You can throw all the ecourses, webinars, and articles at me that you want. I still learn most from books. I’ve been reading a ton about social entrepreneurship lately, both because I’m working on a giving/cause partnership model for Be Rad Media, and because this is a group of people I’m passionate about helping. That said, here are three books that really opened my eyes about the possibilities of social entrepreneurship.
Screw Business as Usual by Richard Branson
I just finished this book and have been overwhelmed with inspiration for business ideas. Just about everyone has been touched by one of Richard Branson’s business under the Virgin Group brand. The man is worth $5.5 billion, and owns businesses in everything from airlines to mobile phones. His philanthropic arm Virgin Unite does amazing work in Africa and other areas around the world, primarily helping people start their own businesses.
The book is obviously written by someone who owns whole islands. Parts made me wince and there’s a lot of self-promotion, but if you can ignore that and pay attention to the plethora of business ideas and examples of people around the world changing things for good and making money doing it, you’ll love this book. I especially appreciate that Branson covers just about every sector under the sun, everything from grassroots gyms in Africa to fairtrade beverage companies to transportation. If you specialize in a sector, then you’ll find some inspiration in this book.
There’s no doubt that Richard Branson has big influence, and it’s so important that big voices like his support social responsibility. And I mean the real kind, not the greenwashing you’ll find on many company brochures.
This book’s not perfect, and it really points out the opportunity for many of the world’s largest companies to be doing more to reduce their environmental impact and improve their social programs. Get Screw Business As Usual.
Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie
You may own a pair of TOMS shoes. I had a pair and they really didn’t fit my feet (arches were a little stabby after wearing them for 3 days at a music festival), but I bought them because I really believe in this company and the shoes are super cool looking. TOMS was founded by Blake Mycoskie, whose Instagram feed Clare O’Connor of Forbes describes as “yuppie backpacker”. The cover of the book says the same thing.
But TOMS is worth millions! In 2014, Reuters valued the company at $625 million. And the idea is simple: for every pair of TOMS shoes sold TOMS gives a pair to someone in need.
Mycoskie recounts the inspiration, creation, and growth in his book, which is really helpful if you’re thinking of starting a similar 1-for-1 social business or enterprise. I also love that the idea for TOMS came about during his travels in Argentina. Always keep alert for possibilities and creative ways you can solve problems.
Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
You probably won’t find this book on the top 10 lists for social entrepreneurs. That’s because it’s not directed specifically at social entrepreneurs. A client of mine recommended this book to me while we were doing some major marketing planning and I was blown away by the value the authors deliver.
“Traction” is essentially a list of great ideas to build awareness for your business. Whether you run a traditional brick-and-mortar, and online business, or social enterprise, this book is loaded with things to try. You’ll hear a lot of different marketing and business consulting companies say that there is a tried-and-true way to achieving business success and building your brand, but what I love about “Traction” is that it shows you there are multiple paths to success. The key is to finding the right one for you, your business model, and your audience.
The authors also have a great framework, called Bullseye, to help you choose which traction channels to go with. It’s simple, and it’s something you can do in an hour on a whiteboard or in a spreadsheet. Test a few ideas, and put effort into the one/s that are successful. Get Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth.
What are some really important books you’ve read about starting a business that makes a difference? Post them in the comments!
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