Some days ago I got glimpse in twitter of the Change the Web challenge. I took a look at it, to discover the underlying Social Action web site and its API. The Challenge was about using this API for a new innovative web application or widget. For some reason this appealed to me, although I generally do not participate to such contests. There was a money prize too, but that was not my motive: I would never agree to receive a monetary prize from a socially oriented initiative, only because it would be better spent if it were spent on its very cause.
The Change the Web Challenge
I have to admit that I was hasty in my decision on how to participate and what to build: I did not look anything else apart from the API itself. I ended up paying in hard currency for this haste: lot of wasted time! Because, I, almost from the first moment, resolved in building a WordPress plugin with the Social Actions API.
I started coding and in a couple of days I was done only to find out that the Social Actions site already had such a plugin, a very well written one and definitively much better than mine.
Almost in panic, because the time was running out, I started thinking what could I build instead. I turned down the option of building a better plugin, because it was not only a matter of quality, but of originality too.
I remembered then the days I was trying to circumvent this limitation by employing Yahoo Pipes and the WordPress RSS widget. I did not find something similar revolving around the social actions API, and, despite this being a pretty simple solution (even though it took me a lot of hours to remember how pipes worked and catch up with the new features), I found it appealing since it would potentially be useful to the 7mio or so WordPress.com users. So I built a pipe which could be configured by users to retrieve actions theiy were interested in, in the form of an RSS feed (you can see it in action in the bottom of the sidebar of this blog) .
I barely had finished when I discovered that even this was not a good plan because Wordpess had committed to adopt the best plugin the challenge produced! This rendered my pipe obsolete and there was no time to go back in rebuilding my plugin. I did then what I should have done from the very beginning: looked at the ideas people had already posted in the relevant page and noticed that some kind of map would be a nice thing to produce.
With a few additions to the pipe and thanks to the Pipes Location Extractor, I managed finally to pull out something. Not much, but something.
Thinking back my experience, I realized that the whole thing looked pretty much as a failed startup.
I made the mistakes I wouldn’t have made if I was starting a business: I did not make a proper market research, I did not check what the users really desired, I ignored the opportunities and the threats… In sort, I got myself entangled in programming instead of building a product. How many such startup efforts had I scoffed in the past?
One step ahead.
From startups, my thought jumped to social entrepreneurship only to realize the obvious: whatever you build, the rules are the same. It is just the kind of returns that differ. In social entrepreneurship it’s not about making money. It’s about making a difference, aiding people and, ultimately, changing the world.
The new 80/20 rule
One more step ahead.
If social entrepreneurship mechanics are the same with pro profit entrepreneurship why people who are experts in these mechanics do not do both? The easy answer is that entrepreneurs are mobilized by greed and not by human solidarity.
But I believe the truth is different. They just haven’t thought about it!
I know many people that could do both and if they don’t, it is because they focus relentlessly on the success of their pro profit efforts and spend all their time there. And for some stages of entrepreneurship this is not only inevitable, but a prerequisite.
But then, there are so many other people that have tasted success, have turned into angel investors, have embarked on a second, or third or forth startup effort, while their bank account has enough for the rest of their lives.
What if these people applied to themselves the famous 80/20 Google rule?
80% of their time and effort spent on their pro profit ventures and 20% on social entrepreneurship.
Think of the vast amount of talent, genious, power, skill and resources that would go into this 20%. I am convinced that even a fraction of it would suffice to change the world.