Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ethical Entrepreneur. An oxymoron?

My first business (apart from freelancing which doesn't really count) was with my best friend Lora years ago. I remember a frosty Scottish morning so early, that for most people our age it was still the night before. We were on a ferry, traveling to Ireland. We were dirty, grouchy and laughing at things in that hysterical way you do when you're well and truly shattered. Lora looked at me and said: "You know when people say if it's so easy why isn't everyone doing it?"

"Yes," I said, laughing for no reason.

"This is why."

She was right.

Anyone who's ever started their own business knows that one day (probably early on) they'll be asked the same question.

If something hasn't been done before there's a skepticism about whether it will work because, well, it's never been done before.

If something has been done before, there's skepticism because, well, it's already been done.

As a social entrepreneur the questioning quadruples - easily.

Traditional business people just don't seem to get it. They keep looking at the numbers and asking why we don't want to do things like list a gazillion shops, send troops of people out into the streets to sell things for us, sell loads and loads of advertising space on our site and so the list goes on.

They look at Unchained and break it down into a series of revenue streams that we're choosing not to tap into. And, quite frankly, they think we're f*&cking insane. If this was a real business, you'd be doing what it takes to make as much money as possible, surely.

I'm sure this is an issue that most social entrepreneurs face. With a foot in both camps, I walk away form conversations like these with traditional businesspeople and question myself: Is is possible to be ethical and entrepreneurial?

After one such conversation quite recently I went in search of wisdom to the virtual land of brillaince that is TED. I wanted to hear from social entrepreneurs who'd been laughed at and gone on to enjoy success in social and traditional terms. And boy did I find one.

When Jeff Skoll arrived in Hollywood to set up a social film production company he was the source of much amusement. My favourite line of his amazing talk was advice he was given from a film exec: "The fastest way to become a millionaire in Hollywood is to arrive as a billionaire and go into the movie business".

Of course, Jeff was a billionaire thanks to the business he'd co-founded. It's called ebay, you may have heard of it.

Enjoy the talk and let me know your thoughts on ethics in businesses and if the two are oil and water or cheese and wine.


Sam said...

This is brilliant Lea. Invest, connect, celebrate - such good advice and so easy to do.

aline said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
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