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As we gear up for Netroots Nation 2013, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s hottest training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.
Today we’re interviewing Lindsey Franklin, who’ll be leading Startup 101: Tips, Tools and Resources for Launching a Progressive Startup.
NN13 Training Session
Startup 101: Tips, Tools and Resources for Launching a Progressive Startup
There has been a lot of talk about the importance of innovation within the progressive movement. As organizers identify innovative solutions to problems they uncover on the campaign trail, many see opportunities to launch new startups. The process of launching a startup is similar to organizing—building out a community of people working together to solve one problem—so organizers tend to make great entrepreneurs. However, too many organizers don’t know where to start regarding the essential tools for building a business—everything from financing to legal structure to customer development. This training goes in-depth with key resources and tools culled from the worlds of social entrepreneurship, technology startups and online organizing to provide concrete support for people starting their own progressive ventures.
Q: Tell us about your experience with progressive startups.
A: After working as an organizer on the Obama camping in 2008, I moved to San Francisco and started ecoVC, a platform to help investors and companies track and share sustainability practices. We had a great run, and while it ultimately didn’t succeed, those two years taught me a ton about launching a mission driven startup.
When I eventually met up with Christie George and learned more about the work New Media Ventures was doing– investing in startups driving progressive change– it seemed like the perfect blend of social entrepreneurship and politics that I had been looking for.
I’ve now seen hundreds of startups, advised a few, and learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in social change startups. And I continue to be passionate about sharing what I’m learning to help other entrepreneurs succeed.
Q: In your opinion, why are organizers often well positioned to launch startups?
A: An organizer has the potential to make a great entrepreneur.
Think about it– both are working to build a community of people working together to solve a problem, where timing is critical and funds are tight. Both are looking to get that team to reach thousands (or millions) of people– either as citizens or as customers– and get them to take action. Both entrepreneurship and organizing require the ability to listen to those people. And, entrepreneurs and organizers must have exorbitant amount of passion, dedication, persistence, and a fervent belief that they are changing the world.
When starting ecoVC, I leaned heavily on my organizing experience.
While the style was different– networking events, meetings and pitches instead of door knocks, phone calls and one-on-ones– my goal was the same when starting ecoVC: get people to believe in you, in your mission, and inspire them to get on board to help you make it happen in whatever way they can.
So, even if the language changes, the core skills are remarkably similar.
Q: What is the most important thing for organizers to keep in mind when launching a startup?
A: The key thing that a lot of people need to remember is to continuously learn from your customer. Once you come up with the idea about a product or service, it is easy to build it without making sure that you are building something that people want and will use. Startup teams can get caught in an echo chamber of their own ideas about what customers want, without actually testing the assumptions that those ideas are based on.
One of the key things that we look for at New Media Ventures when we are evaluating startups is traction– how many people are using your product or service? Is that a big number or a small number, and how will it grow? If it’s new, how will you find your early adopters? How will you build a sustainable revenue model off that growth?
The good news is that you can test assumptions in a way that results in a smarter products, and make you more compelling to investors and donors if you need to secure outside financing. The training will give you a sense of how best to do that.
Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation, and how can they connect with you?
A: Anyone who has ever thought about launching their own organization or company with a social mission should come to this session. I’ve found that trainings work best when there is a diversity of experience in the room — so don’t be shy if you are not currently a startup entrepreneur.
Get ready for an engaging, participatory session– it’s going to be a lot of fun.
To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2013 in San Jose, register now.