Z Textiles. Who produce better sanitation like Ecotact. Who produce sight like Aravind Eye Hospitals and VisionSpring. Who produce cleaner fuels. Sustainable fisheries and forests. Better educated children.

I like to imagine enterprises that focus not on return on capital, but on return OF capital. Back to the ecosystem. Enterprises that replenish and restore natural capital, human capital and financial capital. Cradle to Cradle capital. Maybe I am a dreamer, but I believe that we need more H.E.R.O.s, and I spend a lot of time working with H.E.R.O.ic entrepreneurs. They are out there. And here are my observations on what it takes to start being H.E.R.O.ic:

Pick one opportunity. This is your BHAWG. Your quest. Phrase it as a question.*** Look for bright spots****to guide you. Imagine sharing your idea with MLK, Gandhi, Mandela. What would they say?

Ask two questions. What sucks? What are YOU going to DO about it? The second question is key. Otherwise, you are a whiner. Not an entrepreneur.

Solve three S's with your business model. It needs to be sustainable, scalable and have a significant impact. Sustainable means you can afford to stay in business, and have a symbiotic, rather than extractive, relationship with communities and the environment. Otherwise, when you scale, you fail. If you pull it off, you will begin a self reinforcing upward spiral of goodness. Call it a tipping point (if you like Malcolm Gladwell) or a forest fire (if you are an educational arsonist or a network theoretician).

Build your business on four foundations. Find an attractive market. Bake in your competitive advantage (that which makes your solution much better than alternatives). Recruit a team with a superior capacity to execute the plan and improvise when needed. Create value and share it with stakeholders (you must first make something that matters out of nothing (an idea), then make more and more).

Build a network based on five deals. Customers. Founders. Co-workers. Suppliers. Investors.

Got it? Then get going. You too can be H.E.R.O.ic!
*From Thunderdome . In which Mel was a hero. Right?
** Substitute "Restorative" if you like the word more.
*** Shamelessly borrowed from Paul Graham's essay: Ideas for Start Ups
**** I am excited by Heath brothers upcoming book "Switch" which addresses the issue of not looking for problems to solve, but bright spots to be copied. Here's an excerpt.