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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Nelson

How (Not) to Build a B-Corp Startup

As a friend of mine once said about me: “Chris enters every situation brimming with overconfidence.” I have yet to prove her wrong.

In retrospect, building a tech startup that services a gnarly area of K-12 Education, opting into being both a Benefit Corp and a Certified B-Corp, and plunging into the Founder Institute all in our first year was probably a little crazy. I comfort myself by recalling what Steve Jobs once said: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

A year into our journey, we are a Certified B Corp (pending), a registered Benefit Corporation, and gaining traction in our core market. However, I wouldn’t do it again the way we’ve done it. For anyone looking to change the world by building a B Corp startup, I hope these tips will help steer you in the right direction.

  • Tip #1. Don’t. Whatever you do, please don’t start a company; it’s a fool’s errand. Earn money a different way and give away 10% of your income to the most effective charities instead. It will be infinitely more effective and less frustrating.

  • Tip #2. Seriously, don’t start a company. Get a high social impact job instead. If you are a university graduate between 20-35 who wants to make a social impact but aren’t earning enough to give away 10% of your money, visit our friends at 80,000 Hours and read everything on their site. Twice. If you’ve already made enough money and aren’t sure what meaningful thing to do with it, consider taking the Founder’s Pledge. (Or consider investing in Instructiv).

  • Tip #3. Since you’re still reading, you’re not taking my advice on not starting a company. That type of perseverance will come in handy for you later. If you have still set your mind on building a B-Corp startup, don’t. At least, not yet. Worry about creating your product first, and join a pre-seed accelerator to help you. Unless you have an exit under your belt already, I guarantee you have no idea what the hell you are doing. B-Corp can come later when you have a product and a paying customer. Y-Combinator Startup School is excellent. I'm probably biased here as a program graduate but Founder Institute is also excellent. They are both geared to help you build your company instead of charging you hefty fees to do useless and abstract homework. Also, read Altucher’s response to what it’s like to be a startup CEO. It’s spot-on and should scare you enough to stop reading any more tips.

  • Tip # 4. Do your homework on social impact companies/benefit corporations before becoming one. It’s harder than you might think, and in some cases, you are better off not pursuing it, or at least right now. At a minimum, you need to immerse yourself in the BIA, GRI, and SDG fully. Buy the B Corporation Handbook and read it cover to cover. Buy Benefit Corporation Law and Governance and read it cover to cover. It’s also a great book, but not for the faint of heart. Every moment you have free time, put down your smartphone and read, read, read. And then read some more. Here’s a good starting list of books to consider.

  • Tip #5. Talk to live humans who are running or working for benefit companies. They are reasonably easy to find, they are universally helpful, and almost all are great humans inside and outside of their companies. Some other suggestions:

  • Find out where your state publishes the annual reports for benefit companies. Reach out to these companies directly and ask them about their journey.

  • Search for a social impact hub / social accelerator or co-working space in your geography and get a day pass. Bring your laptop and your pitch. Meet some humans and ask them about their journey. Tell them about yours.

  • Join the B Local community for your geography and attend their meetings.

This work to build a better world is challenging but essential, and you need to have true grit to make it happen. I hope this helps you in some small way. Always forward! Thank you for considering using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place. Direct message me if I can help you in any way on your journey.

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