The Key to Building a Successful Social Impact Startup

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I know from my own experience with APPCityLife that the emotion of doing good can be a seductive distraction, especially when building a social impact startup.

I well remember the advice I received from J. Kelly Hoey. Because she was an angel investor who founded an accelerator specifically for women in mobile and was a highly visible advocate for women, I expected her to pat me on the back when I told her that it was one of my biggest desires to build a company that could empower others. Instead, she told me:

"If you really want to make a difference, focus first on making money. Without it, you will never help anyone."

Her advice was the perfect wakeup call to focus on the right things first.

It is a common challenge for entrepreneurs who want to help others rise.

Autumn & April: Focus on Revenue


April Molina was about four months into our yearlong HauteHopes Scholarship Program and Founders School when she came to us with a difficult decision about her children's fashion boutique, Autumn and April.​

After realizing her current business model was preventing her from scaling her popular line of children's clothing, she struggled with what to do next. One of her core values that had led her to found the company was that the business model allowed her to contract with other stay at home moms.

But the downside of farming out her company's production as piecemeal jobs was that it left her with far too little control over the consistency and quality of her merchandise. In addition, the current model required a significant amount of time to train and manage her contract workers.

She was faced with the painful conclusion that her current business model would not result in a sustainable, profitable, scalable business.

For several weeks, April explored numerous ideas that would keep production as contract work for mothers, but it wasn't until April gave herself permission to start fresh and only focus on finding the right business model for her company that she finally was able to move forward.

Within only a few short weeks, she negotiated a manufacturing agreement as well as a variety of wholesale and exclusive agreements with several companies, including the international retailer Anthropologie and the monthly subscription service Foreveryoak Box.

APPCityLife: Focus on Business Model

Because our team at APPCityLife created a unique business model that addressed the specific needs and challenges of our civic and nonprofit clients, we gained early traction as a civic tech mobile platform.

Because we made sure our model would work within pilot programs and addressed the constraints of procurement policies, we made it easier for agencies to use our platform.

And because we also ensured that the business model would work for smaller cities or agencies while easily scaling to support the demands of large urban centers and major, collaborative inter-agency projects, we made it easier for other startups and established companies to partner with us and extend their own services into mobile by using our platform.

We recently initiated case studies into many of the existing mobile apps on our platform, and while the case studies are not yet complete, we have already discovered several exciting successes and identified additional areas of need that can help our clients deliver more value to their communities.

By focusing on the business model, we created a platform is also beginning to deliver the economic and social impact that I hoped might be possible.

It is good to remember that the only way we can achieve those higher values of empowering others and doing good in the world is to focus first on what will enable us to build a successful business.

This post originally appeared in Broad Insights on Inc.