All things started and happening, to my experience, begins with Intention and Committment. And to have something started, you need resources. Common sense, isn't it? Well, coming to the point where you want to start something, but do not have any more resources than your mind, body, spirit, a very strong idea, vision, motivation and creativity? Then you are bootstrapping!
Because, when you talk resources, people often just take it down to financial resources immediately. A good sustainability idea and innovation with the potential to turn into a great sustainable business, a good reliable network and the capacity to keep and maintain that relationship capital, knowledge, social capital, and the ability to learn from mistakes, and learn/adapt quickly.
From the four year experience of the research- and development process of OAM Venture, we have condensed our experience to the following model. For us the Committment was certainly to be focused on Sustainability, and making a Sustainable Bootstrapping model for us to make sense and being extracted as a reflection of what happened, then this concept has to be added in the beginning, even if it is maybe transferrable to other kinds of commitments as well.
Our special case
What was making our condition a little special was the institutional challenge we had, where the sustainability in itself, and a strong committment also to maintain our values with integrity and honesty to ourselves and our stakeholders, which excluded much of the (then) existing financial institutions - and also where we were only to be in the pre-stages to the explorative in the beginning of the whole process. The specifics also in the aim and direction we wanted to take also stumbled upon problems in the traditional process of creating a regular business plan from one defined idea, and taking this out in a very linear model. Adding to this, that our belief of taking up external financing for the early stage ideas before market testing them was very weak, or I would say something close to nothing. Along the process, though, we got more and more creative fuel, and alot of ideas and insights in a strong loop with fast feedback of having belief in the ideas we created and discussed. It takes the presenting of the key courses of events in this whole process, where a model of our sustainopreneurial process as we percieved it, to illustrate it with some "representative" stories. This "Sustainopreneurial Process Model" will be presented in a separate article to come.
Committment - time times energy
It all begins with some people (yes it has to be some - there is basically something wrong with the "entrepreneur as lone hero" fairytale to our experience), gathering around one idea, even if the basic idea as such of course has to begin with one individual, or maybe just a half of an idea... The team surrounding the idea decide to act upon it. But the committment level can vary within the team of individuals. Some dedicate the whole existance to the idea, some others are just supportive at the side of it. One can come in at the beginning sharing enthusiasm, and having a strong energy during a short time, and then doing something else. Others have a little less energy, but are supportive with strong endurance and just being there taking care of stuff that the rest of the team maybe just tends to forget some time. And others can join in the end of the process of establishement - especially of course on the way from the "institutionalization" to the "consolidation" - and even more after this. When your operations are running and there is a hope for kicking in the "auto-pilot" of the revenue stream and the value you produce works seamlessly (even if this latter never has to be believed will happen - that is another fairy tale of "security" with the storm "being over" - it never will be fully over).
Take care of the Committment; Respectfully - Intuitiuitive - Smart - Creative
This is illustrated by this initial graph. Energy levels varying over time among different team members. What is very important during this process is - when you rely on the human capital, energy, time spent among the team members, it has to be clear and with honesty communicated the committment level, so expectations of each other's efforts not being something other than the real one is not breaking the team flow and spirit down. You have to be equally honest with yourself as with others, both within and nearby standing members of the team. Besides this - based on and summarized in respect (respect for yourself and others) - there are some other factors of importance. The energy used and the collective efforts made, has to be done with a strong to almost omnipresent and ongoing presence of intuition. Yes, being there all the time - this is going hand in hand to use the (narrow but strong) resources smart. When you do not have abundance of financial capital, this is straining you to be very attentive to the silent signals where you cannot make things explicit verbally - even not being able to explain it for yourself in the team in words. You just act because it feels right. And, equally important, if it is not working with this feeling sometimes - where extreme pressure and stress levels can drag down both respect, empathy and following with this a bad listening ear both to your fellow man and your inner voice of intuition, then you have to let new intuition and improvisation with this compensate for the things going wrong. And quickly learn from it, where the fourth factor here is represented by the term creativity. These conditions in order to maintain committment level (there are more of course, but in our experience and perception to be of emphazised imporance), is summarized in the notion of [r - i - s - c].
Results with quality as the thing that can keep it alive even without financial capital
When you get the rewarding, whatever form - that you had a concept getting approval even not followed some financial follow up immediately, just with a smile and a Yes what a great Idea! And acting upon it with this important recognition experienced, the committment just being maintained and kept up. Or just getting that first breakthrough order, or that you achieve some kind of result, where the quality is percieved - needs fulfilled, equally experienced by the team itself, and getting it proven that important stakeholders are confirming this result really achieved. This in itself is creating a feedback loop that even increases committment, that goes beyond just maintaining it.
Money finds its way to the process...
From this moment - with some kind of first breakthrough result - money finds its way much easier, especially if you have achieved something, using intangible resources (especially creativity in itself!) within or associated to the core team as above, that stood the test and proved itself to fulfil a genuine need with and among the people you wanted to produce value for. With quality being in the center percieved by them as the absolute factor. The ones in the end and in fact paying you for what you have achieved in and by the teamwork.
In conclusion - it is better to have the cash coming from the one's buying your product, rather than your business plan.
Then you truly have the financial means saying yes - if someone outside the team, that appreciates what you do and produce - separate his private means (or organizational being an NGO, company or public entity) from his or her wallet and happily enjoy it afterwards.
Then you should party and celebrate. Because the next morning, you have woken up with the sun shining, even if it is raining.
You can now continue to do your thing. But be sure to have fun on the way to the next customer, too - now with committment enhanced and strengthened.
And really, be really glad if you had obstacles, resistance and things really, really hard to overcome - including internal strong mutually learning conflicts and dialogues within the team - because this kind of resistance is making your whole process sharpen up.
Sustainability entrepreneurship - ahead of its time? Not anymore!
This last thing mentioned, was something we especially experienced as being a "sustainopreneurial venture" - where our aim was to find real solution to real problems, and combining the best of both worlds, the "not-for-profit" NGO spirit for the Cause, with combined effort in the Business Manner of trying to find something of value for a Consumer.
In the writing moment, an idea now seemingly to have become in pace with the time with an increased frequency of Sustainable Business Cases to be out there. And where in itself there is something blocking them from the Speculation Wave - that you actually take the aim and intention with the Sustainability Committment to solve a real problem, that you have to demonstrate before you even get your first money whatever kind. With this last point really taken to its consequence and far end, there is even an antidote to having the "dot com(e) - dot gone" failure of the 99/00 millennium up and down to be repeated in what is believed to be the next great business opportunity and a genuine strengthening of your competitive edge - to be ecologically, economically and socially sustainable in whatever you do.