No exit strategy intended, anyone else here for the long game?

As a social entrepreneur, someone who is leading an organisation that is about longevity/good/jobs not an exit strategy, I am learning fast as I build Rewired State, Young Rewired State and Rewired Reality.

It is hard work, this is year five and it is harder than years 1, 2 nd 3, they were great fun. Four was the portend of things to come and now we face a year of scaling down rather than up, consolidating and dealing with employment and HR over strategy and innovation. Not necessarily fun but just as important to secure the future of our dedication to open data, open government, open organisations and young programmers. The future as we see it.

As we scale, so the community spirit that imbues young start-ups dwindles and it is difficult to retain the call-to-arms enthusiasm we all have when starting something new. Big lessons are learned and sometimes trust can be tested, especially when the bill for sustaining your battle cry begins to become about proper sums, ones that can’t be appeased by offers of free pizza and wifi, and more about salaries and data bills.

Money destroys those discussions, in communities, start-ups, social enterprises and even charities. Yet we all have to find a way to sustain our work, beyond begging for a slice of a CSR budget.

I am just at the beginning of year five, and will of course chart its course through this blog as ever, for those interested. For those who are in a similar position, I would like to share a little of the pain, and the ways we can continue the work we started, fund it, employ people, make it all sustainable, and still have these organisations in business when we retire – years hence.

Right now I am a bit lost, a bit frightened and do question that I am the right person to continue pushing for what I believe is sensible, right and good. At the same time I think it is OK to feel this frightened; to feel as if I had conquered it all and egotistically *the one* is usually a hiding to nothing, and we would be doomed.

But it is scary.

If there are any more of you out there, please do make yourselves known either privately or here. It would be good to find some others who are in it for the long haul and therefore about to enter the scary years, and take some forced time out to support each other.

Scary – but not giving in…

14 responses

  1. Emma, you have put much of my own thoughts into words for me, so thank you for taking the time to write. I run a digital publishing / agency business and we have run hackdays (most notably Book Hackday) and events too. The business has been my full-time work for nearly 3 years and while I absolutely love it, it’s also unrelentingly challenging – personally and professionally. I’m also in it for the long haul, but sometimes each day feels long enough itself. I’d be happy to discuss more and share thoughts – perhaps through Twitter in the first instance, then take it from there. Thanks again for writing.

  2. Hi Emma,

    I really understand how you feel, we are in a similar position and seriously questioning what to do next. This is year five for us too (Alpha-ville festival) and after months planning and brainstorming we don’t see a clear and sustainable exit for our project. We love what we do and the people we work with but it is becoming harder and harder to make a decent living out of this so we might change the strategy.

    I just wanted to share some thoughts with you, sorry that I can’t be more positive.

    You are doing a great job, we send you a lot of possitve energy from Alpha-ville!

    Good night,

    Carmen

  3. Hi Emma

    You are definitely doing the right thing. Intelligent individual input to make a difference. You are starting to be heard, starting to make a difference.

    I’m just starting year 4 of our IT company – smaller scale but still scarey. Balancing cash flow and finding time to make new contacts and keep things moving forward, re-evaluating and re-juggling to get those things done that you know will make a difference. Stay focused and you will win

    If I can do anything to spread the message or get students involved or understanding in local schools please let me know. I don’t have large funds but I do have an understanding of getting a message across to students, helping them think about career paths and get women interested in technology

    We are also sponsoring the Kent Teacher of the Year Awards 2013 in the Science and Technology section so will have an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the skills and attitudes in education from both the teacher and student perspective I hope

    Good luck and stay strong. You are an inspiration to many and probably achieve far more than you realise.

    Best wishes

    Heather

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thank you Heather. I do feel like the movement towards bringing programming back into core education is gathering momentum, this is a very fine thing. I guess it is the practical business of running a business (if that makes sense) that can be so daily daunting.

  4. Great work – long may it continue. Perhaps we have to create a new paradigm for social entrepreneurship based on ‘entrance’ rather than ‘exit’ where success is not measured in £ but in how far into society we’ve managed penetrate and how much social change, mobility and happiness we’ve produced in it. I’d just love to hear someone present their wares and end on saying ‘ …and we’re looking for an entrance of our company of….which will improve our community by….’.’.

  5. Great to read your thoughts… I’m at a much earlier stage of the journey, but I’m passionate about integrated, asset-based health and social care facilitated through digital. It can be scary, feeling a bit “out there in front”. You inspire me, and I’d be happy to help YRS and you any way I can

    • Claire, you are very kind, and I can understand why you would be so passionate about health and social care, so much can be completely revolutionised through digital, both in ‘stuff’ and communication – ‘mazing #kudos

  6. Hi Emma – year 3.5 to 5 is a recurring downer on projects driven by personality and or group energy. Most groups die, or get taken over by the accountants or a dictator at this stage. On the other hand my experience tells me that those that hang in there put themselves in a very good position for the upswing – and there is nearly always an upswing a year or so down the road.

    On a personal note, I would say you do a fantastic job in a much needed area. Perhaps it is time to re-conceive the business side, and think about things more laterally? How about opening up the business to partnerships and grow the project without using the more traditional ownership structures? Have you looked at international partners? I’m not sure how you structure your business, or how you have looked at sharing the load – but maybe there is a way to inject new energy by teaming up? How about a meetup where we invite those interested?

  7. Checking in here from Hack de Overheid (the Netherlands), and I think we’re going through much of the same things as you’re talking about. Organizations get started by an enthusiastic group, they grow/change/mature, people lose interest, others just start to discover it. We’re struggling with all of those and trying to grow the organization in such a way that maintains its integrity and mission while at the same time ensuring its sustainability (i.e. make enough money) so at some point any or all of us can step down and hand over the torch. Things are on track right now, but ask me again in a couple of years…

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