The Irresistible Offer

Pearls of Wisdom from Liz Straus on how to build a value proposition that is truly irresistible.

Connect with their Intellect : It has to make sense. “I know the fiber and whole grain in Frosted Mini Wheats is good for me”

Satisfy their Emotions : It’s got to feel good. “The hint of sugar on Frosted Mini Wheats makes me feel like a kid again–makes something that’s good for me enjoyable.”

Fit Effortlessly into their Lives : It has to be easy. “Neither the fiber nor the frosting will get me to eat Frosted Mini Wheats if I don’t eat breakfast.” [But, convince me that it’s a great snack for when I’m stuck in traffic, or that my three-year-old will love them and you might have a chance.]

*Note: don’t confuse attractiveness with irresistibility. Attractiveness grabs, Irresistibility retains. One is about you, the other is about them.

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Social Entrepreneur Search

Last week, Social Edge formally rolled out Social Entrepreneur Search (read the full announcement here) an open-source database designed to encourage “finders” and “funders” to support the efforts of successful social entrepreneurs.

Anyone can customize and embed the widgets that access the search data and even use the search to highlight specific entrepreneurs, regions, issue areas, or funders by creating and embedding custom widgets like this one–a spotlight on social entrepreneurs working in Health and funded by the Skoll Foundation:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://seapi.dk.exygy.com/js/embed.js”></script><script type=”text/javascript”>exygy_embed_results(“9″,”572349203″,”0″,”IA==”,”colorRed”, “http://seapi.dk.exygy.com/&#8221;);</script>

The project gets plenty of “cool” points in and of itself, but here are some reasons I find it truly remarkable:

First, the project represents a true collaboration.These organizations recognized a need–for the entrepreneurs they support, not necessarily themselves–and took concrete steps to fill it. They put aside organizational ego, stepped out of their own silos, and fronted the resources to build something open, extensible and powerful.

Second, the search is a step toward what we’ve taken to calling “catalytic capital.” The open database of vetted programs could encourage more organizations interested in social entrepreneurship but lacking the experience and human capital to vet projects themselves, to venture into the space and could help address some of the growth capital issues many of these remarkable organizations face after they’ve tapped the typical major funders.

And third, as a free resource equally accessible to interested individuals, educators and media representatives from the brand-new blogger to the New York Times, the Social Entrepreneur Search has the potential to raise the profile of social enterprise, so the examples of successful (and even struggling) social entrepreneurs the world over can inspire innovation and challenge the status quo on an ever grander, and ever more personal scale.

A little nagging concern stems from the fact that all of the participating organizations are mezzanine funders (and therefore nearly all of the social entrepreneurs featured in the database are beyond the startup phase). The Social Entrepreneur Search won’t turn up the next paradigm-shifting changemaker. And given the typical foundation’s aversion to anything “not invented here,” and the typical reporter’s blood-lust for the scoop, I wonder how well it will actually attract funding and exposure for the featured organizations.

The search may also inadvertantly reinforce what Charles Light calls the social entrepreneurship “cult of personality”–a focus on the contributions of a few singular luminaries that leaves thousands of other individuals, teams and organizations striving in relative isolation to build meaningful social change “often reinventing the wheel as they struggle to discern lessons from a relatively small number of exemplary peers.”

Still, the search is undeniably a step in the right direction–and may well provide both a solid foundation and a jumping-off point for genuine collaborative efforts that will help expand the field and magnify the impact of social entrepreneurship in this next decade.

Negotiation 101: Grow the Pie

Lessons from Getting to Yes on how “growing the pie” helps bypass the pitfalls of distributive bargaining and make negotiations turn out better for all

Approaching a high-stakes negotiation can feel like preparing for battle. We arm ourselves with logic, pathos, data, and even threats to fight for our share.

But, more often than most of us realize, negotiations don’t have to be adversarial “us vs. them” encounters. Though the impulse to approach the table clinging ferociously to your piece of the pie is strong—Fisher and Ury claim it’s often unnecessary, and even counter productive.

The first step to getting past the impulse is to let go of the notion that every gain for “them” is a loss for “us,” something researchers term the distributive mindset. Some negotiations are inherently distributive—that is, the resource being divided is finite and fundamentally un-shareable.

But Fisher and Ury suggest that efforts to “grow the pie,” help negotiations turn out better for all involved.

Here are some ways to try:

  • Capitalize on complements. Assign concrete values/weights to each issue from your own perspective and take a shot at the same from the other party’s point of view. Complementary issues (really important to the other party, less so for you) allow you to make generous concessions and encourage reciprocity.
  • Bring more to the table. Look for something of potential value to your negotiation partner that you could offer at little cost to yourself. Offering un-asked-for value can create powerful goodwill and swing things your way on the more controversial issues.
  • Present packages. To avoid the trap of battling it out issue-by-issue, take the time to craft several potentially agreeable resolutions in advance. These sets should highlight trade-offs and push the other party to decide what’s most important and let go of less critical issues.

Here Comes Everybody : Clay Shirky

“Linux got to be world-changingly good not by promising to be great, or by bringing paid developers together under the direction of some master plan, but by getting incrementally better, through voluntary contributions, one version at a time.” – Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

The social world does not run on averages. Shirky points out that there is no “average” social network. We have incredibly successful ones like facebook, and then lots of failed ones that we never even hear about.

This makes sense when you look at where the value lies in sociality. It isn’t the people per se, but the connections between the people. New users strengthen social networks because a new user isn’t just another person, it is another potential contact with every other person on the network.

Social media represents a new kind of Democracy–one in which we vote not by ballot, but by with our effort. With social media, we can pool our time, talents, and resources to effect changes that were impossible even 5 years ago.

Are You a Platypus?

A few thoughts on David Wiley’s ESR conference keynote, in which he described FlatWorld Knowledge as “a bit of a platypus” in the market.

Think about it: A venemous duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed egg-laying mammal really shouldn’t exist. It’s no wonder that the european naturalists who first discovered the thing at first thought it was some kind of elaborate practical joke.

But the platypus does exist, last surviving member of its genus, and the remarkably well-adapted anchor of the Australian wetlands.

The point is this: Many of the most disruptive social innovations of all time have been playpuses–unexpected, even illogical ideas that reasonably shouldn’t exist. Like banks for people with literally nothing to put in them. Or peasant farmers who give eye exams. Or college textbooks you give away for free.

Each of these organizations, and many who will yet change the face of social entrepreneurship have adapted like the platypus–in some ways to better function in their environments (with webbed feet and self-sealing nostrils) and some in ways that help them shape that environment (like the beaver tail, or even the venom.)

One might argue that you have to be a platypus to make in the space.

But this much is sure. Any platypus out there can relate to the classic Ghandi quote that for me was the crux of David’s talk: “First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Long live the platypus.

Social Entrepreneurship in "VC English"

Jim Fruchterman of Benetech Inc. presented a strikingly simple translation of the venture capital value equation for social entrepreneurs:

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