I had never intended to start a business, though I suppose with an entrepreneur for a Father, and teacher for a Mother, the idea was always percolating. Shortly before starting Connective Impact, I was managing large corporate relations programs for an environmental nonprofit. We were grappling constantly with how best to raise more money for the communities we supported, and yet still deliver on our requirements to our existing partners. The talk was always around more effective collaboration, and yet I often believed we could be more mindful and intentional in how we partnered with competitors, and encouraged our donors to do the same. At the end of the day, we all wanted to see the same results, and while we had different ways of going about our work, collaboration would make us all more effective and productive. At the same time I was also dealing with a toxic management situation, and was at my wits end. I realized that to keep myself mentally and emotionally healthy, I needed to part ways from the nonprofit, and that meant trying things my own way. Thus Connective Impact, a partnership and collaboration strategy firm, was born. Connective Impact helps nonprofits, companies and governments partner for more effective strategies to implement social, environmental and economic impact programs. We use a 6-step methodology to help facilitate collaboration and collective thinking in projects designed to support development in impoverished economies.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students (young and old) locally or internationally who want to become entrepreneurs?
I share a lot of my thoughts on this in my book, ChangeSeekers, but generally: (1) trust your instinct and don’t doubt your heart or mind when it’s taking you in a direction that may seem counterintuitive. Paths to Impact are winding and unique. There is no ‘right’ way of doing things. (2) Take risks. Even if you are scared, particularly about the financial implications of being an entrepreneur, by taking risks you allow yourself to see what’s possible. You never want to go through life with regrets (3) Be curious and ask a lot of questions. By listening with intent, you can learn a lot and make fewer mistakes (though I really do believe that making mistakes allows us to learn!)
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
It’s hard to imagine doing anything differently, because I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing without all of the shifts I made along the way. Perhaps I’d try and not get down on myself as much. Lacking confidence makes finding success much harder. That said it takes a long time, and many experiences, to learn this.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Patience, curiosity, being a good listener and I have to add being a good networker as a 4th!